Maserati's road to recovery starts with the MC20
Fiat Chrysler seems to be repenting an awful lot lately, first with Jeep and it seems Maserati is now set to join its American cousins in confession.
Maserati have recently appointed a new national marketing manager here in Australia. The guy just so happens to be an ex-colleague and good friend of mine. He was the backbone of Jaguar Land Rover's marketing during their most recent growth years and championed such launches as the new Discovery Sport, Discovery, Velar and Evoque. The guy is honestly a marketing machine. I think that was worth mentioning today because it's just one example of a long list of investments Maserati and Fiat Chrysler has recently made into the brand in the hope of reviving something which (let's be honest) outside of Italy has been somewhat on life support.
Now there is no doubt that the road to recovery for Maserati is long and scattered with booby traps. It's not going to be easy for them. But I thought the fact that FCA are putting money and people into the brand is important. I mean in today's world you have to spend money to make money, there is simply no other way to be top of the pops.
It's also a staunch difference to another brand I mentioned the other day, General Motors. Where General Motors are drawing back on most of their previous investments, Fiat Chrysler are now doubling down.
Before I move onto the product section of Maserati's grand plan, I think it's worth mentioning that the segment they're competing in is the worst automotive segment that they possibly could be involved in. In the highest echelon of automotive, the margins are high, the competition isn't by any means in short supply and the inter-brand dealership competition is the worst of all markets (and that's without taking competitors into account). So it's going to be a hard task.
Worldwide the brand has been dropping in year on year growth by an average of 18% per year for almost 5 years. That's an enormous pace to shrink and it doesn't count 2020 which has been a disastrous year for car sales. So why is that? I mean the brand has appeal, the product is Italian, it's fast and it does very much epitomise luxury. So what's wrong?
One of Maserati's big problems more recently is that the perception by-en-large by the public is that you're buying a BMW quality product for Ferrari prices. And that's not a great perception to have. Worse still they have a reputation for being the most unreliable Italian brand on earth, which is surprising considering they're all terrible. I'll make note that worldwide there is little difference in the reality of Maserati's reliability when compared to Ferrari. It's basically the same. And to be honest, if you're buying them new it doesn't matter at all because they're both covered by an extensive warranty.
So the state of affairs of Maserati in previous years hasn't been that great. It's erring on the unsavable side. But then after launching the Ghibli (which I found to be a complete failure on many levels). Maserati made this crazy, simply but highly intelligent move a couple of months back. They revealed a range named the Trofeo range. A range which would be theoretically akin to the Alfa QV range or the M performance or AMG ranges from BMW and Mercedes. Now that part wasn't so crazy, it was intelligent though, it allows the customer to easily identify the differences between performance (or top of range) and the typical car.
What I did find to be insane was that the differences between the normal cars and the Trofeo range were minimal but seriously noticeable. Things like red accents on the classic racing green colour and gorgeous big new diamond-cut wheels. The changes didn't scream desperation as I expected them to. They screamed class. For the first time in a very long time, I looked at the Quattroporte and I thought, bloody hell that's a good looking car. It was old of course, but it genuinely looks good.
So that was Maserati's first step to redemption. They took their old range and modernised it. It's almost proof that the current range isn't ageing and can still be a hot competitor. They also made those Trofeo cars faster. The Ghibli for example makes the 100km spring in 4.3 seconds. That might not sound like much but for a Maserati in recent times it's impressive.
After taking care of their past, almost tying off a loose end in a way, Maserati last week looked to the future. They wanted to give both FCA and their customers a reason to continue to have faith in the car. And they didn't disappoint. Enter the Maserati MC20. Maserati's first mid-engined supercar in recent memory and a showoff to what the engineers in Maserati's design department can do with a proper F1 inspired V6 engine and a carbon fibre monocoque. All of that aside, the car looks gorgeous and goes really bloody fast. Sub 2.9 seconds to 100 fast.
At this stage, it's also mentioning something else interesting about the MC20. The dedicated website for the Maserati MC20 sits off the Maserati international website. It's an ultra-responsible video-based 2020 design which is simplified and extremely different from anything Maserati has done in the past. You might think I'm reading a bit too much into this but trust me when I say this car is intended to be Maserati's flagship, it's going to be their everything for the next decade of Maserati products. And from what I can see the future is looking bright.
MC20 aside though Maserati have also been revolutionising their marketing strategy, launch strategies and product strategies. This is certainly going to shine through with the launch of the long-anticipated Alfieri next year. A car which has been in the works since 2014 and is pegged to have both PHEV and EV models attached to it.
With that in mind, it feels like FCA are covering the bases with Maserati. They have the fast, the future, the furious and the feedback all bundled together in one strategy which seems to be working in sync. And that says something far more meaningful about FCA than it does about Maserati. It means that the company is working. I wrote an article about how Jeep was making things right a couple of months ago and they're continuing to be committed to that mission. It's Maserati's turn now.
Don't be surprised if the next revolutionary thing Maserati does is fix their aftersales woes. Once that happens these cars might just the Land Rover of the present. The car everyone wants to own. And in a very small bonus to FCA, the mark it leaves on their balance sheet might look more black and less red.
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