September 30, 2010 / 7:32 AM / 9 years ago

AUTOSHOW - Volkswagen patriarch waits to pounce on Alfa Romeo

PARIS (Reuters) - Volkswagen’s indomitable chairman, Ferdinand Piech, has set his sights on Fiat’s Alfa Romeo as a thirteenth brand in his vast automotive empire.

A model poses near the Alfa Romeo MiTo car on media day at the Paris Mondial de l'Automobile October 3, 2008. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen/Files

Although he often prefers to speak almost in riddles, Piech instead chose a frontal attack during Wednesday’s Volkswagen media premiere prior to the opening of the biennial Paris auto show.

“We are patient and have time ... you won’t hear anything though for the next two years,” he answered directly, when asked on the sidelines about repeated market speculation that VW was interested in Alfa.

A motor racing fanatic with an appetite for pedigree brands, Piech left no doubt that he was waiting for Fiat to fail in its efforts to resuscitate the flagging fortunes of its semi-premium brand, best known for the MiTo subcompact and Brera sports coupe.

Last year, only 102,000 Alfas were sold — a decline of 1 percent from the previous year and far from the more ambitious three times as many that Fiat targeted.

Nevertheless Fiat officially denies any interest in selling the brand despite the chronic problems.

“Alfa is the one brand with the biggest potential for improvement,” Piech said, in a more characteristic oblique attack at Fiat Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne, a highly respected manager widely considered to have rescued Fiat from failure.

Piech even made fun of himself a bit, correcting comments he made last September that a “dozen was easier to remember than (the current) 10” when it came to the number of brands controlled by Volkswagen.

“Thirteen is my lucky number,” Piech joked with a broad smile spreading across his face.

The German automotive group is aggressively expanding as part of its plans to overtake Toyota as the world’s largest carmaker by 2018.

After arranging last year to acquire Porsche as Volkswagen’s tenth brand, Piech is counting on eventually gaining control of truckmaker MAN and Japanese small-car specialist Suzuki.

The Volkswagen chairman also put to rest speculation that the group would sacrifice its underperforming Spanish brand Seat, which management had failed to move upmarket to rival Alfa.

“Seat would be to Alfa Romeo what Skoda is to Volkswagen,” Piech said.

No-nonsense Czech value brand Skoda is positioned just below Volkswagen as a car to appeal to everyman’s taste like VW, just cheaper.

Reporting by Christiaan Hetzner; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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