Truck Trend Leader Interview: Pieter Hogeveen, Director of Alfa Romeo North America
Pieter Hogeveen grew up in the Netherlands as a car-loving son of a Citroen dealer. By age 12, he was working at the dealership cleaning garbage cans, later doing oil changes and eventually selling cars. He went to the Netherlands’ IVA Driebergen automotive business school and graduated in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in automotive management.
Then he came Stateside to continue his education at Northridge University in Midland, Michigan. “I did my junior and senior year there in one year,” he relates,” and got my Bachelor of Business Administration in 2000, then went back to the family business in the Netherlands.”
Hogeveen’s goal was to have a car dealership, and he soon returned to the U.S. at the invitation of the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA). “They have a dealership management training program in McLean, VA, they accept one foreign student each year, and they asked if I was interested. So I went to there for a year while also working at a Volvo-Subaru dealership in Annapolis, MD. And that's when I fell in love with America. I said, ‘Wow this is a great country!’ I liked how fast-paced it is. And people don't just order cars here, they buy $70,000 cars and pick them up the same day. I thought that was so impressive.” He completed that program in 2001 but had to go back home when his VISA expired. He worked as service manager at his father’s dealership through 2003, then told his dad he was returning to America. “‘Where in America?’ he asked. ‘Detroit.’ ‘I think there are more people leaving Detroit now than going there,’ he said. I said, ‘That sounds like an opportunity.’”
He worked for Kroymans, the Ferrari importer for Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, for nearly a year launching GM’s Cadillac CTS and Corvette C6 in Europe, then moved to the U.S. in late 2004. “I got hired by BBDO, Chrysler's advertising agency, doing brochures, catalogs and product information. But I wanted to work for an automaker.” That wish came true when Chrysler hired him in 2010 to be brand manager for Dodge Avenger and Journey. He moved to Chrysler’s Great Lakes Business Center regional office (covering Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and part of Kentucky) in 2013 as a sales manager and later senior marketing manager. Then, he says, “I was very fortunate when Alfa Romeo came to the U.S. and [FCA head of Alfa Romeo and Maserati] Reid Bigland asked if I wanted to work on this brand. I said, ‘Sure, I can start tomorrow.’ I was excited!”
Truck Trend: Relaunching Alfa Romeo here is a major challenge. It was gone for many years and had a poor reliability reputation before it left. Pieter Hogeveen: For sure. The 4C [mid-engine sports car] created curiosity and brand interest. We spent a lot of time going to events and shows to show that off and build brand awareness. That was followed by Giulia, a major launch for us. And now here I am fortunate enough to be in charge for North America. It is very exciting, but we have a long road ahead.
What is the biggest challenge of this job? Our competitors have 380-400 dealerships in this country. We have 168, working toward 215 by the end of this year. The challenge is to get someone used to going to those premium stores to visit an Alfa Romeo store, so we spend a lot of time working with our dealers to make sure customers get the same experience. Also making people aware of Alfa Romeo, not just our vehicles but where we fall within the segment in pricing and positioning.
How much influence do you have on North American versions of your vehicles? We have a lot of input. We are here, we know the market, and we have a lot to say about development. The strength of Alfa Romeo's return is looking at every market, and this Stelvio is a good example. We spend a lot of time on research on what each vehicle needs to be. For example, no one uses remote start in Europe, but we made it standard here.
What were the top priorities for Stelvio in North America? Top of the list was performance. That is why people buy Alfa Romeos. We needed a very high-output two-liter engine, so we have a 280-hp gasoline four-cylinder. Also, maximizing the space available in the vehicle with an American-like cockpit design that is very wide open, not claustrophobic like some European vehicles. Number three was all-wheel drive, which is very important for our market, so we decided to make it standard.
How do you get 280 hp with 28 mpg highway? That's where the focus was. It was very high priority, and from day one everyone knew what they needed to do. We have a dedicated team in Italy working just on Alfa Romeos, so there is no distraction. We gave very clear parameters: this is what we need to do, this is what we need to deliver, and the team did an outstanding job. It's in the Alfa Romeo DNA. And you can go to Dynamic mode to maximize performance, including 5.4 seconds 0 to 60.
You have quality and reliability baggage from the past to overcome. Are you confident that these vehicles will do as well as your German, domestic and Asian competitors? Yes, I am very confident. In this segment, in this part of the industry, there is no room for error. You have to be dead on, and I think the performance of the vehicle, the handling, the styling and the interior are all there. And one benefit that we have in this segment is that leasing is very popular. That should help people overcome any concerns.
Anything you would like to add? I think the timing is perfect for Alfa Romeo to return here, and I am very fortunate to be part of it. Every day is a great day. It's a passion and a very fun time. For us, this is like graduation.