MAR 17th 2015

EXCLUSIVE: MASERATI CHIEF TALKS SPORTS CARS AND SUVS (OH, AND HOW HIS SHARES HAVE SHOT UP) WITH GRR

Dear Maserati, just a note to say thanks for such grand celebrations for your 100th birthday last year, and trust all is going well with your plans for the future…

It must feel a little like the morning after the night before for the people behind the trident brand. What a year of partying it was, in Italy and in the UK at Silverstone as well, of course, as at Goodwood – who can forget those gorgeous Masers, including the totally delicious new Alfieri, at the Festival of Speed? Or the amazing spectacle of all those 250Fs in the 250F-only race at Revival?

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Now though the party’s over and it’s time to deliver on some major promises. Year one of its re-invention, how’s Maserati managing?

Time for a catch-up so GRR heads off to the RAC Country Club on Epsom Downs where the cars and the trident top brass are ensconced for a day of Modenese drum-banging to the great and the good.

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First a quick refresh: the plan outlined in 2014 was to have new models, a bigger range, more engine choice and sell six times as many cars globally as it did a couple of years ago. To be the meat in the middle of a Fiat Group panini: sandwiched between Alfa Romeo below it and Ferrari above it.

So a £50,000-£150,000 range anchored by a premium saloon bursting with brio to spice up the lives of executive user-choosers. If you are going to have a 5-series class car, after all, why not have one powered by an engine built by Ferrari? (Other engines also available…yes including the inevitable diesel).

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So how have they done? With a new Quattroporte in 2013 and the Ghibli re-invented as that executive express, worldwide sales hit 36,500 in 2014 – half way towards the target of 75,000 Maseratis a year. In the UK 1194 new Masers were registered in 2014. The number for the year before was 319.

So far so good, but it’s sporty new models we want to see, chiefly the Alfieri. A real looker in concept form, this front-engined 2+2 for 2017 is Maserati’s contender in the 911 market. There will be a convertible version to follow the coupe. We have known this much for a while, but now there are new details to help colour in the picture.

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For the entry model expect 425bhp from an uprated version of the current 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 and a price around the £70-£80k mark. More powerful Stradale versions and all-wheel drive are likely, and at some point the Alfieri is odds on to take over from the GranTurismo in the one-make Trofeo race series.

The GranTurismo (eight years old now) is replaced in 2018 by a larger, more luxurious coupe with room for four. The Alfieri will be the sports car, the new GranTurismo will be the flagship GT and with a price to match: £120,000 and more. The new model will – alas – spell the end for the wonderful normally-aspirated 4.7-litre V8.

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Great cars to have but not volume-sellers, the key to hitting 75,000 cars a year? Of course an SUV. The Levante (it’s what the old factory in Bologna was called) is a Porsche Cayenne rival that’s now under a year away from its unveiling. That will probably be at Detroit next January. The US is Maserati’s biggest market, though with China not far behind.

Entry model will be a V6 diesel with around 300bhp, there will also come a 425bhp petrol V6 model and, as competition for the Cayenne Turbo, Lavante with the 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 from the Quattroporte GTS boasting around 560bhp.

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In Maserati’s only news at the recent Geneva show, CEO Harald Wester said there would also be a plug-in hybrid version. That drivetrain is also likely for the Quattroporte and new GranTurismo – all the new models have common platforms to make engine mix ’n matching (relatively) easy.

There won’t be a smaller, sub £50k, SUV. That would be encroaching on Alfa territory.

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Then there’s motor racing. The feeling is having gentlemen racers competing against each other in a one-make competition is all well and good but at some point Maserati has to prove itself against the opposition.

GRR of course wouldn’t expect anything else from a company with such a distinguished motorsport past!

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At the RAC Club we had a chance to chat with Giulio Pastore, general manager Maserati Europe…

You have used Maserati’s heritage to establish the brand with new customers. What is Maserati giving back to the people who own, drive, restore and race classic Maseratis?

We are satisfying these people much more than in the past. But we would like to do more. There is now a structure in place, Maserati Classic, and we can grow that. It is a start.

What role is there for Maserati in motorsport in the future?

For sure we will never be F1, that is Ferrari. We will always be there for gentlemen drivers and it is essential that the Trofeo series continues. More than that, we want to do something that is useful for the brand. But I don’t know what. We have to invest the right money in the right way.

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What about a GT3 Alfieri?

It would be a nice idea but nothing is planned.

Which is more important to the future of Maserati, the Alfieri or the Lavante?

Both are equally important. For brand perception, Alfieri. To create the volumes we need, Lavante. The SUV market continues to grow and it is essential for us to be in it in order to invest in new models. So they go together – one makes the other possible.

Will the Levante be the biggest-selling Maserati?

Yes it will. We expect it to take 43 per cent of Maserati’s sales. The Ghibli about 30 per cent.

Could Maserati survive without an SUV?

Yes we could, but not at 75,000 units a year. It might be 40,000. If you wanted a new GranTurismo and new Alfieri we wouldn’t be able to do them. We need the Lavante to be able to make the new cars.

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How important is a hybrid powertrain to Maserati?

The estimate is that by 2020 30 per cent of the SUV market will be hybrids so we need to have it, though I personally don’t trust too much that number.

Will there ever be a smaller Levante at below £50,000?

No never. That would be a risk to the exclusivity.

Will Maserati be competing in the marketplace with Alfa and Ferrari?

The Alfa customer is different from Maserati customers. I don’t think there will be competition between us. There is no competition between Maserati and Ferrari now, and there won’t be in the future apart from maybe some overlap at the very top of our range.

Your wife works for Ferrari. What do you talk about in the evenings?

Anything but work!

Ferrari shares go on sale soon. Should we be buying them?

For sure, Ferrari is Ferrari. I would like to but I am very satisfied with my Fiat shares. More than 100 per cent up in one year so I am really happy!

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