Source: Maserati

Maserati Chases SUV Sales Boom With Long-Awaited Levante

  • Production of Levante started at Fiat's Mirafiori factory
  • Maserati will start delivering SUV this spring in Europe

Maserati unveiled its first sport utility vehicle as the once-exotic Italian brand pushes further into the mainstream.

Based on a concept first shown five years ago, the all-wheel-drive Levante will reach European showrooms this spring and the rest of the world later in the year, Maserati said late Friday on its website. It’ll face off against a growing field of luxury crossovers, including the Jaguar F-Pace, Mercedes-Benz GLE and BMW X5.

The Levante’s design has “clear associations with the Maserati brand and its distinctive Italian character,” the manufacturer said. Though the final price won’t be announced until a public presentation at the Geneva car show next month, the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV luxury unit has said the SUV will start at about 70,000 euros ($78,000), which would put it squarely between the marque’s Ghibli and Quattroporte sedans.

Originally slated for introduction in 2014, the car is a cornerstone of Maserati’s effort to a more than double sales in the next two years by reviving flagging demand in the SUV-loving Chinese and U.S. markets. The nameplate’s global deliveries dropped 11 percent last year. Reversing that trend is critical for Fiat Chrysler Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne’s plan to more than double group profit and turn a debt burden into a cash surplus by 2018 after spinning off supercar maker Ferrari NV at the beginning of this year.

“Maserati has sought to give the Levante a sporting bent in both its styling and performance,” putting it head-to-head with stiff competition, including the Porsche Cayenne, Ian Fletcher, a London-based analyst with IHS, wrote in a note. The Levante will probably be “a relative minnow in the marketplace,” Fletcher wrote, but still help Maserati boost sales to 49,000 vehicles in 2017 from about 32,000 last year.

The 2015 sales decline, which followed two boom years, prompted the Italian carmaker to halt production for several weeks at its Grugliasco plant near Turin, Italy. About 1,900 workers at the facility will be asked to stop working again between March 17 and April 4, the FIOM labor union said last week. Levante production has already started at Fiat Chrysler’s Mirafiori plant in Turin.

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