The streets of Miami and South Beach are filled with luxury and exotic vehicles. But few are Alfa Romeos.
Breaking into the chic market has been an uphill slog for dealers since the Italian brand’s U.S. return in 2014, and a group of Alfa Romeo dealers in the area have been working for more than a year on a Tier 2 advertising strategy to build awareness.
Their efforts contributed to a double-digit gain in Alfa’s U.S. third-quarter sales and have created a blueprint that soon could be adopted by other stores in critical markets around the country.
The dealers’ collaboration on a campaign that has received matching dollars from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has “gotten a lot of attention from the other markets,” Scott Ritter, part owner of Planet Alfa Romeo in Miami, told Automotive News. “There’s been other dealers that have looked and seen the growth down in our area in Miami and have asked people they know at the brand what’s going on. I think that our market has become sort of a model for them to roll out to other parts of the country.”
Stores in the Miami market have reported an uptick in sales since the effort started in June 2019, and market share in the area has tripled to 6 percent. Overall, Alfa Romeo U.S. sales jumped 17 percent in the third quarter to 5,056 vehicles – in contrast to a 9.5 percent decline for the industry overall – with the Stelvio crossover leading the way and the spry Giulia sedan not far behind.
Until last summer, Alfa had no regional ad strategy in Miami, leaving dealers in the area to vie for consumers’ attention with their own costly campaigns and national Tier 1 spots that weren’t tailored to the market.
The campaign that six dealers banded together to create, along with Pinnacle Advertising, began peppering TV airwaves that summer with spots that have a South Florida feel to them, Ritter said, and the blitz continues today. The alliance has grown to include Palm Beach County farther up the coast, in addition to Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
Dealers argue they have a compelling sales proposition with Alfa’s combination of performance and design.
Alfa stores have found that German brand loyalists who are looking for something different, for instance, sometimes jump ship to the Italian marque.
Greg Travaline, owner of South Miami Alfa Romeo-Fiat, described Alfa as a “new brand with a lot of great history.” It just needs a “little push,” he said.
Travaline said the Tier 2 effort came about at the urging of the late Rick Case, whose expansive dealership group includes an Alfa store in Miami. Case had success with Tier 2 campaigns at other brands, so he wanted FCA to get behind the idea. The automaker, which had cut Tier 2 advertising after its bankruptcy, eventually approved the plan.
The surge in advertising, Travaline said, has coincided with improvements in Alfa’s product line for the 2020 model year, including a new 8.8-inch touch screen for the infotainment system and more advanced driver-assist functions.
Karim Kassim, general manager of Rick Case Alfa Romeo, said the store’s sales got an immediate bump from the advertising. Its monthly volume rose from an average of 40 or 50 deliveries to 80, with sales crossing 125 last November and December. The goal this December is to hit 150.
While the South Florida dealers push their messaging, FCA has been running a conquest program for the Stelvio, dangling $1,000 discounts for customers who defect from Lexus, Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Infiniti and Acura.
Kassim said Alfa is here in the U.S. to stay this time. He’s seeing many customers return after their lease expires to get another one of the brand’s vehicles.
“We have the inventory, we have the programs, and we have the advertising,” Kassim said. “That’s a great combination to have in order to succeed, so we’re ready.”
Traveline believes the Tier 2 undertaking has built camaraderie between Alfa dealers and the factory. He said communication among dealers has taken a leap forward. He’s gone from talking to some only once or twice a year to three or four times a week.
When the coronavirus pandemic upended the business, the ads went dark in April. But the campaign resumed in May and has been gaining momentum since then. The dealers involved said they’re excited about the fourth quarter.
One issue they’re discussing is how to keep the Giulia viable. The Stelvio has been on the rise in recent months, but the Giulia hasn’t kept pace, so the group is trying to determine whether it should emphasize the sedan more. The vehicles are showcased together in the TV spots.
“These are conversations we’re having to be proactive,” said Travaline, who is also president of Alfa’s dealer ad group in South Florida. “We’re talking about what we’re going to order next based on the way the mix is. We’re still competitors, but we’re having conversations with each other and trying to help each other and the brand.”