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to buy additional rights. Fiat chief Sergio Marchionne plays to Italy’s strengths - FT.com
Maserati’s first SUV, the Levante, will roll out of Mirafiori in 2015, intended for a lucrative segment tapped by rivals such as Porsche and BMW, as the brand focuses on high-powered, midsized models outside Europe to hit a long-term sales target of 70,000 cars a year – 10 times what it sells today.
“The [Maserati] brief is to develop a limited set of products. I don’t think you will ever see from a sedan standpoint Maserati make a car smaller than the Ghibli,” Mr Marchionne tells the Financial Times in an interview on the top floor of the Fiat headquarters in Turin. “It needs to continue to play in the larger SUV space, the larger segments . . . It needs to remain an exclusive brand.” To be launched next year, the Ghibli is a premium sedan that will compete with a Mercedes-Benz E-class.
From Fiat’s helipad in downtown Turin, the tall thin chimneys at the Mirafiori factory loom with the backdrop of the Alps in the distance. More than 70 years old, the factory has capacity to build 300,000 cars annually, but will be lucky to make only a 10th of that this year.
“The plan that we have in place in terms of the full development of the site . . . is that all the people employed at the plant will be absorbed,” says Mr Marchionne.
Another new but as yet unknown model will also be built there in an effort to increase productivity.
“[The investment] buys a full assembly line and a brand new product that will complement the Maserati line-up. I think it is in desperate need of an SUV,” Mr Marchionne says.
“It’s already started in the sense that we’re lining up the investments now. We’re beginning to finalise the surfaces of the car now . . . It starts making the body in the third quarter of 2014 and the idea is to enter the market in the second quarter of 2015.”
Fiat is rolling out 14 new premium Maserati, Alfa Romeo and Jeep models over the next few years in an effort to use up some of its more than 50 per cent of excess manufacturing capacity in Italy, to attract new customers in fast-growing markets and to turn round a European business that lost almost $1bn last year.
“Our involvement in what I call . . . the premium end in its wider context expands beyond Maserati. It includes Alfa,” says Mr Marchionne. “There’s always a way in which we can downgrade Alfa to go and play with a bunch of people, but the question [has to be]: Is that the right answer for Alfa as a brand?,” he asks. “And if I look at its history and its DNA – and its capability is because of that DNA – I think our ambitions may have been understated in the past.”
As a benchmark, Fiat need only look to German rival Volkswagen, which vastly overshadows the Italian group in terms of luxury sales.