RIP Alfa Romeo: Charting out the Future of ICE Powertrains

RIP Alfa Romeo: Charting out the Future of ICE Powertrains

Alfa Romeo recently announced that its 2023 Tonale plug-in hybrid crossover will be the last to have a gasoline engine.

I bought my first car as a high school junior. It was a 1960 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider convertible. Sounds like a rich kid on a shopping spree, right? The truth is, this rusted Alfa was running on two cylinders and I bought it for $250 earned on an early morning paper route walking with a fifty-pound paper bag through the very hilly streets of Weatherly, Pennsylvania.

Jimmy, the used car dealer in Hazelton, was a high school friend of my dad’s. He told us that the car probably had a blown head gasket. We had it towed home and parked my dad’s beloved 66 Plymouth Fury outside so I could work on the Alfa in our garage.

I had no right to tear into the elegant double overhead cam Alfa engine. My mechanic skills were non-existent, and there was no Alfa dealer within 200-miles from my home. I tore into it anyway. I remember removing the timing chain that seemed to go on forever and then lifting the head to look down and see three pistons up and one down. This was not a blown head gasket. Turns out, a connecting rod had sheared in a manner that allowed the crank to rotate without the rod hitting the cylinder wall. I dropped the oil pan to find bearing and rod fragments swimming in oil that looked like milky molasses. My first car was suddenly my nightmare, and there was no Internet to turn to for information on how to fix it. I had to find someone in town to help me.

Growing up, I knew that none of my parents’ friends went by their actual names. They all had interesting nicknames – Flupsy, Flopsy, Tinker, Ditzer, Dutzer and of course, Duckass – but the man with the answer was the local Chrysler garage owner, Spatzy. He showed me a JC Whitney catalog that actually listed a short block for a 1960 Alfa Romeo priced at $700. Spatzy took a liking to me and allowed me to park the Alfa in the corner of his garage where I would go at night after dinner to work on the car. I actually got the engine back together, and through some help from my girlfriend’s father who was the director of a vocational school, I got the rusted rockers replaced by the collision repair class that was happy to have a car to work on. Yes – it was a long time ago and small-town life was simple.

I drove the car for the better part of two years, but then had some engine trouble that caused me to park the car just before leaving to go to GMI to study engineering. I sold the car because I realized I would not have time to work on it for five years. I am sorry I lost that car and have been searching for it ever since. I was told by the person I sold it to that he sold it to someone in Maryland but he didn’t have any contact information. If you know someone in Maryland who bought a yellow (yeah, the vocational school got creative) 1960 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider in 1970, please let me know. I watch the site every day – all it does is inform me that restored Giuliettas are now going for $50,000-$80,000, but I’m still hoping to see the car listed and I still have some paper route money squirreled away to buy it.

Now, why do I tell you this long story? I tell it because Alfa Romeo recently announced that that its 2023 Tonale plug-in hybrid crossover will be the last Alfa Romeo to have a gasoline engine. The brand is going all-electric by 2027.
Gone will be the elegance of Giuseppe Busso’s beautiful double overhead cam all aluminum 4-cylinder engine that has lasted decades as the epitome of ICE design. Gone will be the sound of an Alfa engine and drivetrain running through the gears. Gone, I would argue, will be the heart of Alfa Romeo.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not against electric drive and I think there is more elegance to behold in the design of BEV powertrains, but somehow, I think there is something about the visceral sense of a beautifully tuned Alfa Romeo internal combustion engine that cannot be duplicated by a cell-to-pack lithium-ion battery powering an AC motor. The BEV will undoubtedly accelerate faster. It will cruise in effortless silence. It will come equipped with wonderful connectivity to tie your iPhone to the driving experience. It will be … boring.

To me, it is like the difference between a digital watch and a mechanical chronograph. The digital watch is really efficient at placing the time right in front of you in a bright LCD screen, but no amount of case craftsmanship will ever match the movement of Vacheron Constantin’s 57260 mechanical watch. I’m sure some of you will bring up the Apple Watch as an example of how the move to digital can bring on an all-new level of innovation and timepiece elegance – I’ll give you that. But it’s a computer that happens to include a watch, so I’m not counting it.

I’m rooting for eFuels to prolong the use of ICE powertrains well into the future and I think BEVs will have a tough time in the US entering the “Early Majority” of Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm curve. The Innovators and Early Adopters are buying them now but the economic math and the used car resale values need to align for the Early and Late Majority to create real demand.

Speaking of demand, it is not created by vehicle OEMs building cars for politicians. It is built by engineering excellence and passion for car design – the kind of passion that echoes off the hillsides as 5,000 RPM of a twin overhead cam masterpiece responds to your need for speed.

RIP Alfa Romeo … you gave us a great run.

You May Also Like

Why the Grid Can Handle BEVs

The major utility-centric hub and spoke grid system is morphing into a more distributed power network.

SchwartzReport_ Kaufman5 1400x700

You hear it all the time as people dismiss the transition to battery electric power – “I don’t know how electric cars are going to succeed when the grid can’t even supply enough power to handle the load!” Let’s put that in perspective.

In the 1960s, the United States consumed about 0.76 trillion kilowatt hours of electrical energy each year. Over the next six decades, air conditioning and other electrical appliances drove up household energy use and industrial expansion drove the USA demand to 4.12 trillion kWhrs each year. A typical household in the US now consumes 10,715 kWhrs per residence annually or about 30 kWhrs each day. The move from 0.76 trillion kWhrs to 4.12 trillion kWhrs is a 442% increase in six decades – roughly 33% growth each decade.

Strategies for Navigating the Aftermarket M&A Landscape

Rick Schwartz shares what factors are attracting investors to the aftermarket and how economic factors influence M&A frequency.

The Emerging Circular Aftermarket

Disruption in the aftermarket is coming from radical sustainability and the formation of a circular aftermarket.

Consolidation Trends in the Commercial Vehicle Aftermarket

Brian Cruickshank, partner at Schwartz Advisors, shares why investors are increasingly eyeing this side of the industry.

Battery Swapping – The Best BEV Business Model

Battery swapping and the supply of “Batteries as a Service” (BaaS) is a superior way to build vehicle brand value, says Schwartz Advisors Derek Kaufman.


Other Posts

Virginia Will Not Adopt California’s ICE Ban

SEMA applauds Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s action to reverse the state’s EV mandates.

Opposition Grows for California’s Mandate Banning New Gas-Powered Vehicle Sales
What to Know Before Selling Your Business in the Aftermarket

Managing Partner Keith Zar digs into the pivotal areas business owners in the aftermarket need to evaluate before selling.

Auto Parts Distribution Consolidation: Where Are We Headed?

Schwartz Advisors’ Mike Buzzard delves into factors driving auto parts distribution consolidation today.

Mike Buzzard Named Schwartz Advisors Managing Partner

Buzzard joined Schwartz Advisors in April 2022 and, since that time, he has helped expand its sell-side practice.

Schwartz Advisors Mike Buzzard