UPDATE 1-Niche automaker Maserati sets mass-market target

Thu Apr 12, 2012 2:24pm EDT

MILAN, April 12 (Reuters) - Niche Italian luxury car maker Maserati, owned by Fiat SpA, aims to make 10 times more cars by 2015 as it expands its range to include a sports utility vehicle and a new high-end sedan aimed at U.S. consumers.

Maserati's move to into higher-volume cars follows Fiat's purchase of a majority stake in U.S. automaker Chrysler, and is part of an industry-wide trend towards luxury SUVs.

The company said on Thursday it aims to sell 50,000 cars annually by 2015. Maserati made 5,675 cars in 2010 at a factory near Bologna, where it was founded in 1914.

Maserati will double its number of dealers by 2014, its marketing director Massimo Farao' said at the Geneva car show last month.

"Our main market is in the U.S., and we are broadening our product range there in the E segment to compete with Mercedes," he said, adding that Maserati is also targeting China.

Its new sales targets take Maserati out of a niche market, and shifts its manufacturing away from its handcrafted roots. The new Maserati SUV will be made in Detroit at the Jefferson North assembly plant, where the Jeep Grand Cherokee is built, from a Jeep platform.

The new high-end, or E segment, car will compete with a BMW Series 5 or Audi A6, and will reportedly be based on a Chrysler platform.

Maserati's small factory in Modena cannot be expanded, the company said on Thursday, so some of its future production will be shifted to the ex-Bertone plant in Turin acquired by Fiat just over two years ago, it said.

"Design, marketing and distribution activities for the entire product range will be located at the company's Modena headquarters," Maserati said.

Maserati also said it planned to produce a new Alfa Romeo model from May 2013 at its Modena factory. It expects production of the new model - the 4C - to be "up to 2,500 units per year."

The 4C is a two-seater sporty Alfa that will spearhead the storied racing brand's long-awaited return to the U.S. market next year. An Alfa Romeo sedan, in the D segment, will be manufactured in the U.S., Fiat executives said at the Geneva car show.

The upcoming Alfa Romeo sedan may share some engine and powertrain technology with the Maserati E segment car, Fiat executives indicated in Geneva, without being more specific.