(Changes dateline to Geneva, no changes to text)
* Maserati key to Fiat's European turnaround plan
* Alfieri production could start within 28 months
GENEVA, March 5 Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
(FCA) plans to begin production of bodies for the new
Maserati Levante sport utility vehicle (SUV) at its Mirafiori
plant in northern Italy next year, its chief executive said on
The revival of the luxury Maserati brand represents a key
element of Fiat's attack on European profitability, alongside
the relaunch of the Alfa Romeo marque, as the group aims to move
back into the black in the region by 2016.
Maserati's performance last year was encouraging, with
trading profit tripling as deliveries more than doubled to
Though still a long way short of its 50,000 target for 2015,
and not enough on its own to transform Fiat's bottom line,
analysts have said that Maserati's increased profit bodes well
for the forthcoming resurrection of the higher-volume Alfa Romeo
"We are getting Mirafiori ready for production (of the
Maserati SUV). The first bodies are expected for 2015,"
Marchionne said on the sidelines of the Geneva auto show.
He also said that production of the two-door Maserati
Alfieri coupe, the prototype of which was unveiled at the show,
could start within 28 months if it decides to press ahead with
the concept car.
"The platforms and motors are there," Marchionne said.
"Technically, production could start in 24-28 months."
Marchionne did not say whether the Alfieri - named after one
of the brand's founding fathers, Alfieri Maserati - would also
be produced at Mirafiori, but that could be an option given that
the Turin operation is one of Fiat's production plants for
The success, or otherwise, of a Maserati and Alfa Romeo
renaissance will be key to whether Fiat survives a difficult
European market, allowing the company to fill idled plants in
Italy and reinstate thousands of workers placed on temporary
But Maserati will have to perform a difficult balancing act
to emulate the success of BMW, Daimler and
Volkswagen's Audi in rolling out more affordable
models without tarnishing one of the industry's most hallowed
Founded a century ago in Bologna by the five Maserati
brothers, the company secured its place in racing history by
winning the Indianapolis 500 race in 1939 and 1940.
And while Maserati, bought by Fiat in 1993, could unlock
economies of scale with a move into bigger-selling categories,
that would also invite fierce competition from the better-known
Marchionne said he is optimistic about the brand's future,
adding that productivity at its Italian operations had also
improved greatly and that the Alfieri sports car provides an
"indication of things to come".
"The Maserati stand (at the auto show), for me, is living
proof of the fact that Italians know how to build great cars,"
he said at a press conference on Tuesday.
Marchionne acknowledged that a listing or sale of a stake in
Maserati remains an option for boosting group finances, but that
such a move is not under consideration at the moment.
(Reporting by Stefano Rebaudo and Agnieszka Flak; Editing by