Monday, December 5, 2022

Alfa Romeo’s Sustainability Journey Has Started With the Tonale Hybrid EV

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Italian luxury carmaker Alfa Romeo has launched the Tonale, its first EV hybrid car. The SUV is part of the brand’s strategy to electrify its range by 2027.

Alfa Romeo has been innovating in car design since 1910 with its award-winning race cars and luxury consumer vehicles. Now it aims to bring the same craftsmanship to electric and hybrid models. Alfa Romeo’s parent company, the recently formed Stellantis, says the new Tonale—named after an Alpine pass in Italy—is the brand’s first electric vehicle, but certainly not the last. The Italian luxury carmaker is investing more than $34 million into developing its EV range.

“It marks a step in the direction of our group becoming a technology company,” the brand’s head Jean-Philippe Imparato said during a web presentation.

The Tonale hybrid

The new Tonale hybrid comes with a 1.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 272 horsepower and an electric range of approximately 30 miles. Alfa Romeo says the car shares design characteristics seen across its range. A plug-in hybrid version, with an all-electric range of up to 50 miles, will arrive later this year.

Back in 2019 when it teased the concept, Alfa Romeo said it had the carmaker’s racing history at the core:

“The Tonale interior design conjures the passion associated with providing a spirited drive through dynamic form and pure sculpture. The interior of the Tonale is very driver-oriented and the overall layout is designed comfortably for four passengers. The hand-drawn gestural lines stretch throughout the environment to create a muscular tension, as if what surrounds you is ready to lunge forward. The emotional significance of the Tonale interior is also generated by the contrast of rich materials, such as the cold solidity of aluminum combined with the soft and welcoming warmth of the leather and Alcantara. Inside there are translucent backlit panels, such as the central tunnel, providing the perfect location for the essential Alfa Romeo element, the DNA drive mode selector. The Tonale interior provides an inclusive experience, with details typically reserved for the exclusive. The interior is immersive and welcoming, with the dynamic attributes appreciated by those who love to drive.”

Alfa Romeo says it will release a new model every year to 2026. By 2027, all new vehicles will be electric only.

“Everything from that day forward will be pure BEV,” Larry Dominique, head of the company’s North American operations, told CNBC. “By end of 2027 … I won’t be selling any more internal combustion engine vehicles at all.”

The EV market

Alfa Romeo joins a booming market for luxury EVs. Tesla is leading the category in the U.S. and showing strong sales in Europe. But other luxury carmakers have increased their efforts in the luxury EV space, too. Most notably is the U.K.’s Bentley Motors. While the brand’s first fully electric vehicle isn’t expected until 2025, it recently announced plans to invest heavily into upgrading its U.K. factory for EV production. It also recently launched its second hybrid, the Bentley Flying Spur.

Bentley electric car
Courtesy: Bentley

Analysts also have their eyes on Mercedes-Benz, particularly after its EQS launch outperformed Tesla across several categories. But the Alfa Romeo’s chief rival may be Audi. The Volkswagen-owned brand is a dominant force in Europe, and it’s seeing strong sales across its EV and hybrid ranges. It’s also testing high-end charging stations as an upsell to its customers.

An industry first: NFTs

To add to the launch, Alfa Romeo brought NFTs to the unveiling.

“Digitalization is a key enabler of our metamorphosis. Tonale is the first car ever to keep a blockchain, non-fungible token. NFTs are based on the same distributed information logic that protects your Bitcoin,” Francesco Calcara, head of Alfa marketing and communication, said during a media briefing. “It records all data on the blockchain.”

Alfa Romeo says the Tonale NFT is an industry first. It certifies the car upon purchase and records and stores the car’s data. That data can help with the resale value, allowing the brand to verify criteria like proper maintenance over its lifetime if serviced by a certified Alfa Romeo dealer.

The Italian carmaker stopped selling vehicles in the U.S. for two decades as sales declined amid a burgeoning luxury car market. It returned in 2014, releasing only four models in the years since—including the 2023 Tonale. It sees the Tonale as a possible means to boost sales that still lag behind competitors. Since 2019, Alfa Romeo sold fewer than 19,000 cars in the U.S. per year. By comparison, BMW, one of its chief rivals in the market, sold 93,000 vehicles in just the fourth quarter of last year.

But the industry is shifting. Tesla surpassed its sales expectations last year, edging out all other luxury carmakers in the U.S., whether their models were electric or not.

“[P]roduct drives brands,” Dominique said of Alfa Romeo’s strategy, “and our products that we have are great, they’re amazing, but because they’re limited vehicles in a limited number of segments, just not enough people are looking at it. Hopefully with Tonale, we’ll address that.”

Tonale orders will open in the fourth quarter. Alfa Romeo has not yet released pricing information.

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