By on July 29, 2011

While Fiat-Chrysler revives its Lancia brand by rebadging new Chrysler models with few other modifications, it’s attacking Maserati’s aging product lineup with a similar but more subtle strategy. Automotive News [sub] reports that the current Quattroporte has a problem

The car is too big to be a compelling driver’s car, but too small – particularly in terms of rear legroom – to serve as a good chauffeur’s car.

Luckily, according to the report, there’s an easy solution:

The problem will be resolved by offering two cars – a “baby” Quattroporte, code-named M157 and a larger Quattroporte, code-named M156.

The new flagship model will continue to use a Ferrari-sourced V8, and presumably an evolution of the current model’s underpinnings, extended by 70 mm to 5170 mm, or 203 inches… about the length of the forthcoming Cadillac XTS. The smaller version, on the other hand, is going to be a case study in the ever-evolving art of balancing shared components and premium differentiation.

The baby Maserati, which we’ve already seen testing as a mule, was “was initially conceived as a flagship model for the Alfa Romeo brand,” meaning it’s an evolution of the strategy that would have seen an Alfa flagship on the LX platform, built alongside the Chrysler 300 at Brampton. But  the transformation from Chrysler to Maserati will be more complicated than slapping on a new grille and swapping out the “Hemi”-branded valve covers. The general strategy is explained by An [sub] thus:

Maserati officials say the new models will not be rebadged Chryslers. They will have different bodies and interiors, as well as new front and rear suspensions and dedicated powertrains. The parts is sharing will be where the customer does not see it, the same as in the Bentley Continental, which is a rebodied Volkswagen Phaeton.

VW is the king of under-the-skin component sharing between its giant stable of brands, but the Phaeton-Conti example is perhaps a bit flattering. After all, Maserati plays in the Bentley-comparable upper reaches of the luxury class, and though the Phaeton bore the humble VW brand, it was considerably more luxurious than a 300 or Charger. But there’s a hint at the lengths to which Maserati will go to differentiate itself from its mass-market relations in AN’s description of its engine:

The car will use a heavily revised, high performance version of the Chrysler V-6 Pentastar engine. With capacity reduced to 3.0-liter, the addition of Fiat’s fuel-saving MultiAir air management system, twin turbocharging and direct injection, this variant will deliver over 400-hp and good fuel economy.

But will a turbocharged Pentastar really be exclusive to Maserati? It’s hard to imagine it, especially as emissions standards put ever more pressure on Chrysler’s love affair with V8 powered large sedans and SUVs. If Maserati’s engine is truly unique, this strategy could pay off… if it’s simply a more highly-tuned version of an engine available in Chrysler and Dodge-branded vehicles, it could backfire. As always, differentiation is a delicate balancing act.

But the first differentiation challenge for Maserati will be a forthcoming version of the Grand Cherokee, which debuts this September at the Frankfurt Auto Show. Maser’s promising “specific body panels and a new interior,” as well as Ferrari power… so the only complaints will be from traditionalists who don’t see Maserati as an SUV brand. But, with the Grand Cherokee Hemi Overland starting at over €60k in Europe, the Maserati will have to be incredibly expensive, which in turn factors into the differentiation equation.

As Fiat consolidates its new empire, the name of the game will be leveraging Fiat platforms for Chrysler and Chrysler platforms for Fiat, Alfa, Lancia and Maserati. Volkswagen has shown that this kind of commonality between diverse brands is possible, but automotive history is riddled with examples of how not to execute such a strategy. We’ll be watching with interest to see if Fiat can set a new example for an industry that’s always balancing uniqueness and quality against cost and commonality.

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7 Comments on “Maserati To Explore The Line Between Parts Sharing And Brand Engineering...”

  • avatar

    How about a new Maserati Mexico using the Challenger as a base?

  • avatar

    So Maserati is going to build a car on an old 1990s Mercedes platform? Does Mercedes get to have a say in that? Seems like they would not be happy that someone is building sort of competing products on their leftovers.

    • 0 avatar

      But it’s a bit like that old saw about the tourist asking some Vermont grandpa whether the axe he’s holding is the same one George Washington used. “Yup,” was the reply. “Of course, it’s had nine new handles and two new heads.”

      Any relationship between a nineties Mercedes and this new car with all new suspension, a new body, a twin turbo V6 and a seven speed transmission is scant. Utterly invisible, I’d say, if one thinks about it rationally.

      I like Sergio. He’s got balls. And this site continually rags on him, for some reason that is entirely beyond me. Envy seems the most likely cause, with the same set of emotions operating as in watching someone or other win the lottery and figuring that the dumb schmuck was just lucky. Why not me, instead?

      Sergio is not dumb, nor a schmuck.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    If Sergio plays a “trickle down” strategy these gambles will pay off. Imagine the advertising to Joe and Jane Six-pack… “The Dodge Charger now available with a 3.0V6 from Maserati!”

    On the other hand, if a “trickle up” strategy is used (Ford Granda 1975 begats Lincoln Versailles in 1977) then it will likely be a case of swimming upstream. (Or an even uglier example… Chrysler LeBaron 1987 begats Chrysler TC by Maserati in 1989.)

  • avatar

    I suppose it could be worse. They could be using Chrysler’s Mitsubishi component set to build an OSCA MT4 out of a Compass.

  • avatar
    Dan R

    The new Jetta’s sales in the US show that the punters really don’t give a fig about auto review misgivings on engineering “purity”.
    The new Jetta is the right size, right price and sorta looks like an Audi from behind.
    If VW under whatever guise (Bentley, Porsche, Audi) can do it? Why not FIAT?

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