Of Course Bespoke Switches Are Important In Luxury Cars

The new Maserati Quattroporte uses buttons from Chrysler products on the interior because Chrysler and Maserati are now step brothers. People in the automotive world are all sorts of angry about it.

The other day we heard that it happens all the time and it isn't a big deal. That's true, it does happen a lot. But to the buyer of a an expensive and exotic luxury car like the Quattroporte, details like this are definitely important.

Corporate partners have shared pieces across brands for ages. This is nothing new at all. Bentley uses a shifter that looks like it came from corporate partner Audi in the Continental GT. Lamborghini similarly uses an entirely Audi-sourced nav system in the Gallardo. Toyota switches make a number of appearances in Lexus cars. Infiniti and Nissan share parts of their center consoles.

For Lexus and Infiniti, part sharing is natural because these cars are meant to sell in volume. Bentley and Lamborghini might share a few parts, but they don't change the overall experience and feel of the cars. In the Lamborghini, the new nav system vastly improved the experience since Lamborghini could barely build air conditioning, let alone a great nav system.

I take absolutely no issue with sharing parts like this. Where I take umbrage is when an automaker decides to bury its brand identity by cutting corners in order to sell more cars, which is what Maserati is doing. You can argue that Porsche did this when the Cayenne was released. However, I'd say that even though the Cayenne was hugely controversial (and shares architecture with VW and Audi), it was still a superbly engineered and built car that has a lot of Porsche characteristics. In that way, it upheld the Porsche tradition.

Maserati has major plans for expansion. In 2012, Maserati sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 Quattroportes. They want to sell 13,000 in 2013 and a total of 50,000 cars across the brand by 2015. That's a massive expansion.

Of Course Bespoke Switches Are Important In Luxury Cars

And that means some things have to change. Maserati decided to raid corporate cousin Chrysler for parts for the new car. And instead of limiting shared parts to areas that don't get a huge amount of attention, like air vents, pedals, or the rear view mirror, Maserati used the full nav system and window switchgear from Chrysler.

Frankly, like Lamborghini, the nav sharing is perfectly fine with me. Sure it looks less expensive than units in Audis, Mercedeses, and BMWs, but unlike the old system, it actually works. That's a huge improvement for a company that has never really made electronics work.

But taking switches out of a Chrysler, albeit with some chrome added, reeks of cost and corner cutting. That can't help sell cars to a clientele that expects the best and thinks their own shit don't stink. The last thing you want from your $150,000 sedan is evidence of something from a car that costs one fifth as much. It shows a lack of care was taken. And for a company like Maserati, that has a long heritage of hand crafted excellence, well, this kinda sucks.

The real issue is that Fiat/Chrysler's head honcho, Sergio Marchionne, wants Maserati to be a volume seller to compete with the Germans. To do that, the Maserati experience has to be diluted. They're in a tough spot, because Maserati is not a viable brand if they don't start selling tons of them.

It's a strange situation. Maserati needs to take the components from Chrysler in order to survive and thrive under Marchionne's leadership. But if they use parts from Chrysler, the definition of a Maserati changes from a car made by Italian craftsmen to a car stamped out for the masses.

Of Course Bespoke Switches Are Important In Luxury Cars

Maserati has been close to death before. Each time the brand has gone in a slightly different direction and ended up in the same place as before: In trouble. Maserati is the panda bear of the car world. A lot of work is done to try and save it, but the brand keeps shooting itself in the foot every time it's thrown a lifeline. I hate to say this, but maybe it's time to let Maserati die gracefully instead of cheapening and bastardizing the products to try and save it.