Maserati’s 2014 sales gain is astonishing, but is it a false dawn?
One of the reasons the motor industry continues to be such compelling subject matter is its almost limitless capacity to surprise. Last week, we looked at FCA’s decision to float off Ferrari as a stand-alone business – a move that surprised many – (if not ourselves). Now however, we are compelled to eat a portion of humble pie on the back of sales figures for Maserati that appear to demonstrate the storied brand’s continued growth to be no mirage, despite strong misgivings we expressed on the subject back in May.
According to TheTruthAboutCars.com, Maserati sales in the land of the free have risen a staggering 307% through the first nine months of 2014, eclipsing those of Jaguar – a far more established and (theoretically) higher-volume luxury brand. A similar story is unfolding here in Britain. According to figures released by the SMMT in August, Maserati’s UK sales have risen an impressive 274% so far this year.
Suddenly, Sergio Marchionne’s vow to grow Maserati’s volumes to 50,000 units per annum by 2015 seems a good deal more plausible. As recently as 2012, the brand sold just over 6,000 cars worldwide. Last year, on the back of two new product launches, that figure was more than doubled and with 2014 being the first full sales year for the mid-sized (and priced) Ghibli saloon, Maserati appears set to double its output once more this year.
Central to the next phase of Maserati’s rise will be the launch of the Levante SUV – likely to be the brand’s biggest selling model, making the prospect of 75,000 sales per annum by 2018 a realistic aim. But where has this sales surge come from and is it possible to sustain such growth? Lets have a look.
One thing that has been abundantly clear from a succession of reviews on both sides of the Atlantic is that neither the Quattroporte nor the newer Ghibli are class-leading. Good but not great seems to be the overall view. This suggests there is a pent-up desire for customers to sit behind the Modena Trident, regardless of the merit therein. Because despite a historically tarnished reputation for reliability, the brand has retained its positioning as a status symbol. In fact, the brand’s resilience is remarkable, given just how poor the De Tomaso-era cars of the 1980’s were as ownership prospects. Maserati has retained its perception of high-end, high class luxury – one that has been bolstered in recent years by its well publicised engineering links to Ferrari. In the current marketplace, this counts for a great deal.
Despite misgivings expressed by enthusiasts over the styling of the new saloons, it appears that Maserati’s styling chief, Lorenzo Ramiciotti has judged them correctly. The same goes for the less than stellar interior ambience offered in both cars. Neither offer the kind of hand-crafted Italian craftsmanship one traditionally associates with the marque, and contain a lot of generic switchgear and infotainment from lesser FCA products. Certainly, if buyers have reservations about the new car’s appearance, it hasn’t reflected in the sales figures.
Nor has the stigma of unreliability given customers reason for pause. At this end of the market, and given the level of mechanical neglect, extreme weather and high mileage US customers habitually submit their cars to, owners of European luxury cars expect a degree of unreliability. They also expect exemplary customer service and if Maserati’s newly expanded dealer network provide it, they should be capable of weathering the occasional storm or two.
The serious challenge for FCA and Maserati’s bosses will not be enticing 70,000 customers behind the Trident badge; the real test will come after reaching those giddy highlands. Translating that into a sustainable repeat business that will see customers buying again and again. Maserati boss Harald Wester has to hope he can retain customer loyalty as fast as he grows sales. Failure to do so could see Maserati’s resurgence sputter and pop as fickle customers migrate to the next must-have product. FCA’s 1.2 billion Euro investment has merely got Maserati out of the blocks – it remains to be seen if it has the stamina to go the distance.
In an alternate universe, Car & Driver’s John Philips offers his own take on Maserati’s 100-year history – read here.