The Trident Sharpens Its Prongs

Maserati’s 2014 sales gain is astonishing, but is it a false dawn?

Maserati-range-2014

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.

profilo-su-fondo

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.

2015-maserati-levante-side-view

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.

7-8-posteriore

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.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. [Dis]content Provider.

8 thoughts on “The Trident Sharpens Its Prongs”

  1. That’s good news for those of us who wish Maserati well and sad news for those of us who wish Jaguar well and confusing news for us who wish them both well and Marchionne ill. The John Phillips article is amusing, if a bit glib, but in essence he’s right that Maserati seem to have weathered all sorts of negative periods with their exotic image more-or-less intact. Jaguar of course have not been so successful. Maybe that’s because, even (or especially) under De Tomaso, Maserati were always seen at least to be trying whereas Jaguar became the Rip Van Winkle of the car world. If we compare the XF with the Ghibli, the Jaguar is the better drive and the more mature design and that second point might just be the problem. Good or bad, the Ghibli does stand out in a way that the XF and the XE do not. Mind you, no-one ever mistook an S-Type for a Lexus but that didn’t do it any good, so is Jaguar’s image problem incurable?

  2. It may very well just be an expression of stubbornness, but I cannot help but shout “not so fast, young man!” in the direction of the TTAC’s article.

    Yes, Maserati’s sales growth is impressive, but we’ve been there before: the Biturbo, lest we forget, initially also sold rather well indeed and helped the Tridente grow exponentially fast.
    And while the Ghibli/Quattroporte VI most certainly aren’t as underdeveloped, fragile and creaky as Alejandro De Tomaso’s creation, my feeling – yes, I’m not exactly basing my reasoning on scientific criteria – is that these cars won’t age particularly well, neither in terms of quality nor aesthetically.

    Jaguar’s XF, a car I’m not all that enamoured with, despite its significance to Bill Lyons’ business, obviously doesn’t stand out as much as a Ghibli does, and like that car, it’s also a compromised piece of engineering. But what it did do is stand the test of time, at least since its very considered facelift. It was never much of a show stopper, but thankfully isn’t the annoying has-been nowadays, either. We shall wait and see how the Ghibli performs in this particular area.

    In Maserati’s favour are three factors: the brand’s still exceptional image, the cars’ flamboyant styling and – probably least significantly – the range of excellent Ferrari-based petrol engines. The last point is perhaps the most fundamentally sound and substantial benefit to the brand’s fortunes, but also the factor least significant to the general public. The styling, as alluded to earlier, can easily turn into a spur-of-the-moment phenomenon – the question being if costumers will still find it all that alluring in two years’ time. Maserati’s image, on the other hand, has for quite some time exhibited an enormous amount of robustness. That being said, the Tridente didn’t prevent the De Tomaso era turning into an outright disaster, both in terms of brand perception and sales. Some 15 years ago, the Maserati brand still possessed enough cachet for Fiat (then equipped with very deep pockets, thanks to a particularly successful decade for its main brand) to pick up the pieces, but the general car-buying public certainly wasn’t crying out for more products in the Biturbo’s vein.

    Time will tell whether Maserati is actually strong enough a brand to sustain healthy sales of mediocre products. At present, the company could be seen as the main benefactor of German Premium Saloon Fatigue, which is no long-term business model.

  3. I agree completely with Kubrick’s thoughts. Perhaps controversially amongst those who write regularly for this site, I rather like the new Ghibli from a styling perspective. I can see that elements don’t work and it’s not a great Maserati design, but it does stand-out amongst cars similarly priced and positioned in the market. If I could afford one, I’d probably buy one, and listening to myself the reasons are that: a) I like the looks, b) it drives well enough, c) it’s different (sorry, I have to admit an emotional prejudice – how else do I start to explain my current steer?). I first saw one at the Classic Car gig at the NEC in Brum last year and found myself oggling at it.

    I hope that Maserati is allowed the cash to keep developing the car. It needs (and I think I have read that it will get) a new/ better diesel engine, and chassis development, as well as enhancements to the interior. Maserati has a recent track record of doing this to good effect. I think that it simply does not have the funds to develop a new model to the extent that German marque can. Hence, for those of us who are interested, I think we just have to put up with this.

    Overall, I’m hoping that depreciation will be quite savage and I can indulge my irrational infatuation buy snapping up a decent used one in 18-36 months time. By then my daily-drive C6 will have 140,000 miles on it and will probably be in need of replacement ….

    1. SV. Sounds fine to me. I can’t speak for others but I tend to write from my idea of a perfect motoring world, so everything falls short of course. In the end, though, pragmatism kicks in. Which reminds me I still haven’t driven that Twingo.

  4. I think the current Maserati’s are flawed because they were rushed to market. The bosses at Fiat Spa thought they could develop a car in 2 years. They were just rushed, but I have more hope for the future models. This is what Harald Wester said about what a Maserati is to autocar:
    “He cites the important components as the Ferrari-derived powertrains, a unique set of driving characteristics, handmade Italian interiors (although the steel and aluminium bodyshells and suspensions will be made by a highly automated process) and a unique design philosophy.
    Yep, Handmade Italian Interiors: the lack of this is the biggest problem with the current crop of models.

  5. According to current media reports, Maserati is decreasing the Grugliasco factory’s output due to slowing demand.

    Well, that was quick.

  6. All this augurs badly for the forthcoming Giulia, which has also been developed in a ridiculously rapid timeframe and for a very low cost, relatively speaking.

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