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A BMW-chasing mid-size Maserati is tasked with being the vital cog in an extraordinary plan to boost sales by more than eight times.
Maserati this week debuted its first mid-size sedan, the Ghibli, at the Shanghai motor show and claims it will sell 20,000 a year by 2015. In fact, Maserati wants a total of 50,000 sales in 2015 - more than eight times the 6200 units sold in 2012.
Company chief executive Harald Wester is dead serious about the prediction that flies in the face of a massive car sales retraction in Europe. Wester agrees that since the recent sales peak of about 9000 annual Maserati sales of 2008, the market has plummeted.
“Italy has been our Number 2 market for seven years up to 2008 when we sold about 900 cars,’‘ Wester says. “Last year, in Italy, we sold less than 100 cars.’’ Wester is clinical in his outlook but says the Ghibli, the new Quattroporte (on which the Ghibli is based) and the 2015 debut of Maserati’s first SUV, the Levante, will be so well received by buyers that sales of the company will hit 50,000 for 2015.
“We’re doing cars better for our customers,’‘ he says. “The engine, the transmissions, the size of the cars and the price, will all meet the requests of our customers.
“The old Quattroporte, for example, didn’t meet the requests of buyers. It had a size issue, it had an engine that was to big for the market and it was only available as a rear drive. “Now we move into a new Quattroporte with a selection of engines, all-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive, new levels of equipment. It satisfies markets like North America and Europe where if we don’t have an all-wheel drive, we don’t have a sale.
“The Quattroporte appeals to a far bigger audience than before.’’ Though the emphasis is on the Quattroporte, Wester says the mid-size Ghibli will have ‘’substantially’’ more sales than its bigger sister.
The Ghibli is the first mid-size four-door sports luxury sedan in Maserati’s 100 year history. It goes on sale in Australia in early 2014 from about $160,000 and follows the third-quarter release of the new Quattroporte.
Australian importer Ateco says Maserati’s global 2015 target of 50,000 cars a year will be matched by local sales of about 1400 in 2016. Wester says the Ghibli is heavily based on the Quattroporte, using the same platform - but shortened by 200mm - and common suspension and drivetrain components.
He says the Ghibli will have engine options of two 3-litre turbo-petrols and a 3-litre turbo-diesel. The three are built by - and related to - Ferrari products. Both V6 petrols have a bi-turbo system and are based on the Quattroporte’s V8.
The higher-spec version will also be available as an optional powerplant in the Quattroporte. This engine produces 310kW/550Nm and allows the car to hit 100km/h from rest in only 4.8 seconds. The second petrol is slightly detuned with 243kW/500Nm and a sprint of 5.6 seconds. It claims 9.6 L/100km.
The 202kW/600Nm 3-litre turbo-diesel is a Chrysler-VM engine though has been “enhanced’’ - says Wester - by Ferrari and is capable of less than 6 litres/100km and a 0-100km/h time of 6.3 seconds. The diesel represents not only a first for Maserati, but possibly the first time Ferrari has worked on a diesel engine for one of its family cars.
“Diesel engine represent 75 per cent of the large-car segment in Europe ,’’ Wester says. “Buyers in Italy, for example, are more interested in the car’s size and the engine - they’re not interested in 500 horsepower.'
“This is also a time of new engines. The old engines were normally-aspirated, big capacity, high revs and conventional technologies.“The new engines have two turbochargers, smaller capacities and direct injection. We are also seeing technologies of petrol and diesel engines getting closer and closer.’’
All Ghibli engines pick up improved economy and performance thanks to their eight-speed automatic transmission. “We have been accused on not being faithful to our roots,’’ Wester says.
“But the Ghibli is everything we stand for. It remains an exclusive product. It is a car for someone outside the mainstream.’’ Maserati expects the Ghibli will contribute 20,000 units to its predicted 50,000 annual sales in 2015. The Quattroporte will deliver an estimated 10,000 sales and the new Levante SUV, based on the Jeep Grand Cherokee which is part of the new Fiat-Chrysler family, will sell at a rate of 20,000 a year.
This is the third time the Ghibli name has been worn on a Maserati, though the first applied to a sedan. But Maserati nods to its predecessors by giving the Ghibli a couple-like style, especially around the C-pillar.
It shares most of the dashboard design with the Quattroporte - one of the first signs of the commonality of the two models - while the shortened wheelbase crimps rear-seat room back to the same accommodation as the Audi A6 and BMW 5-Series.
The Ghibli also continues Maserati’s dedication to an aural symphony. Like the petrol models, the diesel also gets the Maserati Active Sound system comprising two sound actuators fitted near the exhaust tailpipes that accentuate the engine sound.
Ghibli also shares Quattroporte’s suspension system with a double-wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear suspension with the option of the active Skyhook system, part-time all-wheel drive and sport-spec suspension damping. The Ghibli also has a standard mechanical limited slip differential to maximise traction.