By Bernie Woodall
DETROIT (Reuters) - The first 86 dealerships to relaunch the sporty Alfa Romeo brand in North America, most of them now selling Fiat cars, were announced on Tuesday by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
The 83 Fiat dealerships and three Maserati dealerships will be the first to sell the limited-edition Alfa Romeo 4C sports car later this year. It is the first time new Alfa models will be sold in North America since 1996.
Last month, Fiat Chrysler said it would increase its sales in the United States and Canada from zero to 150,000 in just four years. Analysts scoffed at that projection, saying that the company's plans to bring eight new models to market by the end of 2018 was too ambitious to be realistic.
In an interview in San Francisco, Harald Wester, head of Alfa Romeo and Maserati, said the 4C will be made in limited production. "We will never, ever be able to produce more than 3,500 a year," Wester said, when asked about 4C sales projections. "So I expect a Ferrari-like situation (in) that you always have a long list of people waiting for the car."
Fiat Chrysler Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne said that the company will be successful and much stronger than it is today even if it misses the target for Alfa Romeo sales, part of a plan to increase overall sales to 7 million by 2018 from 4.4 million last year.
"This group of dealers represents the first phase in the Alfa Romeo dealer network selection process,” Peter Grady, head of network development for Chrysler Group LLC, which is based in Michigan, said in a company statement issued on Tuesday.
Grady said that eventually there will be more than 300 Alfa Romeo franchises in North America. The number of dealerships selling Alfa Romeo will grow later this year, Grady said. In the next several years, Alfa is expected to introduce more affordable models to its North American lineup.
A limited-edition 4C is expected to cost $70,000 or more, and the more traditional version of the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C $55,000 or more.
States with the most Alfa Romeo stores in the first wave will be California with 12, Texas with 10 and Florida with nine.
Four will be in Canada.
In May, there were 344 Fiat dealers in North America and 91 Maserati dealerships, including nine in Mexico.
Dealers in Mexico currently sell the Giulietta Quadrifoglio Verde and Mito Quadrifoglio Verde and will soon be adding the 4C sports coupe.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Detroit and Deepa Seetharaman in San Francisco; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Lisa Shumaker)