Maserati Said to Weigh New Sports Car After Orders Triple

Maserati will probably increase production and add the Alfieri sports car to its lineup after advance sales at the upscale Italian brand have almost tripled over 2013’s deliveries, people familiar with the matter said.

The maker of Ghibli and Quattroporte sedans is getting 3,500 orders monthly, Harald Wester, who runs the brand, said in an interview. That would amount to 42,000 cars in 2014, compared with the 15,400 sold last year.

Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of parent Fiat SpA, is shifting the automaker’s focus from volume models in Europe to more profitable luxury vehicles to tap into demand that has led to record sales at BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz. His plan will already see its first results this year, when Maserati will probably generate enough earnings to counter losses at Fiat’s mass-market European operations.

“Orders are doing incredibly well,” Marchionne, 61, told reporters today at an event in Amsterdam. “Maserati is doing well and will have a great year.”

Fiat climbed 32 cents, or 3.9 percent, to 8.63 euros at the close of trading in Milan. The stock has surged 45 percent this year, valuing the Italian carmaker at 10.8 billion euros ($14.9 billion).

Strategic Plan

Marchionne is scheduled May 6 to outline Fiat’s strategy through 2018 after the company bought full control of Auburn Hills, Michigan-based carmaker Chrysler Group LLC in January. The CEO plans a merger this year of the manufacturers, whose lineup spans Fiat’s 500 subcompact, Chrysler’s midsize 200, high-end sedans and sports cars from Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Ferrari and sport-utility vehicles from Jeep.

The CEO has said previously that the project will end Fiat’s losses in Europe and enable the company to rehire tens of thousands of laid-off workers as Chrysler’s distribution network helps sales of the Italian business’s more expensive cars.

Fiat’s plant in the Turin suburb of Grugliasco builds the $66,900 Ghibli and $102,500 Quattroporte, both of which went on sale last year. The site produces about 140 cars a day.

“The factory is running like a Swiss clock” amid the order jump, CEO Wester said in an interview with Bloomberg Television last month.

Younger Buyers

The Ghibli has attracted younger buyers to the brand in the U.S., with customers in their late 20s rather than the previous average age of about 45 years old, said David Gnader, sales manager at the Boardwalk Maserati dealership in Plano, Texas. “It does draw in a different brand owner” from rivals such as Daimler AG’s Mercedes, Volkswagen AG’s Audi and Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus, he said.

Fiat is considering adding a third shift at Grugliasco after about 50 employees worked some nights putting finishing touches on Maserati vehicles, said people familiar with the situation, who asked not to be identified as the matter is private. Plant workers have been putting in extra weekend hours to meet demand as well, they said.

Maserati also makes the $126,000 GranTurismo sports car and its $135,800 GranCabrio convertible version at a plant at division headquarters in Modena in north-central Italy. An SUV, the Levante, is scheduled to go on sale next year, built at Fiat’s Mirafiori factory in Turin.

Alfieri Model

Marchionne’s business plan being unveiled in May is likely to include a commitment to proceed with a high-end sports car based on the Alfieri prototype that Maserati displayed at the Geneva car show in March, people familiar said. The model, which would share the Levante’s underpinnings, would also be built at Mirafiori, they said.

Maserati’s revenue more than doubled to 1.66 billion euros in 2013, while trading profit, or earnings before interest, taxes and one-time items, tripled to 171 million euros. The division has a goal this year to increase revenue another 53 percent, with trading profit targeted at a “double digit” percentage of sales, according to Fiat presentations.

That indicates earnings of at least 254 million euros, a 48 percent increase, outweighing the 230 million-euro loss that analysts at Mediobanca Securities predict for the Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Jeep brands in Europe. Marchionne declined today to comment on the estimates or the automaker’s strategic plan ahead of next month’s presentation. “Wait till May,” he said.

Rising Deliveries

“Maserati’s portfolio will continue to bear fruits,” Jochen Gehrke, an analyst at Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt, wrote in a note to clients today. “However we note limited scale of Maserati to the group,” said Gehrke, who resumed coverage of the stock with a “sell” rating.

Exor SpA, the company which controls Fiat, will hold its annual meeting at Maserati’s Grugliasco plant on May 22 to show investors “how much care and precision goes into making these wonderful automobiles,” Chairman John Elkann said in his annual letter to shareholders last week.

Deliveries by Maserati this year may climb 88 percent to 29,000 cars, with sales in North America surging 95 percent to 9,600 vehicles, according to research company IHS Automotive. That compares to increases of 6 percent for Audi, 8.1 percent for Mercedes and 8.9 percent for Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, according to IHS estimates.

Italian Alternative

The three German manufacturers are the world’s biggest luxury-car makers, each with annual deliveries exceeding 1.5 million vehicles. Marchionne, who has already set a goal for group sales to rise by at least 36 percent to 6 million vehicles by 2018, is positioning Maserati to challenge the German producers’ most expensive models, with a rejuvenated Alfa Romeo taking on their mid-level offerings.

“Maserati is presenting itself to Americans as an Italian alternative to BMW and Audi, and awareness went viral with the Super Bowl commercial,” said Andrea Boaretto, a marketing professor at MIP Milan Polytechnic. “So far their message has been successful at catching American drivers looking for something different from German premium carmakers with the same level of quality.”

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