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Ciao America! Alfa Romeo says it's returning next year

A model stands next to the Alfa Romeo 4C displayed on the company's booth during the first media day of the Geneva Auto Show at the Palexpo in Geneva ...
The Alfa Romeo 4C is previewed on press day at the Geneva Auto Show March 5, 2013.© Denis Balibouse / Reuters / REUTERS

The on-again, off-again return of Alfa Romeo sports cars to the U.S. market after an absence of two decades, has been delayed again. Now, fans will have to wait until sometime next year.

Initially expected this year, the reason for rescheduling the U.S. launch of the new Alfa Romeo 4C isn’t being revealed. The lightweight sports car’s European introduction is proceeding on schedule, with journalists there getting their first drive in the 4C this week.

Earlier this year, Sergio Marchionne, who serves as CEO of both Chrysler and Fiat, the parent of Alfa Romeo, told journalists “For sure, it’s coming back this year,” in reference to Alfa’s long-promised U.S. re-launch. The revival of the quintessential Italian brand, which abandoned the American market two decades ago, was tied to the launch of the 4C. “We’re finalizing the car now so it should be here by the end of the year.”

Now, however, it appears that potential Alfisti – as Alfa fans are known – will have to wait until the second quarter of next year. That surprise delay was revealed during the European media event by Harald Wester, Alfa’s CEO.

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That plan appeared to be on track, especially when the last critical hurdle, the development of an appropriate powertrain, was locked down. In fact, officials at the Chrysler side of the company were expecting the Alfa launch to proceed on schedule.

But there have been growing questions raised about the project, notably because there had been little movement in developing a dealer network in the U.S. But it appears likely Alfa will simply debut in space shared with the Fiat 500 and the newer 500L.

However, Chrysler Group’s chief spokesman Gualberto Ranieri said it is unclear why the timing has been shifted. If anything, he noted, “Demand for the car in Europe has been higher than expected.”

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Set for production at Fiat’s Maserati plant in the northern Italian city of Modena, Alfa had originally planned to produce just 3,500 of the 4C sports cars annually, about 1,200 earmarked for Europe. The maker might now be rethinking its production plans.

It makes extensive use of ultra-light carbon fiber and other advanced materials to hold weight down to around 1,970 pounds, according to Alfa. Meanwhile, it is expected to produce around 240 horsepower from a turbocharged engine of just 1.75-liters displacement, giving it an impressive power-to-weight ratio. That’s a combination that lets the Alfa 4C launch from 0 to 60 in about 4.4 seconds, with a top speed of 160 mph.

While final U.S. pricing hasn’t been revealed, the Alfa Romeo 4C will go for around $78,000 in Europe.

Significantly, the automaker now says European deliveries won’t begin until just after the beginning of the New Year.

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