Maserati Will Finally Get the Love It Needs: Manley

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

In between local radio spots that endlessly hawk Mitsubishis with free winter tires and incentives piled high on the hood, there’s sometimes an ad for, oddly, the Maserati Ghibli — the aging luxury sedan named after a late-60s sex bomb of a performance coupe. It looks like no one’s getting the message.

Sales and profits have tumbled at the Fiat Chrysler-owned marque, and FCA CEO Mike Manley now admits bundling the Italian brand with Alfa Romeo was a mistake.

After earnings fell 87 percent in the third quarter, with global sales down 19 percent in the same period, Manley says Maserati hasn’t received the nurturing it needs. Instead of treating it like a vulnerable sapling, FCA essentially handled Maserati like it was already a forest. As a result, focus strayed from the brand to the much healthier Alfa.

Profit margins fell to 2.4 percent in the last quarter, down from 13.8 percent a year earlier. Time for triage.

“With hindsight, when we put Maserati and Alfa together, it did two things. 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 said in an earnings call reported by Automotive News.

Since late CEO Sergio Marchionne targeted 2018 sales at 75,000 units in the company’s previous five-year plan, the bar has already been lowered once, to 50,000 vehicles. That goal’s now a pipe dream. Over the first nine months of 2018, global Maserati sales amounted to just 26,400 cars and SUVs. A botched Levante launch in 2016 hasn’t helped matters at all — in a market where high-zoot SUVs are a license to print money, FCA finds its ink cartridge dry. The Levante’s floundering.

Since taking the helm in July, Manley’s already taken steps to turn the brand around. In October, Manley named chief technology officer Harald Wester as Maserati’s new brand boss. Wester then snapped up Jean-Philippe LeLoup, formerly head of Ferrari’s business operations in the all-important central and eastern Europe market. Earlier this month, FCA named Al Gardner, North American head of Maserati dealer operations, to take control of the brand in that region.

With the exception of the Levante, promised products from the previous five-year plan never reached the showroom, further compounding Maserati’s sales woes. They’re still on the horizon — an Alfieri coupe and convertible and a mid-sized SUV, plus electrification galore — but the timeline remains hazy.

Manley told analysts that he isn’t done trying to whip the brand into shape. The flurry of hirings and title changes in the past month “will be followed by some further action we will take in the fourth quarter,” he said. “It will take at least two quarters to sort through some of the channel issues, but I’m expecting Harald and his team to make some significant progress beginning in the second half of 2019.”

[Images: Maserati]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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