After decades of decline, Alfa Romeo is getting a $7 billion makeover by 2018, introducing 8 new models that will be designed and built in Italy.

The investment marks a major relaunch of the iconic Italian brand which dates back to 1910, but which, despite a storied racing history, never achieved significant financial success and lost many of its brand attributes over the years.

Fiat SpA acquired Alfa Romeo in 1987, but admits that it, too, has been a poor shepherd of the brand, introducing a series of beautifully styled vehicles that nonetheless lacked Alfa’s historical DNA.

Now, says brand chief Harald Wester, the company has learned its lesson.

“There are only five key attributes that truly matter for Alfa Romeo,” he said at an analyst briefing outlining the five-year strategy for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the newly merged global carmaker. The brand is defined, he said, by advanced, innovative engines; a perfect 50-50 weight distribution; a set of unique technical solutions; class-exclusive power-to-weight ratios, and groundbreaking, distinctly Italian design.

“It took us many years to learn this lesson,” Wester said. “With the exception of style, the DNA of Alfa Romeo had not been respected.” Meanwhile, German competitors built a substantial lead. The result, he said, is that Alfa Romeo lost credibility.

“We realized we needed a radical solution,” said Wester.

The solution was a special skunkworks laboratory, well-financed and protected from corporate interference, where a hand-selected group of some 200 engineers and designers have been secretly working on a new product plan for Alfa Romeo.

Benchmarked to the best German carmakers, and headed by two senior Ferrari executives, the team has been working on a new real-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive architecture for a new family of vehicles ranging from compact cars to large sedans and utility vehicles.

Production begins in the second half of 2015. In all, eight new products will be introduced by the end of 2018. Global sales are projected to hit 400,000 by 2018, up from a mere 74,000 in 2013.

“For first time in its history, Alfa Romeo will have a full showroom,”said Hester.

Alfa Romeo has already announced that the 4C sports car will go on sale in the U.S. in 2015, but the company hasn’t said which of the 8 new models will be coming to the U.S., or whether they will be sold through Fiat dealers or another network

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