Earlier this year your humble scribe was in the Detroit suburbs to drive a whole bunch of Maserati and Alfa Romeo product at an event that was separate from and yet still part of Fiat Chrysler’s annual What’s New media-drive event.
That sounds contradictory, so let me explain. The two Italian luxury brands were showcased separately from the others, with a separate dinner and a separate drive. The drive took place not at Chrysler’s venerable proving grounds in Chelsea, but across the metro area in Pontiac, at a small private racetrack. The focus of that day was almost exclusively on Alfa and Maserati products.
It was clear that FCA was trying to bring the brands further into the corporate fold, while also associating them more closely with each other, since both are supposed to offer luxury and performance.
New FCA chief Mike Manley has now said that efforts to pair the two in the minds of consumers may have been a mistake.
“With hindsight, when we put Maserati and Alfa together, it did two things,” he said on a conference call, according to Automotive News. “Firstly, it reduced the focus on Maserati the brand. Secondly, Maserati was treated for a period of time almost as if it were a mass market brand, which it isn’t and shouldn’t be treated that way.”
Manley eventually appointed Harald Wester, who previously served as chief technology officer for FCA, back to the top chair at Maserati. Wester led the brand from 2008 to 2016.
Marketing is the least of Maserati’s troubles, though. The brand is down 16 percent in sales year over year through the first 10 months of 2018, with sluggish sales in China and tighter emissions regulations in Europe partly to blame. Earnings fell by 87 percent to 15 million euros in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, Wester hired executive Jean-Philippe Leloup away from Ferrari to run a new venture called Maserati Commercial.
A dearth of product adds to the woes. The Levante SUV exists in the only SUV class that isn’t seeing growth, and it’s two years older than its prime competitors. Promised Maseratis such as the Alfieri and a mid-size SUV have yet to materialize, and a promise to electrify the brand (literally, with the addition of battery-electric vehicles) has also yet to come to fruition.
The Levante, Ghibili, and Quattroporte are soldiering on, for now.
Manley did hint at some sort of action planned for the final quarter of this year, and he also said he believes the brand can make its 2022 target of 15 percent profit margin.