How Mazda Is Bringing Fun Back to Alfa Romeo

You know how your English teacher gives you an E when he/she finds out that you copied your report off the Internet, to discourage you from copying other people’s ideas? Well that’s just wrong, because a good idea deserves to be copied - it’s how the world actually works. Otherwise nobody but Volkswagen would make a Golf-shaped car, and nobody but Apple would make tablets. Even the title I used for this article is inspired by a certain Japanese automaker that’s trying to bring the fun back to its cars. And that's good!
So, in this wold of 1.0-liter engines and cars that are ever more expensive, what’s there to copy. Certainly, I can’t be referring to a sportscar. Those things are too low off the ground and the headlight of incoming cars are at the same level as your eyes so you're constantly being blinded. You’d be much better off in an airy SUV than cocooned in a small coup’ or roadster. Or would you?

Well no, because if you don’t make something cool and fun to sell to the world, it’s like turning the lights off - people won’t be able to see you any more.Thankfully, the Italians have found a Japanese automotive partner to do something strikingly similar to the Toyobaru project, but with an intercontinental twist.

Right now, the Alfa Romeo brand is as near as makes no difference dead to us. Both the Mito and the Giulietta are good to look at, but in a world where even the Koreans design cars well, that really doesn’t matter. As for the hotter Quadrifoglio Verde models, there’s no way people are going to take those cars seriously when the Germans do fun and luxury.

With just two boring hatchbacks on the market right now, Alfa is looking dead in the water. Oh dear! But it’s Mazda to the rescue with plan to build the next Alfa Spder and MX-5 Miata together. Without their help, the new two-seater Italian sportscar would have been something along the lines of the Pontiac Solstice, and we all know that didn’t work well.

The two companies have entered a Memorandum of Understanding to develop the Spider and MX-5, which is kind of ironic since the Mazda Miata is partly responsible for killing off the Spider. When the first generation was launched, it took 5 years for the Alfa Spider to have to be pulled off since it was no longer relevant.

Potentially, Mazda could take care of the styling and Alfa the engineering and build quality, or the other way around. Gee, I wonder which way the’ll go. Irony aside, let’s be optimistic and think about how this should go.

Mazda has promised us that the next Miata will be considerably lighter than the current one, which has seen one too many pie eating contests. That’s good! They also hinted at a hybrid powertrain that mixes the light and revy Rotary engine with the torque of an electric motor. That’s also good… but not for Alfa!

To be honest, this deal will never work unless the Italian and Japanese can agree to disagree. The Alfa Spider needs a four-banger turbo to sell in Europe, and to appeal with its Italian style, while the Mazda MX-5 needs to be a hybrid to appeal to Americans.

But considering how small the two-seater RWD affordable car market is right now, splitting costs on engine development that should have been merged isn’t such a good idea. To put this in perspective - Mazda sold about 16,000 MX-5s last year across the world. That’s a puny figure when you realize that Ferrari sold about 11,000 of its ultra-expensive exotics. Really, nobody wants small roadsters any more.

Ironically, in this Italian-Japanese axis, the Germans are the enemy in a way. It was Daimler that turned Chrysler back into a rear-drive focused automaker, and Volkswagen tried and failed to take over Alfa Romeo last year. They reportedly had plans of using the BlueSport architecture to bring fun back to the Italian brand themselves. In Mazda's case, the fact that Ford split ways with them has actually made them stronger.

Just like the Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S are both built in the heart of Japan by Fuji Heavy Industries, so too will both the Mazda Miata and Alfa Spider be assembled in Hiroshima. It will be interesting to see how good a car with Italian styling and Japanese reliability can be.

If all goes according to plan, the Italy-Japan axis spells good fortune for the companies, bad news for the boring and pricy Germans and exciting news for the enthusiasts.

It’s like a match made in heaven. Fiat can revive Alfa Romeo, even though they don’t have the money to make it happen on their own. Mazda has invented plenty of weight AND fuel saving tech that it can now use, and they desperately need production capabilities in the US. And what do you know - Marchionne says he will build Mazda's cars wherever his group has the capacity. This could be the start of a really sweet thing!
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About the author: Mihnea Radu
Mihnea Radu profile photo

Mihnea's favorite cars have already been built, the so-called modern classics from the '80s and '90s. He also loves local car culture from all over the world, so don't be surprised to see him getting excited about weird Japanese imports, low-rider VWs out of Germany, replicas from Russia or LS swaps down in Florida.
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