Levante profits likely to generate electric push

Maserati’s incoming sports utility will allow this niche Italian to play power games.


GOING large is fuelling big thinking by Maserati – even as the New Zealand distributor preps for the Levante, head office back in Modena is already starting to conject about how to spend the windfall from this volume-chasing model.

Ironically, high on the list of dream machines might be something that might seem the complete antithesis of a five-seater sports utility here in three eight-speed, four-wheel-drive formats –  a standard model at $136,990 and Sport and Luxury variants at $155,990 - all highly-trimmed and with adjustable air suspension and powered by a 202kW/600Nm diesel V6.

Fiat Chrysler chief executive Sergio Marchionne reckons that the next model from Maserati should be an electric car, based on the Alfieri sports coupe it displayed at the Geneva motor show in 2014.

It could be out as early as 2019 – by which time the now 64-year-old will have retired. Marchionne has made clear he’s not necessarily a big fan of battery-driven machines, but sees it is as needs’ must response to a world trend ignited, in particular, by the Tesla Model S.

“I'm not as convinced as some others are about the fact that electrification is the solution for all of man's ills,” he recently told Automotive News Europe.

“We need to experiment as we are doing now with connected cars and mobility as electrification is one of the potential answers.”

Levante might also be swept up in this. The diesel engine and high-revving petrol V8 that is certain to follow are logical engines because both are already in service with Maserati’s Ghibli road car and the V8 is also in keeping with the brand’s image – yet it also seems to be in line for some electric zap.

Marchionne says hybrid vehicles, including a hybrid version of the Levante, are also required by 2021 to meet Fiat Chrysler emission targets.

So much, though, depends on the success of the Levante now: This car is here to raise the brand’s presence and also generate funding to not only keep Maserati healthy now but also make it bigger in the future. Having seen how the Cayenne has become a massive cash cow for Porsche, Maserati knows this is solid plan.

Though Maserati is among the very last prestige brands to join in and has a tiny sales presence – just two dealerships for the whole country - the timing for an SUV is also right.

The NZ market is showing particularly strong growth. The SUV segment here has grown by 10 percentage points over the past five years, while passenger cars sales have fallen by 15 percentage points. This has placed SUVs on a trajectory to overtake passenger cars as the top-selling vehicle type in local showrooms within the next two years.

Through June of this year, 34 percent of all New Zealand vehicle sales have been SUVs, with that figure increasing to 40 percent among private buyers. There’s every chance that situation will be even healthier when the Levante comes on sale at the end of the year.

Certainly, the concept of spending money to make even more is being enthusiastically adopted by the Australasian distributor, Ateco Automotive, and the dealerships.

In preparation for Levante, every showroom here and across the Tasman – that’s 12 in all – is being rebuilt or upgraded to a new global design template that leaves them looking more like six-star hotel atriums; Italian tiles and furniture, studio quality lighting and artwork (even the picture frames) are to a factory template. It’s costing millions.

Ateco has not said how many Levantes it expects to sell in 2017, however it would seem a safe bet that the count will exceed the 64 unit total achieved in 2015 by its sports cars; Ghibli, GranTurismo and Quattroporte.

Levante is not based off a Jeep platform but instead is built atop a conversion of the Ghibli underpinning, however it once was a brand intention to construct a version (then called Kubang) off the Grand Cherokee. It seems the American association has stuck as result of this, perhaps not helping through Levante having Jeep-like interior switchgear, according to those who have seen it.

Enforcing impression that it is nonetheless a pure Maserati and also a pukka premium vehicle seems to be a priority now, however.

Glen Sealey, Chief Operating Officer of Maserati Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, has commented that: “Maserati has not designed an SUV … first and foremost Maserati has designed a new Maserati.

“(It’s) a new model that delivers, like all its predecessors, superlative style, performance, handling and road holding combined with unique levels of personalization to produce a true Maserati. At the same time it adds the space and flexibility of an SUV with real off road ability without compromising any of those essential Maserati attributes.

“It delivers the unique and exclusive experience of Maserati ownership that will ensure that it becomes a key part of the Maserati range and will expand Maserati’s unique reputation.”