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Alfa Romeo Giulia goes to Germany in Audi A4 duel

Tommaso Ebhardt and Elisabeth Behrmann
Bloomberg News

The goal of Alfa Romeo’s latest revival is to establish itself as a viable rival to German luxury brands. Audi’s revamped A4 sedan shows just how hard that will be for the Italian sports-car maker.

Alfa Romeo’s new Giulia, which will start at $81,000 for its Quadrifoglio version, made its international debut on Tuesday in Germany alongside a new generation of the A4, Audi’s best seller, at the Frankfurt International Motor Show. The two sedans will vie with the likes of the BMW 3-Series in the most crowded and competitive segment of the luxury-car market.

Audi’s A4 is a sophisticated known quantity, topped off with new high-tech features including remote control via a smartphone app and a parking assistant that warns of cyclists. Alfa’s Giulia, by contrast, offers novelty and the cachet of engines developed with the help of Ferrari.

“The Giulia will probably succeed in temporarily getting some customers away from the German brands as it’s something different,” said Stuart Pearson, a London-based analyst with Exane BNP Paribas. The real test will come “when that effect has faded and when the quality and the technology from other cars will move on very quickly.”

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne has called the Giulia one of the most important new- model introductions in his career. He needs to boost sales at the luxury division in order to fill underused Italian factories and boost the group’s profit, part of a broader plan that includes spinning off Ferrari SpA, pushing for a merger to free up investment capacity and selling more than 7 million cars by 2018.

“I think the Alfa will struggle a little,” said Fabian Schmidt, sales and marketing manager at AK Autoport Cologne GmbH, which offers both Audi and Alfa models. “Alfa’s design is fantastic, but people who buy an Alfa know they’ll have to deal with some technical weaknesses compared to German carmakers.”

Alfa disputes that assertion and insists it can lure customers with Ferrari-inspired performance and a contrast to conservative German styling. The brand will leverage its heritage to push past the“cold, technocratic and even boring” competition, Harald Wester, the unit’s chief, said in June.

The most powerful version of the Giulia will offer a 510-horsepower engine and have the quickest acceleration and highest top speed, at 191 miles per hour, in its segment, according to Alfa. It’ll go on sale at the end of the year in Europe and next year in the U.S.