Q&A: Perricone says Maserati expansion program will delay breakeven to 2006

Modena, Italy. The global premiere of Maserati's Quattroporte luxury sedan at the IAA in Frankfurt marked the start of an expansion phase of the Fiat-owned Italian sports car brand. Maserati boss Antonello Perricone spoke to Automobilwoche about sales and profit targets, models and markets.

Q: Mr. Perricone, your newest model Quattroporte is available for a princely minimum price of 97,000 euros. Does this car have more to offer than the Mercedes S-class or the BMW 7 series?

A: The Quattroporte is the flagship, not just of Maserati, but of the whole Italian auto industry. With its 4.2 litre 400hp engine and a top speed of 275 kmph, it is one of the fastest series production sedans in the world. There are lots of luxury standard features for which the competition would charge extra. For the interior we are able to deliver around four million different combinations of leather, wood and seams. None of our competitors would allow their customers to configure their car in such an individual way. Every single Quattroporte will be unique.

Q: How about the quality? According to sources from within the company, you will have to delay the market launch from late February to late April because of various flaws.

A: One month sooner or later makes no difference to us. As long as we are able to deliver the first cars in the spring we will be happy. For the USA we had been planning all along to launch in July.

Q: How many units are you going to sell per year?

A: From our first full production year 2005 on, we expect sales of 4,000 units.

Q: And how many is it going to be in 2004?

A: We already have many hundreds of orders, most of them from Germany. And that's even though we have so far only published one official photograph. That's why I'm optimistic that we will be able to sell 2,000 units worldwide in 2004.

Q: Last year you sold about 3,300 units of your two existing models, the Spyder and the Coupe, on the global market. How are your total sales going to develop?

A: We want them to stay stable. In our second most important market Germany alone, we want to sell between 450 and 500 cars this year. This should take us to a sales total of 3,000 Maseratis by the end of 2003.

Q: Wait a minute: That would amount to a sales decrease of ten percent.

A: The weak economic situation in our main markets is also affecting Maserati.

Q: How does that affect your turnover?

A: In 2002 we had a turnover of 260 million euros. In 2003 it will be about ten percent less.

Q: What is your long-term sales target? How high can you go without losing the claim to exclusivity?

A: In the mid-term we are expecting sales of 10,000 Maseratis. At the same time the Ferrari Maserati Group will sell 4,000 Ferraris. These are healthy proportions.

Q: What do you mean by "mid-term"?

A: You can count on 2008.

Q: Is that also when you will reach the profit threshold?

A: I'm expecting us to break even in 2006/2007 at the latest. We could even manage that a lot earlier. But we have decided to invest more into our products and production because we want to put the Maserati brand on a solid footing for the long term.

Q: How much is that going to cost?

A: In the past three years the Ferrari Maserati Group has invested around 285 million euros, that's 28.7 percent of our total takings in the period between 2000 and 2002. Of this amount around 100 million euros went into Maserati. We will announce how much additional investment there will be as soon as we know how many Maseratis the market demands.

Q: What is the highest capacity that's technically possible at your one single factory in Modena?

A: About 9,000 to 10,000 units a year.

Q: That's going to be tight, considering you're about to produce the prototype Kubang as a series model.

A: We will only come to a decision about a series production by the end of the year. A market launch would only be thinkable three and a half to four years later.

Q: What would a positive decision depend on?

A: There are lots of details to clear up with regards to industrialization and commercialization.

Q: Are you going to use Audi's 4x4 and aluminum technology in the future as part of the co-operation with VW that was announced at the IAA?

A: Audi are interested in the back axle of the Quattroporte. We are also very interested in the big diesel engines. I am going to announce further details at a later time.

Q: What further models are there in the pipeline? Can we expect small Maseratis in the near future?

A: No, for example, we must never build a competition against the Porsche Boxster. We have to stay in our territory.

Q: What does your international expansion strategy look like?

A: As you know, we returned to the American market in April 2002, which means that we are now present in 44 countries with 218 dealers. By the end of the year, it will already be 49 countries with 253 dealers, 40 of which will be in the USA and 35 in Germany. This year we are planning to put up branches in China and Russia. By 2006 we want to achieve a global presence of 350 dealers.

Q: Aren't you afraid that your big shareholder Commerzbank (at ten percent) might scupper your plans? Their boss Klaus-Peter Mueller is expecting your group to enter the stock market by 2004.

A: Our strategy will make us competitive for the long term. But it is not for me to answer questions about when we will enter the stock market. You'll have to ask the main shareholders about that.

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