Adding crossovers is key to growing sales volumes
Maserati and Alfa Romeo must do better. The premium Italian brands join Jeep and Ram as the global brands that FCA is relying on for profitability in its new five-year business plan that will take the automaker through 2022. Other brands, including Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, and SRT, have a lesser and more regional role, accounting for only 20 percent of sales.
Whereas Jeep and Ram deliver big sales and profits, Maserati and Alfa have failed to meet past targets. Ensuring they meet their new expectations is the job of new brand boss Tim Kuniskis, who has held the global chief job for just four months. His last job was managing the smaller passenger car brands (Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, and SRT).
In our first sit-down with the global chief since FCA released its five-year plan in Italy last month, Kuniskis tells Motor Trend what he needs to do to generate 500,000 annual global sales of the two brands by 2022, 400,000 from Alfa and 100,000 from Maserati.
Step one: increase awareness. “Average customers don’t understand what the brands are before they buy them,” Kuniskis said.
So what are they? Alfa is the pure sports car brand. Maserati is a premium, bespoke, custom, exclusive, grand touring brand, perfect for driving long distances fast and in comfort.
Maserati is affordable
Let’s start with Maserati. Look for little things from the start, like taking down the fence that surrounds the Maserati exhibit at auto shows, Kuniskis says. It sends the wrong message.
“People have a positive perception of Maserati but also think it costs $120,000 USD,” Kuniskis says. “They don’t know that we have an SUV. They don’t know that that SUV starts at $75,000 USD,” which he notes is cheaper than a $100,000 USD Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. “They think the Jeep’s affordable, the Maserati isn’t.”
“Porsche is the natural enemy of Maserati,” Kuniskis says. So Maserati is setting itself up against the full Porsche lineup, minus the 718, which it has no intention of matching.
The entire Maserati lineup will be replaced by 2022, and all models will be electrified with eight plug-in hybrids and four pure battery electric vehicles planned. The GranTurismo coupe and GranCabrio convertible will be replaced by the new Alfieri coupe and convertible, and the lineup will add a D-segment crossover to slot below the Levante.
Maserati has a powerful weapon: a licensed agreement with Ferrari to provide powertrains including combustion, mild hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and Maserati Blue full battery electric powerplants from Maranello. “Ferrari is my source of powertrains. Being able to officially say that will then translate all the way down to the showroom floor,” says Kuniskis.
Levante family grows
The Levante now accounts for more than half of Maserati’s sales, but it is not meeting the expectations of the boss, FCA chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne. A priority is to re-launch the Levante lineup with more variants to go head to head with Porsche’s Cayenne family.
For the 2019 model year there will be a walkup from the base $77,500 USD Levante to the $88,500 USD Levante S, the new $121,500 USD GTS, and the exclusive top-end $171,500 USD Trofeo.
The Trofeo will be low volume. The original plan was to sell about 150 examples, but they’re already sold out for the year, so Maserati may make more. Many of the sales were made at an event for owners in the spring, on the eve of the 2018 New York auto show, before the SUV was unveiled the next day. The Trofeo’s twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V-8 is hand-assembled by Ferrari in Maranello and packs 590 hp and 538 lb-ft of torque.
The new GTS has the same engine but only generates 550 hp and is priced to compete with the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, Kuniskis said.
By the end of 2022 there will be a battery-electric Levante as well as a plug-in hybrid that could use the system developed for the Chrysler Pacifica. The electric Levante will take on the Tesla Model X. “I like to pick natural enemies,” said Kuniskis.
Macan-fighter key to brand growth
The biggest impact on the brand will be the addition of a smaller crossover to compete with the Porsche Macan. “Maserati needs a DUV; that’s where the volume is in the U.S. and China,” Kuniskis said. The midsize crossover will arrive long before the 2022 model year, but Kuniskis would not provide exact timing, nor would he confirm it will share Alfa’s Giorgio platform (Giulia, Stelvio). It will have driving dynamics, all-wheel drive, and a Ferrari powertrain. He expects it to account for half of Maserati’s volume, in much the same way the Macan was key to Porsche doubling its sales over five or six years. It is the only Maserati in the lineup that will be offered as a plug-in hybrid but not a battery electric vehicle.
“All the cars we have today are getting a refresh and a brand-new version,” Kuniskis says. That includes the Quattroporte to better compete against the Porsche Panamera, and the electric Quattroporte goes up against the Tesla Model S.
Alfieri is new halo car
Then there’s the Alfieri, the electrified car that will serve as the halo for the brand. There will be a hardtop and a convertible, with an aluminum space frame and all-wheel drive. It will be offered as a plug-in hybrid and a full battery electric under the Maserati Blue umbrella. The space frame is not being shared with any other vehicles. Alfieri takes on the Porsche 911 as well as Tesla’s roadster.
“There’s certain places that we won’t go,” Kuniskis said. “Maserati’s not going to go down and do a C [compact car].” And although the lineup will be aligned with Porsche, “We’re not going to do a 718. There’s no room for a 718-fighter in Maserati. So there’s certain things that we won’t do.”
8C tops Alfa Romeo lineup
Alfa aims to offer the pure sports car of each segment, including SUVs. The brand halo is the 8C with a mid-mounted twin-turbo V-6 and electric motor, carbon fiber monocoque body, and aluminum subframe.
“To make the purest sports car brand, you need the 8C. You absolutely need that. You’re not going to sell a lot of them, and it’s going to be a tough business case, there’s no question. But there’s a lot of value in that car,” said Kuniskis. “So you built that car, and that becomes your inspirational car from which to draw styling and technology. Over 700 horsepower. It’s the aspirational halo. Low volume.”
Slotting under it is the new GTV, a four-passenger coupe with all-wheel drive. Sharing a chassis and powertrains with the Giulia, this is a 600-hp sports car that more people can drive.
By 2022 Alfa will have dropped the 4C as well as the tiny MiTo that was never sold in the North America. It will keep the rest of its existing lineup but expand the crossover offerings to include a compact CUV smaller than the midsize Stelvio and an E-segment crossover larger than Stelvio.
Stelvio and Giulia get refreshes and long-wheelbase versions for China. Giulietta gets a refresh, as well. It has not been sold in the North America. in the past, and there are no indications that will change.
Most of the models in the lineup will get plug-in hybrid variants. There are no pure electric vehicles planned for Alfa.
Kuniskis is blunt about what the brand must do. “We need to fulfill what we promised.” The last five-year plan in 2014 forecast global sales of 700,000 and eight new vehicles by 2018. “We didn’t do any of those things,” he says. “We sold 150,000 with two [models].”
Alfa suffered from bad timing, says the new brand chief. It will still meet its goal of 400,000 global sales, but not until 2022. Kuniskis is confident volume will go up as more products are added. And he says Alfa did deliver on its promise of a world-class product on a world-class platform. The Alfa Romeo Giulia was the 2018 Motor Trend Car of the Year.
Kuniskis said Alfa needs the 8C, GTV, and two new crossovers to expand the range, meet its commitments, and for dealers who “invested millions of dollars in these brands and quite honestly, for 18 to 24 months, they’re selling 4Cs.”
Maserati and Alfa getting cozier
Look for the two brands to get closer in the future, especially at the dealership level. It varies by region. In the U.S., for a period of time, Alfa and Fiat shared dealerships, and in 2011 the plan was to have stand-alone Fiat dealerships. But the company came to realize it made more sense to put Maserati and Alfa together and lump Fiat in with Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Ram. There will still be cases where Ferrari is paired with Alfa or Maserati. The goal is to pair Alfa and Maserati in China, as well. In Europe, Alfa is with Jeep, which is positioned as a premium brand.
With the additional nameplates planned, the brands will cover about 71 percent of the premium industry, Kuniskis said.