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Alfa Romeo brand to return to U.S. market in late 2013: CEO

The emblem of an Alfa Romeo is pictured during a press presentation prior to the Essen Motor Show in Essen November 30, 2012. REUTERS/Ina Fa
The emblem of an Alfa Romeo is pictured during a press presentation prior to the Essen Motor Show in Essen November 30, 2012. REUTERS/Ina Fa

By Bernie Woodall

DETROIT (Reuters) - An Alfa Romeo 4C sports car will be introduced in the U.S. market late this year, the chief executive of Fiat SpA and Chrysler Group LLC said on Friday, adding that further details would come in the next two to three months.

"For sure it's coming back this year with the 4C. With the Alfa Romeo 4C," CEO Sergio Marchionne said after a speech to a Detroit businesswomen's group. "We are finalizing the car now, so it should be here this year."

Increasing Alfa's sales is a cornerstone of Marchionne's plan to offset Fiat's losses in Europe by 2015. The U.S. auto market is expected to be highly competitive this year as automakers seek sales outside Europe.

Earlier this week, Marchionne was far more cautious about the timetable for Alfa Romeo's return to the United States, nearly 20 years after Fiat stopped exporting the brand to the country in 1995.

He said at the Detroit auto show that the 4C was "not where it needs to be before it comes to the U.S." But on Friday, he appeared to reverse his stance.

"It is ready," he said. "Its ready in the sense that a lot of work has gone on in terms of architectures and models. We've got to make sure we hit the powertrains dead on. This remains my key objective right now."

Fiat and Mazda Motor Corp announced that they signed an agreement for the Japanese company to build a two-door Alfa Romeo roadster at Mazda's Hiroshima plant in Japan as of 2015. Marchionne said the Mazda partnership would support Alfa's comeback in the United States.

Separately, Marchionne also confirmed that Chrysler is close to signing a preferred lender for its auto and dealer financing in the United States, but declined to name the bank. Reuters reported last month that Chrysler was in the final stages of talks with Spain's largest bank, Banco Santander.

On the timing of signing such an agreement with a financier, he said, "We're close. It ain't over until the fat lady sings. we're one bullet away from signing it. If we don't agree its all over again. So, let 'em work."

(Reporting By Bernie Woodall in Detroit; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Andrew Hay)

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