A little known fact: two of the greatest automotive symbols of Italy are managed by the calm and analytical industry veteran Harald Wester. By giving some German ordnung to these romantic brands he aims to restore their former glory - a thing we have waited too long to come.
What does Maserati mean to you and what are your ambitions for the future?
I'm not with Maserati to change any of its aims. Maserati is the symbol of Italian style, involving performance and elegance, no one wants to change that. We only want to bring these values to our cars more effectively.
Nevertheless, Maserati is undergoing a huge transformation right now. Since 2013 we have seen premieres of two completely new models - Quattroporte and Ghibli - and before long an SUV. You're also working to reinvigorate the second brand you represent: Alfa Romeo. To what extent will the development of Maseratis and Alfas be integrated?
My role at Maserati is different from that in the Alfa Romeo as the latter is better integrated into the Fiat Group. My job there as global brand leader is to oversee the technical development of the new cars, the first of which will be presented this June, along with the completely renewed Alfa Romeo museum in Arese, Italy. But the new Alfa car won't share any parts with the current Maserati model. I'm not planning any technical merging of these two makes.
Do you see any chance of repositioning either Maserati or Alfa Romeo within the Fiat Group, now that the brands will have totally new model line-ups with different type of products?
When we think of the Fiat Group, we need to take into consideration that only ten years ago our position was fundamentally different from that what we are having today. We didn't have money, though we had a decent status in Europe, but a weak one in the USA and Asia. Today, thanks to the Chrysler Group, the situation is exactly the opposite in each of these cases.
What we have seen in Europe is the problems of factory overcapacities, price wars, and extreme competition overall. Nobody makes money selling compact cars now, which used to be the core business of the Fiat Group. Everybody in that segment has lost huge cash, Fiat included. It is fully justified then to invest money in a completely new range of global products, which will also be profitable in Europe. Thanks to this, Maserati, Alfa Romeo and Jeep have come to be strategically important to the whole Fiat Group. Their success will bring us two things: first of all, we will bring back the workers who were laid off in Italy; also we'll have totally different products in different segments, with hopefully significant profit margins.
In 2012, Maserati was making around 6000 cars a year, the first goal is to surpass 50,000 cars annually. How is that progressing and what's the future goal?
That was just an intermediate step in our journey to have six models and the global sales of 70,000 in 2018. Our goals currently depend on the availability of the third model, the SUV, which we presented in 2011. Since that first outing everything in it has been shuffled: we have moved the production from the US to Italy, where it will start early next year. Our current forecast is that our sales volumes which were 36,500 last year will remain flat this year and when we have the Levante SUV we'll achieve the next sales level.
Are you tempted to go beyond the 70,000 level afterwards, transforming Maserati into one of the biggest premium players of the car industry?
No. Maserati is not and won't be BMW or Mercedes-Benz. We are part of a group that has fourteen brands, so each of them has limited market space. For example, Maserati can't make an SUV of the Audi Q5 size - this is the job of Alfa Romeo and Jeep. Maserati will remain where it is - even after adding the Levante to the line-up, seeing one on the street will be an event.
What is the advantage of Maserati over the American or German premium brands other than greater exclusivity of the products?
They evoke emotions! It is much more of a kind of a car that arouses a feeling that you're really driving the car. You're an integral part of the system, you're in control. In many other cars, you have more of a feeling that you are driven. You can even see this if you compare the slogans when some of the other brands are claiming their advantage through technology.
But some of the trends are impossible to avoid. Is there any room for hybrid drivetrains at Maserati?
It is a technology that is well known to us and I deem it unavoidable to utilize it. For various reasons, it will become very important in the next five to ten years. In the segments where Ghibli, Quattroporte and Levante do or will operate, it is forecast that hybrids will make 40 to 50% of the global sales. We are working on a plug-in hybrid system and we will start to offer it in the second half of 2017 starting with Levante and then moving to the other cars. Our plug-in hybrids aim to cover twenty to thirty miles driven solely by the electric motor.
What is your personal view on this trend?
Look at the numbers. Based on CO2 emissions, we are claiming that two tons' SUVs have a smaller environmental impact than a basic city car. In many countries, it's the owner of the latter that will pay higher road taxes, and in some places, the drivers of these big monsters will be even exempted from paying. All that comes from a fact that we assume that electric energy coming from plugs doesn't create CO2, which is not true. Hybrids don't save the world, but for the time being the rules are what they are.
We're running out of time let's do a quick round of yes or no questions:
Do you see any room for a sportscar positioned above Alfieri?
Do you see any room for a Ghibli station wagon?
No. It's a niche, unsellable in regions other than Europe.
How about extended wheelbase Ghiblis or Quattroportes?
No, the cars are big enough as they are.
One-offs with bodies built by coachbuilders like Touring or Zagato?
No. The only thing of that type we're doing now is the Maserati Trofeo racing series for our customers, but it doesn't have any marketing effect. The only motorsports with a global impact are Formula 1 and four or five of the 24-hour races. The rest may be interesting for enthusiasts, but it doesn't really have any benefit for the business.