Thursday, November 17, 2016

Alfa Romeo and Maserati add SUVs to their sports and luxury car line-ups

Reid Bigland wears many hats at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, as head of U.S. sales and as boss of both Alfa Romeo and Maserati brands.

He was wearing his Italian headwear at AutoMobility LA, the run-up to the Los Angeles Auto Show, where he was performing U.S. introductions for new SUV models from both subsidiaries.

The SUVs are firsts for the two brands, Maserati’s Levante making its first appearance at the auto show and Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio getting its world debut on the AutoMobility stage.

The two Italian nameplates are trying to raise brand awareness by adding an SUV to their sports car and luxury car line-ups, and to bring new buyers to the brand by giving them a vehicle they find more useful than, say, an Alfa Romeo 4C racer or a Maserati Giulia.

Bigland dismisses questions that the two brands are coming late to an expanding SUV market that may have expanded to capacity. “We don’t think it’s too late by any means,” he said. “The exodus away from passenger cars is not abating. The segment is hot.”

Levante sales, so far, support his optimism. Maserati’s year to date numbers for 2016 are up 16% over 2017, Bigland said, while global September, October and November sales are showing rises of 50% to 60% over last year.

“Levante is playing a big role in that,” Bigland said, even though the SUV has only been in some markets a matter of months, and hasn’t yet debuted in Japan, Korea and other principalities.

It has begun selling in Los Angeles, but Bigland did not supply local sales numbers. “Southern California is the most important market for our brand in the United States,” he said. “We have very high hopes.”

There are also hopes for the Northeast and Northwest parts of the country, where snow and ice conditions may have led buyers away from Maserati and Alfa Romeo, and toward more winter-worthy vehicles made by Mercedes-Benz, Audi or BMW.

“We’re opening up whole parts of the world to Maserati,” Bigland said. “Places where it isn’t always 72 degrees and sunny.”

Bigland estimated that Maserati will sell 20,000 to 30,000 of the SUVs in 2017, and that Levante will account for 50% of all Maserati sales next year.

Some of the buyers are turning in their Porsche Cayennes, Bigland said. A surprising number are female – including a high percentage of single females, who are not generally the target customer for a high-end, full-size luxury SUV.

All is not rosy for the executive. As head of FCA’s U.S. and Canada sales, according to published reports, he is at the center of a  U.S. criminal investigation into whether the company had inflated sales figures in the past.

Bigland said he did not think there was any danger that the introduction of an Alfa Romeo SUV would eat into sales of its Maserati counterpart. Both vehicles are powered by engines derived from the companies’ partnerships with Ferrari, and both are long on Italian styling and heritage.

But the Stelvio is a mid-sized performance SUV, boasting massive horsepower and sports car handling, that should appeal to a younger, less affluent buyer – the MSRP has not yet been announced – and the Levante is a full-sized luxury SUV that appears to appeal to a slightly older, more affluent buyer.

MGCLS - LAX Car Service