► We interview new head of Maserati and Alfa
► 'We will always build our cars in Italy'
► Alfa's new SUV guns for 'Ring record
Alfa Romeo and Maserati are the serial underachievers of the global car market, forever aiming high and hitting low.
Just a year ago Alfa was hoping to sell 400,000 cars annually by the end of 2018, thanks partly to a big new push into the US. This year, in fact, it may sell 100,000 cars globally and is still not – yet – selling any meaningful volumes in America. Maserati’s record isn’t as bad, but the rhetoric has rarely matched the results.
Little wonder Canadian Reid Bigland, the new CEO of both brands, is not prepared to make any bold sales promises when we meet at the Paris motor show. ‘I’m not interested in sales volumes. I’m interested in building Alfa Romeos and Maseratis true to their DNAs. That’s how we’ll run long-term successful brands.’
Bigland was head of US sales, and Canadian CEO, for Fiat Chrysler (FCA) before the promotion. He continues with those existing roles.
Alfa and Maserati will ‘always be made in Italy’
He says ‘under my watch’ Alfa and Maserati will never make cars outside Italy. ‘We’re Italian brands and made-in-Italy is important.’ He says Fiat-Chrysler’s plans a few years ago to make a new Maserati SUV on a Jeep platform in America was ‘clearly a mistake. Building in Detroit could destroy the brand’. The eventual Maserati SUV, the Levante (below), happily uses a Maserati platform and is proudly made in Italy.
The two brands dovetail superbly, says Bigland. ‘Where one brand stops in price, the other begins. That won’t change. There is no cannibalisation, no segment overlap.’
Ferrari-made engines and proud of it
Maserati proudly uses Ferrari-made engines, and so does the top-end Alfa Giulia QV. It’s important for sales and image. He admits Ferrari doesn’t really like Maserati and Alfa promoting that. ‘You can’t blame them when they’re selling the California for a lot more money [which uses the same family of engine]. They’re Ferrari engines and that’s a great selling point for us. We just have to be sensitive about promoting it.’
The Levante, ‘the Maserati of SUVs’ is set to be Maserati’s biggest seller, responsible for 40-50 % of total sales volumes. This year Maserati will sell 35,000-40,000 cars. Five years ago it sold 6500 cars.
New Alfa SUV aims for Nürburgring record
The new mid-size Alfa SUV, the Stelvio (below), debuts at this autumn’s Los Angeles motor show. Bigland hopes and expects it to be the world’s fastest SUV around the Nürburgring, increasingly an Alfa litmus test for performance. With this and the well-received new Giulia, Alfa’s sales should (finally!) start to blossom.
In other product news, the stunning Maserati Alfieri supercar concept, first shown at the Geneva show in 2014, is ‘still a couple of years away. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not dead. You could just say it’s orbiting the Earth, awaiting landing.’
The decade-old Gran Turismo and Gran Cabrio will continue in production. ‘They still look great. The Gran Turismo will go though to 2017 and the Cabrio to 2018. And we’ll need a GT and GC successor.’
Bigland is being touted as a possible successor to Fiat Chrysler (FCA) boss Sergio Marchionne when he steps down in 2019. His efforts to turn the serial underachievers into global successes will largely determine whether the likeable Canadian has any chance of getting the top job, or not.
Click here for more news from the 2016 Paris motor show