When the original Mazda MX-5 Miata made its debut some 23 years ago, a number of British sports cars such as the MG MGB, Austin-Healey Sprite, and Lotus Elan were cited as the car’s inspiration. Few mentioned the Alfa Romeo Spyder at the time as another inspiration, and perhaps it was not. However, the Spyder was very much cut from the same cloth as the Miata, and in fact, the two competed against one another until Alfa withdrew the car from the US after the 1993 model year.
Against that background, when news came across the ticker last night that Fiat and Mazda would jointly develop a new roadster, which would become the next-generation Miata and next-generation Alfa Romeo Spyder, it almost makes so much sense that it should have happened years ago.
Mazda has proven itself quite adept at using its limited resources to build the best small roadster probably ever – it has just enough power, it rides and handles well, it’s not overly expensive, and it is incredibly reliable. But despite the Miata being the best-selling two seat convertible sports car in history (with over 900,000 units sold, according to the Guinness Book of World Records), it’s hard for a carmaker like Mazda, reeling from four straight years of losses thanks to the strong Yen and a very Japan-heavy production base and small global scale, to justify going it alone on the next-generation Miata.
Sharing development costs with Fiat should allow the fourth-generation Miata to arrive a little earlier than it would have otherwise (if even at all), and with both the Alfa and Mazda being produced in Mazda’s Hiroshima, Japan facility, that factory’s utilization is improved and unit costs should decline.
Neither company seems to be finished in their respective hunts for alliance partners. At this stage, Fiat may be interested in some of Mazda’s lightweight technologies and its fuel-saving SkyActiv engines and transmissions. Mazda could certainly use the money and could stand to do a better job of getting a return on its R&D spending by licensing some of its technology to partners. As another example of Mazda’s alliance strategy going forward, it and Toyota will be sharing hybrid technology in the future.
For folks waiting in line outside their non-existent Alfa Romeo dealers in the US for a new Spyder, take heart: the car will come to the US. The high-dollar 8C Competizione was sold at Maserati dealerships, and the company’s 4C sports car, though more reasonably priced than the 8C, will still be quite a bit more pricey than the Spyder. The 4C and Spyder will join a future Alfa Romeo Giulia and yet-unnamed Alfa SUV in the US. Actually, the Alfas will be sold at Fiat dealers starting in 2013, so there will be Alfa Romeo dealers in the US in 2013 after a few signage tweaks. Don’t expect to see the Spyder before calendar year 2014. It will have unique sheetmetal, unlike the Subaru-Toyota sports car twins.
Surely, this is good news all around. We can’t wait to see the next generation of these iconic roadsters, and the Miata-based Spyder may be the most reliable Alfa Romeo ever built.