Dodge copied Alfa's homework, and the Italians don't like it.
Alfa Romeo is not thrilled with the all-new Dodge Hornet, which made a highly publicized debut last week. In short, the Italian brand is irritated with the American manufacturer for copying its homework.
In the automotive industry, numbers speak louder than harsh words. Less than 48 hours after the Hornet's debut, Dodge was already sitting on 14,000 pre-orders for a car that will only arrive in spring 2023. The Alfa Romeo Tonale arrives early in 2023 but is not available for pre-order yet.
Thanks to 2021 sales figures, we can at least provide some context. Given the circumstances, Alfa Romeo had a surprisingly good year, selling 18,252 vehicles. But Dodge is one of the heaviest hitters in the Stellantis group, and last year it sold 215,724 cars.
According to a source inside Stellantis, who spoke to The Drive, the Tonale was primarily designed to be an Alfa Romeo, but Dodge took advantage of the already-designed crossover to improve its average fuel consumption figures.
"Dodge took advantage of the [Tonale] to make a compliance car - their Aston Martin Cygnet moment, if you will. Suffice it to say, internal politics won the day, and Dodge needed to up their CAFE numbers, so Hornet was born," said the source.
CAFE refers to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards as set by the NHTSA.
It's not hard to spot the similarities between the two cars. The shared sheet metal is quite apparent, though the two brands arguably did enough to give each vehicle a unique identity, at least from the front. Alfa has done an excellent job incorporating its DNA, including the iconic Trefoil grille, headlights inspired by the SZ, and the latest iteration of its famous circular design alloy wheels.
Still, Alfa Romeo appears to be angry that Dodge didn't do more, which means it now needs to defend the existence of its own car. "Margins are thin in the C-segment, particularly in non-luxury, so an OEM is pretty limited on all new sheet metal as that's a major investment from a tooling perspective," said the source.
Dodge borrowing Alfa's homework is likely why the Hornet can be sold at such an affordable price. The American brand is making a big deal about selling the most powerful SUV for less than $30,000, fitting in nicely with the whole Brotherhood of Muscle marketing campaign.
Alfa Romeo won't be able to match that price, and its version is down on power, too. Based on pricing for the Tonale in other markets and where it sits relevant to other Alfa products, we estimate the entry-level Tonale will cost somewhere in the region of $35,000.
Alfa Romeo will have an extremely tough time marketing the Tonale to an American audience. For the price of an entry-level Tonale, you can have a top-spec Hornet. Dodge also has a more extensive support network, and we can't ignore the fact that it has an American badge pasted to the front, even though it will be built in Italy.
The Tonale retains some unique selling points, however. It has a beautifully finished upscale interior we enjoyed experiencing at the New York Motor Show. The Tonale also has a bespoke hybrid setup, which uses a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-pot instead of the 1.3-liter Dodge borrowed from the Renegade and Compass hybrids.
The Hornet is not without unique features. The most notable is the PowerShot function that temporarily provides a 25-hp boost for 15 seconds.
Only time will tell if the two SUVs are different enough to attract unique clientele, but at the moment, it's not looking too good for Alfa Romeo.