MODENA, Italy - Maserati will offer a conventional automatic transmission in response to complaints about the jerky shifting of the Quattroporte sedan's semiautomatic gearbox.
The automatic will be offered next year, along with the current transmission. Rivals of the $108,350 base Quattroporte sedan, such as the BMW 7 series and Mercedes-Benz S class, have a smooth-shifting transmission.
Maserati S.p.A. CEO Karl-Heinz Kalbfell said the current transmission has hurt the Quattroporte's sales.
"It is to some extent a limiting factor for those who want an easy operation," said Kalbfell, who was interviewed at a Maserati event in Modena, Italy. "You cannot just put a car like a Maserati down and say, 'Here is the key.' "
Last year, 1,550 Quattroportes were sold in North America, out of about 3,500 worldwide.
Salesperson is key
The key to selling the car is the salesperson's description of the transmission, said Kalbfell: "If the salesman explains the gearshift (operation), suddenly the customer understands the technology and is satisfied."
The Quattroporte's six-speed, electrohydraulic transmission essentially is a manual transmission without a clutch pedal. The transmission was developed and engineered by Ferrari. Gears are switched by manually pressing paddle shifters on either side of the steering wheel.
Drivers also can select the automatic mode, which shifts gears without driver input. But some car-enthusiast publications and Quattroporte owners have complained that the transmission in automatic mode lurches and jerks on each shift.
Cauley Ferrari-Maserati in West Bloomfield, Mich., sold 23 Quattroportes last year. Sales would have been higher if a conventional automatic transmission was offered, said Dan Cable, general manager.
It was an issue "especially with people who were a little bit older who were coming to us out of Mercedes. They really liked the car, liked the styling, liked the performance, but would prefer a standard automatic transmission," said Cable.
Don't say 'automatic'
Jeff DiSandro, general manager of Continental Autosports in Hinsdale, Ill., said the key is to make sure shoppers view the transmission as a manual.
"When selling the car, you have to make people understand it is manual transmission with a computer controlled clutch. It is not an automatic," DiSandro said." Don't ever use the word 'automatic.' "
Kalbfell believes that despite the transmission issue, Maserati's North American sales will increase about 15 percent this year to near 2,500 units. Last year 2,114 Maserati vehicles were sold, including the brand's Coupe and Spyder models.
He says the Maserati brand will not be harmed by the fact that it no longer is controlled by Ferrari. Until last June, Ferrari operated Maserati.
Ferrari currently assembles the 400-hp 4.2-liter V-8 engine, based on Maserati specifications. Both brands, along with Alfa Romeo, are owned by Fiat S.p.A.
Today Maserati is a separate business unit that has product development ties to Alfa Romeo. As new vehicles are developed, Alfa and Maserati will share components.
In the past, Maserati components came from Ferrari. Kalbfell offered no timetable when the first Maserati and Alfa Romeo vehicles will share components.
Despite the change, he is confident the vehicle development strategy will not harm the Maserati brand.
"Even if the sporty character of Alfa and Maserati is similar, the customers are different. It is a different culture," so the vehicles will be different, said Kalbfell.
"Look at Porsche and Volkswagen - they are working together but they are still are Porsches and Volkswagens," said Kalbfell. "That is what we mean when we talk about this kind of relationship."
You may e-mail Rick Kranz at [email protected]