As anyone who might have been watching the Super Bowl on Sunday night can deduce, the Alfa Romeo Giulia from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU) - Get Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. Report is finally on sale in the U.S.
The Italian sports sedan is one of two key models in FCA's bid to be a seller of premium cars that compete with BMW, General Motors' (GM) - Get General Motors Company (GM) Report Cadillac, Toyota's (TM) - Get Toyota Motor Corp. Sponsored ADR Report Lexus, Daimler's (DDAIF) Mercedes-Benz and others. FCA has dominated Super Bowl advertising before, notably with an Eminem spot in 2011 on behalf of Chrysler.
Giulia, an import built in Italy that Fiat Chrysler has been eager to bring to the U.S., was delayed in late 2015 to undertake "engineering improvements" that the automaker didn't specify publicly. The first version to appear was the Quadrifoglio, an $80,000, 505-horsepower fire-breather that can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 3.6 seconds.
The latest version's engine generates 280 horsepower and begins at about $40,000. Later this year, FCA intends to introduce Alfa's Stelvio SUV, based on the same architecture as Giulia, which conceivably could attract more buyers than Giulia given the current tendency by consumers away from sedans.
FCA dominated the automotive segment on Sunday's Super Bowl night with three ads, two of 60 seconds and one of 30 seconds. Additionally, an Alfa Romeo crest appeared at the center of the Fox commentators' desk, and the brand was mentioned as the sponsor of the halftime report. Alfa Romeo was among nine automakers buying ads during the game, which were selling at the rate of $5 million for a 30-second spot.
In late 2014, FCA introduced the Alfa Romeo 4C, a sexy roadster that appealed to a relatively small number of buyers, though important for establishing the brand's identity and its return to the U.S. after a 20-year absence.
The March edition of Car and Driver magazine, which caters to automotive enthusiasts, will include a comparison test of the high-powered Giulia against a BMW M3, Mercedes-Benz AMG C63S and a Cadillac ATS-V -- all high-powered sports sedan variants. The editors, evaluating a number of categories from driver comfort to handling, have awarded Giulia first place.
Fiat Chrysler isn't likely to generate anywhere near the sales volume of Alfa Romeo's direct competitors. But establishing the Alfa Romeo brand in the U.S. would be of immense value to the company, which has been angling for a merger or some kind of business combination. For the moment, FCA's most important assets are its Jeep brand, its Ram pickup truck business and its Pacifica minivan.
With Alfa Romeo established solidly in the world's most profitable vehicle market, FCA would suddenly look far more attractive to a potential acquirer or partner.
Doron Levin is the host of "In the Driver Seat," broadcast on SiriusXM Insight 121, Saturday at noon, encore Sunday at 9 a.m.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.