PETALING JAYA - Automotive conglomerate DRB-Hicom Bhd is said to be negotiating to take up the much-coveted Alfa Romeo brand in Malaysia.
This swiftly comes after Sime Darby Bhd announced last Thursday it has voluntarily relinquished the Alfa Romeo distribution rights in Malaysia which it held since 2005.
An industry source said Turin-based Fiat SpA, the owners of the Alfa Romeo brand, is in discussion with DRB-Hicom on the possibility of expanding the Italian marque's presence in Malaysia.
"Executives of Fiat are now looking at the track record of the conglomerate, and are pretty much impressed with the work they have done. This includes their brand building exercise for Audi, which has seen record sales and volume to conduct potential completely knocked down (CKD) assembly operations," he said. DRB-Hicom has been the local sole importer and distributor of Audi vehicles since 2003 through wholly-owned Euromobil Sdn Bhd. It achieved total sales of 1,414 units in 2012, and is expected to hit a sales record of 2,500 units this year, a far cry from the 200-odd units it used to sell eight years ago.
The source said the Italian auto group that owns Chrysler, Ferrari and Maserati was also exploring the possibility of introducing mass market cars like the trendy 500 subcompact and budget oriented Panda under the Fiat marque.
It is said in the market that players behind the Lamborghini brand were also interested in taking up the Alfa Romeo franchise. Eminent Century Sdn Bhd is the official importer of Lamborghini cars in Malaysia while JH Italia Sdn Bhd is the sole official dealer.
However, Fiat SpA is more attracted to the clout DRB-Hicom has with its manufacturing capabilities and presence across the value chain.
"The component manufacturing capabilities would play a crucial role towards Fiat's decision as DRB-Hicom could play a role in its global supply chain; Fiat does not have a presence in this region," he said.
Currently, DRB-Hicom assembles or distributes top global brands such as Honda, Isuzu, Volkswagen, Mitsubishi, Suzuki and Mercedes-Benz.
Alfa Romeo sales have been dismal as the Italian brand registered 38 imported vehicles in Malaysia last year, and only 18 units through August this year, according to Malaysian Automotive Association data.
In comparison, Sime Darby sold over 89,000 cars across Asia Pacific for financial year 2013, and Malaysia's total industry volume stood at 595,000 units up till November this year.
The franchise rights for Alfa Romeo have changed a few hands over the years. It used to be held by Milan Auto Sdn Bhd and City Motors Group years ago.