NEW YORK - After a 12-year absence, Maserati North America Inc. started selling cars in the United States this month.
Massimo Petonciano, vice president of Maserati North America in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., said he hopes to sell about 1,200 cars in the United States this year, adding that the company's 30 U.S. dealers already have 800 orders.
Retail deliveries of the sole U.S. model, the Maserati Spyder, with a base price of $89,315 including delivery, started around March 15.
The Maserati 2+2 Coupe, priced at $83,315, is due around May 1. A sedan, probably called the Quattroporte, is due in two years.
The brand plans for a long stay, Petonciano said.
"We don't want to pull out of the market like we did 12 years ago and leave customers with the desire to have an Italian sports car," he said in a speech to the 45-year-old Madison Avenue Sports Car Driving and Chowder Society.
The brand left the United States under a dark cloud.
At the time, Maserati was a subsidiary of DeTomaso Industries in Red Bank, N.J., a publicly traded company whose chairman was automotive legend Alejandro DeTomaso.
Maserati quality and reliability were notorious at the time. Nevertheless, Chrysler Corp., under Chairman Lee Iacocca, bought 8 percent of the company and hired Maserati to build the Chrysler TC by Maserati in 1989 and 1990.
The model's chief claim to fame was that it required the manufacturer to offer a $10,000 rebate.
Meanwhile, Maserati stopped exporting its own cars to the United States in 1990 because it no longer could meet safety and emissions requirements. It took a couple of years to sell the remaining inventory.
Now under the wings of Ferrari, Petonciano said Maserati aims to live all that down. Both Fiat and Maserati belong to Fiat S.p.A., and Fiat is spending $400 million to turn Maserati around. The plan includes gutting Maserati's factory in Modena, Italy.
"The key message for us is quality, " Petonciano said.
Maserati shares an engine factory with Ferrari, but the assembly lines are separate. Maserati also uses Ferrari's paint shop, but it is supposed to get its own machine shop this fall and its own paint shop by the end of 2003, Petonciano said.
After adding the sedan in 2004, Maserati hopes to reach U.S. sales of 6,000 in 2006. The brand probably will add 20 to 30 U.S. dealers in the interim, he said. So far, all the U.S. dealers also are Ferrari dealers.
Added Petonciano: "We are not here for just one year; we have a five-year plan. We want to be here 20, 50, 100 years - who knows?"