2024 Alfa Romeo Junior or Milano SUV

Famed Italian brand Alfa Romeo has scored an embarrassing own goal.

The brand has been forced to rename its next car the “Junior” following suggestions it broke Italian law by naming its “Milano” electric car after the city of Milan.

Italian authorities claimed the “Alfa Romeo Milano” could not be marketed as such because the car will be manufactured in Poland.

The nation’s Made in Italy Minister, Adolfo Urso, told Reuters last week that “a car called Milano cannot be produced in Poland. This is forbidden by Italian law”.

Alfa Romeo issued a statement overnight described as the “bitchiest press release of all time” by American website The Autopian.

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The statement hit out at government figures for playing politics “during one of the most important weeks for Alfa Romeo’s future”, claimed the brand did nothing wrong and said “there are issues much more important than the name of a new car”.

Alfa Romeo chief executive Jean-Philippe Imparato said: “we are perfectly aware that this moment will remain engraved in the history of the brand”.

“We decided to change the name, even though we know that we are not required to do so, because we want to preserve the positive emotion that our products have always generated and avoid any type of controversy.”

The issue is bigger than a name.

It cuts to the core of whether Alfa Romeo can retain its Italian heritage while competing with electric rivals.

Imparato reportedly told Automotive News Europe the decision to produce the new car in Poland, rather than Italy, cut €10,000 ($16,550) from its retail price.

The first Italian-made electric car from Fiat, Alfa Romeo’s sister brand, costs about $57,500 drive-away in Australia.

That’s $15,000 to $20,000 more than Chinese electric hatchbacks such as the BYD Dolphin and GWM Ora.

Alfa’s announcement surrounding the name change came on April 15, a date marked as a “Made in Italy Day” celebrating the nation’s domestic industry and artistry.

The brand performed a similarly embarrassing backflip 15 years ago.

As reported at the time by Automotive News Europe, “Alfa workers in the area around Milan are upset that Alfa owner Fiat planned to use the city’s name on a car that would arrive as Alfa was shutting down its operations in the area where it was founded 99 years ago.”

Imparato told Italy’s Corriere della Serra newspaper this week’s change was made to smooth over relations with potential customers, in an attempt to prevent Alfa losing sales.

The Junior will share hardware with Peugeot’s e-2008 and the Jeep Avenger, as part of a cost-saving program within the Stellantis group.

The front-mounted electric motor will offer 116kW of power in standard trim, or 179kW as a more powerful “Veloce” model.

A 54kWh battery promises about 410 kilometres of range.

Hybrid versions will include a basic model 101kW 1.2-litre engine, and a more powerful all-wheel-drive model to be confirmed at a later date.