Fiat shook up its car brands on Wednesday, splitting the sleek Maserati marque from the Ferrari racing unit to link it more closely to its sporty but underperforming Alfa Romeo.
The move is widely seen as the first step in a long-awaited listing of Ferrari, whose results are being held back by losses and high investment costs at Maserati. It could also hail a foreign expansion of Alfa, famed for its Spider convertible.
"Under this deal, Alfa Romeo and Maserati will estabilsh a close technical and commercial collaboration especially in big international markets," Fiat said in a statement.
Alfa Romeos have not been sold in the United States since 1991 and earlier plans to return to the world's largest car market by 2007 were shelved by former management as sales in Europe fell.
Fiat said Maserati would continue to work closely with Ferrari on engine technology and its commercial network.
Alfa Romeo, whose V-shaped grilles are loved by car fanatics the world over, has underperformed the market for years and last year sales fell almost 7 percent in Italy.
Fiat hired former Rolls-Royce Chief Executive Karl-Heinz Kalbfell to run Alfa, one of three brands that make up the mass market car unit Fiat Auto, from the beginning of this year. In 2004 ex-Ford executive Martin Leach took over at Maserati.
"The move is essential for Alfa Romeo's future development," Fiat Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne said in a statement. "We believe that in the context of the relaunch of our car business, we need to pay close attention to the specific character of each brand.
Alfa Romeo, whose Spider was driven by Dustin Hoffman in the 1967 film "The Graduate", has much more in common style-wise with Maserati's speedsters and sleek limos than with Fiat-branded city cars and family estates.