| MILAN, April 19
MILAN, April 19 In these lean economic times,
even supercar makers are reaching down-market - which for
Maserati means a price tag below 100,000 euros ($131,000).
The Italian company owned by Fiat is reinventing
its venerable Ghibli tourer as an "executive sedan" aimed
squarely, as the description suggests, at people who still have
The car, due to be unveiled at the Shanghai auto show on
Saturday, is an early test of Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne's
efforts to squeeze more cash out of the prestigious Maserati and
Alfa Romeo brands. The plan would see Maserati sales surge
The outcome will help decide whether Fiat - a company
founded in the late 19th century - survives the collapse of the
auto market in Europe, where its losses reached 738 million
euros last year, putting factories and thousands of jobs at
Maserati will have to perform a difficult balancing act to
emulate the success of Germany's BMW, Daimler
and Volkswagen's Audi by rolling out more
affordable models aimed at a broader client base without
tarnishing one of the auto industry's most hallowed brands.
"This battle won't be won with individuals walking into
showrooms with their cheque books," said Geoff Lancaster,
chairman of Britain's Maserati Club.
"It will be won by Maserati convincing the leasing companies
and fleet managers that their product is competitive on a
cost-per-mile basis with BMW and Mercedes."
Founded a century ago in Bologna by the five Maserati
brothers, the company secured its place in racing history by
winning the Indianapolis 500 in 1939 and 1940. After passing
through the hands of a succession of owners including PSA
Peugeot Citroen, Maserati was bought by Fiat in 1993.
The Ghibli is a smaller, sportier version of the
110,000-euro Quattroporte and the brand's second four-door car.
Named after a wind, like most Maseratis, the original 1967 model
and a 1992-97 successor were both two-door GT coupes.
The revived Ghibli arrives in Europe and China this summer
and U.S. showrooms later in the year, to be followed in 2014 by
a new Levante crossover sport-utility vehicle.
The Ghibli's prices will start somewhere between 50,000 and
100,000 euros, Fiat has said, declining to comment on reports in
the motoring press of a 70,000 euro entry ticket.
Brand chief Harald Wester is expected to announce prices and
sales targets at the Shanghai show.
Fiat unions have been told the carmaker will add a second
shift at its Maserati plant in Turin.
Maserati hopes the entry-level car will draw more buyers
with its racing pedigree, powerful engines and alluring styling.
"For Maserati to grow, it needs to get into this segment
with a smaller car at a lower price," said Pierluigi Santoro, a
doctor and Maserati enthusiast based in Naples.
As European mass-market brands suffer, carmakers are turning
to higher-margin luxury marques to make up for lost revenue.
Maserati and stable-mate Ferrari together sold 13,606 cars
last year, or 0.3 percent of the 4 million total recorded by
Fiat and its U.S. affiliate Chrysler. But they accounted for
nearly 11 percent of group earnings.
The Maserati roll-out is being watched closely for clues
about next year's Alfa Romeo relaunch, billed by Chief Executive
Marchionne as one of the main drivers of his Fiat strategy.
Maserati is targeting an increase in sales to 50,000 cars in
2015 from 6,288 last year, with the Ghibli and upcoming Levante
contributing a combined 35,000.
The goal may prove as unrealistic as it sounds, forecasters
say. LMC Automotive estimates that total Maserati production
will reach 39,078 in 2015. IHS sees 28,100.
Measuring just under five metres in length, the Ghibli comes
with a 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel or petrol engine, manual or
eight-speed automatic transmission and optional four-wheel
The same underpinnings will be used for a large Alfa Romeo
car as well as Chrysler's next-generation 300 sedan, Dodge
Charger and Challenger models.
For Maserati, which sold 2,730 cars in the United States
last year, there is a big gap to close with its competitors.
Jaguar recorded 12,011 U.S. deliveries, while Porsche had 35,043
and Mercedes 295,013.
The Ghibli will compete with the Audi A6, BMW 5-Series,
Jaguar XF and Daimler's Mercedes E-Class but exceed all of their
starting prices - drawing some scepticism about its prospects.
While a move into bigger-selling categories can unlock
economies of scale, it also brings tough competition from the
better-known names, said Stefano Aversa, managing director at
automotive consultancy AlixPartners.
"With the Ghibli, Maserati is entering a higher-volume
segment where Porsche and Jaguar are already well positioned,"