Paul Fussell’s brilliant book Class describes a BMW as a car for an upper-middle class professional, while a Mercedes-Benz is too ostentatious. The true upper-class vehicle is a beige Dodge or Ford, generally filthy and driven at 10 mph under the speed limit.
Fussell’s book was first published in 1983, and I’ll give one of my favorite authors the benefit of the doubt – not even such an astute and visionary social critic could anticipate the massive explosion of (credit fueled) affluence that has swept our society. Today, a Mercedes-Benz can be leased for the same cost as a Honda Accord, a BMW is what you buy for your daughter, and a Dodge isn’t even fit for your maid to drive. Which brings us to the Maserati Kubang.
I’ve seen the logarithmic expansion of affluence on a micro level, as the carpool vehicles of choice got progressively more expensive when I was a child. In 1992, the Chrysler “Magic Wagon” ruled the roost, and as the two year leases expired, the mothers of my neighborhood moved up to the Mercury Villager Nautica, Volvo 850 wagon and Ford Expedition. 1998 was a watershed year, as the Mercedes-Benz ML320 debuted, and the minimum entry point for membership in the imaginary social clique dreamed up by Toronto’s Desperate Jewish Housewife Princesses was a luxury SUV.
Over a decade later, the affluence train has shown no signs of slowing down, and waves of identical white Range Rovers, black Cadillac Escalades, silver Mercedes-Benz SUVs (ML, GL, G-Wagen – but never the GLK) all crowd the narrow, single lane streets of Forest Hill village, as their drivers fetch coffee at Starbucks or take a watered-down Muay Thai class, in a futile attempt to fight genetics and stay aesthetically competitive with their adolescent daughters.
By the time the Maserati Kubang launches in 12-24 months, the leases on all these SUVs, as well as the current top dog, the Porsche Cayenne, will be set to expire. The Maserati Quattroporte is currently en vogue with the Forest Hill Husband set, along with the Porsche Panamera, for the simple reason that the XY crowd gets the image of a sports car, even while their wives have expressly forbidden them from buying a 911 or GranSport Coupe.
I will bet all of my Bar Mitzvah Israel Bonds that the Kubang will be a smash hit among consumers and an enormously profitable vehicle for Chrysler/Fiat. The nouveau riche, perpetually insecure about their status, have already exhausted their options for premium SUVs.
Performance, build quality and dynamic competence are all irrelevant. I know multiple Quattroporte owners, all of whom are dissatisfied in most every aspect. Their rationale for buying one “Everyone has a 7-Series or an S-Class”. You can bet that the Kubang will be bought for similar reasons. This car is going to be everywhere the rich are, from ritzy neighborhoods to rap videos to “The Real Housewives of [insert locale here]”.
Maserati, as a brand, already enjoys a more-than premium position, by nature of its nationality, its shrewd product placements in TV shows like Desperate Housewives, The Sopranos and Entourage, and the relatively limited production of its cars. History has proven that premium SUVs are a profitable formula, and the louder the enthusiast opposition, the better they tend to do.
Meanwhile, Sergio Marchionne and his Chrysler cronies will be swimming in a pile of gold coins, ala Scrooge McDuck, for the exact reasons that enthusiasts will decry online; it’s based on a Jeep Grand Cherokee platform (so it’s going to be mega profitable), it’s ugly (the better to let everyone know you’re rich and they’re not) it destroys the Maserati brand values. Sure, some of them will catch on fire or break down, but that’s ok; the owner can just borrow their daughter’s X3 while it’s in the shop.
Some of us long for a time when cars were pure, marketers less cynical and all that rose-tinted nonsense. There’s no point in arguing with reality, and the fact is that products like these will sell from Beijing to Beverly Hills to Brasilia (and most definitely whatever Russian city starts with a “B”). Better to cheer on such a naked and ruthless attempt to make money than to sit among the destitute peanut gallery of enthusiasts who could never really afford one anyways.