Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, the world’s seventh largest automaker, has opted to spin off into an independent company its ultra-luxury unit Ferrari later on through an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange.
But setting up the ultra-luxury arm as an independent group means there will be a void at the top of the company – the vacuum being tentatively filled in chief executive officer Sergio Marchionne’s opinion by Maserati. Ferrari’s power, prestige and profits have been a tremendous aid in marketing the more mundane Fiat, Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge models that make up the bulk of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s sales and revenue. In a bid to transform Maserati into a Ferrari heir, Marchionne has tasked the brand with adding a crucial sport utility vehicle and a new coupe to expand the model lineup, as well as expanding its dealer network with plush venues in the US, the largest market for luxury vehicles. “Maserati is very important,” Marchionne commented recently. Following Ferrari’s departure, “Maserati becomes the most coveted, exclusive brand that we have.”
Maserati has a well established performance reputation and luxury models are hot as candy in the United States. But the segment also has a turf war aggressively led by German powerhouses – BMW, Mercedes and Audi – and a traditional Japanese contestant, Lexus. And Maserati doubled sales last year to 36,448 units but since fell into the market pothole – after the first four months of the year deliveries regressed 9 percent to 7,306 autos. Much worse, first quarter profit tumbled 39 percent to $40 million, a decline that was seen by Fiat belonging to the troubled situation in China.