JUN 24th 2014

Q&A: Head of Fiat Chrysler global design tells us why diesel Maseratis will be OK

An unexpected bonus of the Festival of Speed, for those just as interested in aesthetics as rubber smoke at least, will be the opportunity to see close up a giant serving of Italian automotive loveliness, courtesy of Maserati’s centenary celebrations. The enigmatic marque boasts a wonderful back catalogue of exotic machinery (you can see a gallery of pictures here) but, being Maserati, most of the cars look nothing like each other.

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All the big names of postwar Italian car design, and a few small ones too, had a go at designing a Maser. The result is the company has a truly diverse design history. Over its 100 years, it wasn’t just company owners that changed hands on a regular basis but also coachbuilders, from Bertone to Zagato, all of whom interpreted the trident differently.

The man at Maserati today with the job of understanding the heritage and applying it to new models is Lorenzo Ramaciotti, ex Pininfarina and now head of global design for the Fiat Chrysler group and a more charming and amenable person it is impossible to imagine. He is also the bloke in charge of the look of what for us is the most exciting new Maserati for a while, the Alfieri, a 911/F-type rival in both coupe and (probably) convertible forms which has now been confirmed for production in 2016.

We had a quick word with Lorenzo at the opening of the new Maserati exhibition in Modena last week…

How would the Alfieri fit in here in the museum surrounded by all these classic Maseratis?

It would fit in  very well and look absolutely fantastic. The Alfieri is Maserati’s answer to sports cars of the time, just as the original Ghibli was in its time. In fact the car can be paired with the Ghibli, with things in common such as the long-bonnet proportions. We also took inspiration for it from the 1953 Maserati A6GCS Pininfarina but if you put the two together there is nothing you can say is the same. It’s more about the general feeling than the details.

How different will the production Alfieri be from the concept car?

It will look like the concept. We have a long established capacity in the company to make production models that are very close to the concepts.

What are the design elements that sum up Maserati?

Maserati has always had a very open-minded approach, in contrast to more single-minded Ferrari. One result is a willingness to do new things, like the first Quattroporte, and another is a great mix of design elements. When I was at Pininfarina working on the (2003) Quattroporte we went through the history of Maserati and concluded that there was not one car to refer to, more a general Maserati spirit. For the Quattroporte and then the Granturismo we tried to find that spirit in Maserati’s heritage to provide a foundation. We need a strong foundation so we don’t change direction with every model that comes out. New models need to be different from each other but heading in the same direction.

What is the basis of Maserati’s design foundation?

Our key words are proportion, elegance, simplicity, and dynamism. We don’t want to make cars that are too flashy or too fashionable, we want cars that are still nice to look at after 10 years.

Will new diesel models and the coming new Levante SUV dilute Maserati’s sporting appeal?

The appeal is not watered down at all. We are prepared to see diesel in any car, and we try to make a very sporty diesel. If we want to sell cars we have to make what the market wants. If you don’t have a diesel you can’t sell the car in Europe. With Maserati and also with Alfa Romeo we are not constrained by marketing. We are quite free to express ourselves.

How important is it that sports cars are always part of Maserati’s line-up?

We came up with the Alfieri for the occasion of Maserati’s 100th birthday to stress that even if we have come out with two sedans and have shown an SUV the roots of the Maserati brand are in sports cars. We want to establish the sports car as a core business of Maserati.

What is the one car here in the Maserati exhibition you would most like to drive home?

The A6 Zagato is one of the best looking Zagatos ever, and I like as well the 450S and the Birdcage. But one car to take home? For sure the A6GCS Pininfarina (below).

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Will we see you at FoS this year?

I love the Festival. The atmosphere and the smell of the oil reminds me of when I was a boy and so much in love with cars. I like as well the Goodwood Revival. But this year I can’t make either – too many meetings!

And finally… we are waiting for a new generation of exciting and affordable rear-drive Alfa Romeos. What will they be like?

For sure you will be able to afford them and they will be exciting and look good. We are all doing our best. It is a great opportunity to redo the whole Alfa Romeo range with a clean sheet of paper. We are very free to do this. The responsibility is very large and I hope we can overcome it with success.

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