Maserati Moves to Redefine Itself, Especially in America

Maserati MC20 Cielo
The Maserati MC20 Cielo is a roofless supercar. Stellantis

The lawn at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance is routinely dotted with Maserati cars that showcase some of the finest historic Italian design in sports car history. For the brand's modern models, the head turning has been fewer and further between in recent years as traditional rivals like Lamborghini, Bugatti and Ferrari, and up-and-comers including Rimac garner more than their fair share of passing glances from auto enthusiasts.

Where does that leave Maserati? The Modena, Italy-based company was recently collected up in the PSA Group-Fiat Chrysler Automobiles merger and sits as one of the luxury brands offered by the new Stellantis corporation.

Its stable is aging, but a shining star emerged last year in the shape of the MC20 supercar. The coupe's flashy lines and new-age aesthetic made enthusiasts sit up and take notice. This year at Pebble, the brand showed the car as a spyder - the MC20 Cielo - in an eye-catching Aqua Marina three-stage paint color.

The new Gracale SUV is another step toward modern customer attitudes. It pairs a spacious interior that is generally regarded as being well-appointed with performance that matches expectations.

Others in the lineup are the Quattroporte and Ghibli sedans, GranTurismo coupe and Levante small SUV. The Ghibli was recently enhanced and a new GranTurismo is on its way.

Maserati MC20 Cielo
Maserati CEO Davide Grasso (L) stands next to Bill Peffer (R) and the MC20 Cielo on the lawn at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. Stellantis

Stable age aside, Maserati has had other problems on its hands. Dealers wanted to be more profitable. Reliability has historically been an issue. Service was lagging behind competitors who have been offering more concierge-like experiences.

"Our strategy in the U.S. is the same as we have across the globe," Davide Grasso, Maserati CEO told Newsweek during a roundtable discussion at The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering. The way that U.S. sales occur under dealerships agreements is different than in most of the rest of the world. Because of that, Grasso said that Bill Peffer, head of Maserati Americas, and his team needed to dig deeper as part of the brand's reinvigoration strategy.

"We needed to get back to focus on the customer, not to focus on [sales] partners. We needed to center our strategy on the customer and our customer is the modern luxury customer. That's the core. That's the focus," he said. "Essentially we make cars that we love for that customer to love them as well. So, the focus is shifting from volumes to delivering value to the customer."

The revitalization of Maserati is several years in the making and built around a four-pillar plan that includes changes to product, marketplace, brand and team. For the U.S. that meant having Peffer rebuild the Maserati Americas team around "some core competencies that we had lost," Grasso said.

The CEO also says that the brand needs to show off the strengths of the reputation Maserati has built over the years, paired with modern identity. Grasso cites these as being, "innovation, performance, design, Italian-ness, and luxury." He has been tasked with translating those pillars for the third millennium. "It's no longer white marble and violins... Italy is a lot of modern things as well," he was quick to point out.

Maserati MC20 Cielo
The Maserati MC20 was introduced in spyder form ahead of the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. Stellantis

Maserati's marketplace also needed "cleaned up" and "rebalanced because the focus should be on the customer" resulting in a "no push but pull" sales model.

"When we look at our metrics, of course profitability is at the core and we need a profitable network," Peffer said of the 2021 aspect of Maserati's plan during the roundtable. "If we don't have a profitable network they're not going to reinvest in the brand. So, part of that transformation not only was product based but getting the dealers that sell our cars in the right mindset. They all have multiple brands. In order to get them to make an investment they have to show a return. They're good business people. Otherwise they're going to take their resources elsewhere."

In a separate interview at the Pebble Beach event Peffer told Newsweek, "Last year was about righting the ship and fixing the business model. One of the things we did was streamline the distribution channel. We had too many cars that dealers were buying from us when they reached port here. We couldn't get the mix right and they would only buy if they had customers.

"Now the dealers order all their own cars. In order to help them get the right mix, we revalued and re-contented our series and then we started to elevate the performance aspect of the brand. Then we looked at our incentives as a percentage of MSRP [manufacturers suggested retail price] and said 'Where are we versus the rest of the segment?' So, we reduced those and transaction prices went up... profitability was restored for us and for our dealer body.

Maserati Grecale GT Bronzo Opaco
The Maserati Grecale GT shown in a Bronzo Opaco paint scheme. Stellantis

"Then we went back to our dealers and said, 'Okay, as a prelude to something like this [Peffer gestured toward the MC20 Cielo] what are you doing to improve the customer experience?' We came out with our new space identity program and with their profitability they were more willing to make the investment."

The changes seem to be paying off. Peffer points out that Maserati is one of just three brands to grow brand loyalty year-over-year this year. In the past, Peffer says that Maserati customers were more price-conscious, often getting one of the Maserati models then moving on somewhere else. Peffer wants to know why. "Will you repeat purchase? It not, why? We're really fixated on the why. Where in the ownership cycle...are we breaking down?"

Peffer's team found that the answer was price. "Bringing out a new product, going where customers are, generating a pull model is much healthier for us," he said.

"MC20 was a lightning rod in terms of re-establishing what this brand has stood for. It was unexpected. It's a return to the supercar segment for the first time in 20 years and we got a lot of buzz when we introduced it.

"We are building a membership, an enthusiast base that knew it was coming out so it was real easy to sell out the '23 model year and that's what we want. We want people we can go back to, that we can grow in the brand, that we can continue to market to and bring out new products to get them to repeat purchase.

Maserati GranTurismo
The new Maserati GranTurismo shown ahead of its official reveal. Stellantis

"We haven't always had that ability. The good news with the merger with Stellantis is that they dedicated the resources and unlocked the technologies allowing us to be standalone and really offer things that an independent, small luxury company couldn't," he said.

In the U.S., Maseratis are sold alongside Alfa Romeos, oftentimes at dealerships that also deal in other luxury car brands. Maserati is eager to not just be viewed as a grown up Alfa Romeo. "That's where you have to develop and amplify your DNA so that doesn't become just another version of a cheaper car," Peffer said. "Otherwise, I think, plenty of people come in on the familiarity and the attraction of Maserati but they're going to go out with something else because of price. You have to create the separation."

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and global manufacturing challenges related to various aspects of the pandemic as well as the war in Ukraine and inflation, Maserati remains on track with their plan.