FCA Boss Admits A Maser Mistake

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey

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.

[Image: Maserati]

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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  • Add Lightness Add Lightness on Nov 19, 2018

    After a day on the bike in tough weather, I get home and go for an errand in my Honda. I have heat, a seat, windows and a radio. I always think to myself 'This is an absolute luxurious experience' Just how much luxury do we need in life? BTW, luxury and performance are basically at opposite ends of the automotive spectrum and trying to have both in the same package is nothing but a big compromise.

  • Markogts Markogts on Nov 22, 2018

    These are the same bunch of clueless guys who sold a Chrysler 300M under a Lancia badge. Now, maybe in the US is not well known, anyway, Lancia has always been associated with FWD, so this was the second most stupid move in FCA history. Now Lancia is a dead brand, and no one of these top brass will be held accountable. If you wonder which is the most stupid move made in the history of FCA (well, FIAT) just google "Alfa Romeo 155". You shouldn't treat a car company as a kitchen appliance company: there are traditions and engineering choice history that go way deeper than the shape of a grille.

    • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Nov 25, 2018

      Lancia still exist as a "fashion micro car" whatever it implies and there are even Black Friday deals available. FIAT killed Lancia and in the process of killing Chrysler and Dodge too. Next will be probably Maserati. FCA is clueless.

  • 3-On-The-Tree I don’t think Toyotas going down.
  • ToolGuy Random thoughts (bulleted list because it should work on this page):• Carlos Tavares is a very smart individual.• I get the sense that the western hemisphere portion of Stellantis was even more messed up than he originally believed (I have no data), which is why the plan (old plan, original plan) has taken longer than expected (longer than I expected).• All the OEMs who have taken a serious look at what is happening with EVs in China have had to take a step back and reassess (oversimplification: they were thinking mostly business-as-usual with some tweaks here and there, and now realize they have bigger issues, much bigger, really big).• You (dear TTAC reader) aren't ready to hear this yet, but the EV thing is a tsunami (the thing has already done the thing, just hasn't reached you yet). I hesitate to even tell you, but it is the truth.
  • ToolGuy ¶ I have kicked around doing an engine rebuild at some point (I never have on an automobile); right now my interest level in that is pretty low, say 2/5.¶ It could be interesting to do an engine swap at some point (also haven't done that), call that 2/5 as well.¶ Building a kit car would be interesting but a big commitment, let's say 1/5 realistically.¶ Frame-up restoration, very little interest, 1/5.¶ I have repainted a vehicle (down to bare metal) and that was interesting/engaging (didn't have the right facilities, but made it work, sort of lol).¶ Taking a vehicle which I like where the ICE has given out and converting it to EV sounds engaging and appealing. Would not do it anytime soon, maybe 3 to 5 years out. Current interest level 4/5.¶ Building my own car (from scratch) would have some significant hurdles. Unless I started my own car company, which might involve other hurdles. 😉
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  • ToolGuy Those of you who aren't listening to the TTAC Podcast, you really don't know what you are missing.