TRENDS magazine spoke with Maserati’s Global CEO, Herald Wester, at the Frankfurt Motor Show, about the future steps for the Italian luxury car brand
You say that you want to boost production to 50,000 by 2015. How realistic is that target given the current state?
We can certainly produce 50,000 cars but the tricky issue is to sell these 50,000. Look, let us start with facts and figures; you know how Maserati evolved over the past years, we saw how in 2012 with the old range of product, we saw it was close to 6,300 cars sold, with almost 50 percent in the United States and the rest in the other global markets. And we introduced in Detroit the Quattroporte, in Shanghai the Ghibli, and we opened the orders for both cars thereafter.
But even by 2015 the 50,000 will not be achieved just by launching a new Quattroporte and the Ghibli. We will add another important product in our product portfolio, which is the Levante SUV, which will further boost sales. This new car will go into production in the second quarter of 2015 and the product will hit the markets by the second half of 2015.
I know that the capacity of your production line in Grugliasco is limited, so where will you produce the Levante?
We have had a lot of internal discussions over the last months and we can confirm that the Levante will be produced in Italy. We are going to reshuffle, reconstruct and renovate a portion of Mirafiori, the old base of Fiat, and create a new production facility for Levante here.
As far as Grugliasco is concerned, it is now is running with a two-shift operation; we can produce, in a relatively free mix, the Quattroporte and Ghibli, with around 135 to 140 cars a day in the two shifts.
The potential forecast of what the Levante SUV might contribute to our global sales well it should be similar to what the Ghibli can do. But it is a conservative guess in the range of 20,000 to 25,000 in a full year, having available all versions for all markets.
And what engines will be used for the Levante?
The same engines as for the Quattroporte and Ghibli; the V8, V6 and the V6 diesel and they will be produced at Maranello. The majority of the customers are buying a V6 engines, all wheel drives. We created a specific engine for the Chinese market and we still have to wait for the final confirmation of the diesel share in Europe. But you know that in these segments in Europe the diesel share and the competition today is in the range of 75 percent.
The Quattroporte diesel is the only version that is not getting produced, it will go in production and will be presented here at the end of this month. You know if we look and the Quattroporte segment and the Ghibli segment in Western Europe over the last 12 to 15 months, despite the fact that these segments are shrinking, we have approximately minus 30 percent over the last number of years.
What about your project with Zegna?
I really love this project because both companies represent Italy at its best and the heritage. Zegna was born in 1910 and they had their 100-year anniversary three years ago. We will have our one hundred year anniversary the next year in 2014. They are both representing these elements like style, class, heritage and luxury. We believe that it is a wonderful combination and that the two brands fit very well with each other and that we will both have significant benefit from this cooperation.
This is a concept car. Next year, based on this concept car, we will do a limited edition of 100 Quattroportes; they will be concept cars that we will sell in all markets. In time we hope that there might be some Zegna features for all of our cars.
How about the fact that you are going to do some more robotized production methods? The part of the appeal of the Maserati is that it is a handcrafted element that has been built by human beings. You are going to be shifting away from that, what is your plan?
Well you are right, there is a certain trademark in this, but if you look at our dashboards they are still leather wrapped by hand. This is what we maintain and what we keep. On the other side, multiplying up the production by times nine or times ten you cannot just go ahead doing more of the same, you need to create more stable, more robot processes just to get to the right amount of quality and number combination.
Of course the new products have been developed applying totally different quality standards. We are controlling thousands of points of geometry, so it is absolute state of the art. The selection of the material, the combination and how it feels and how it smells will remain 100 percent Maserati and of course the Zegna project will contribute to this. We will always deliver on our extra levels of customization.
Speaking about luxury, is it important to product luxury goods? What is luxury?
Well first of, luxury is a fact. My personal opinion, I totally believe in a world that functions best if it is a kind of meritocracy. However, our customers are not the typical average consumer. If you work hard and you love beautiful things and you have a sense for the material and for the beauty and the style and the class, I totally believe that each and everybody has the right to reward himself or herself with something that is beautiful.
What is your plan for building diesel cars?
I am personally not very convinced about this solution. We all know that the diesel cars are more effective than the electric vehicles and the hybrid vehicles, but it is not yet very clear what is going to happen. What is clear is that it is not a business. The discussion about the global balance of these cars is totally unfair due to the fact that we always know we treat them as if they were zero emission cars, which they are not. You need to produce the cars and the batteries, which is a long investment of energy, several tones of CO2 of Kilowatts per hour of modern batteries. As a group we already have electric cars and we are working on hybrid cars so if the markets will force us into this direction we are prepared for this.
Is there any possibility that you could produce a halo car/a super car in the future?
Absolutely. I think it is indispensible because if you see the history it only includes halo cars and then we recreated a kind of basis over the last ten years, predominately from 2005 to 2012. Now with the Quattroporte, Ghibli and Levante you can say that we are becoming pretty much similar to other luxury or premium brands. I believe many of them are premium and there is a significant difference between premium and luxury. However, I see Maserati being much more in the luxury area.
Will you limit the production volume to 50,000 cars to remain optimistic but realistic, or is there a firm belief that this figure can be exceeded?
If you can only afford your investments and if you have already put down over optimistic numbers of what you can sell and the prices of what you may sell, then this is always a very risky situation. I agree, we do not get about… we made the business cases about the Ghibli and healthy business cases assuming to sell between 20,000 to 25,000 and we will do the same with the Levante.
If you look at what is going on in the market and with the competition there is an up side. So a target of 50,000 is not a dogmatic limit and I do not think it is an issue. We will be keeping a close eye on each market and where there is potential for increased output and sale, but we do have high hopes for the Levante in the Middle East.