Of Course Bespoke Switches Are Important In Luxury Cars

Illustration for article titled 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.

Illustration for article titled 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.

Illustration for article titled 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.

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Well, Travis, a couple of things here:

The Chrysler Nav System - Is it good? I'm asking that as an honest question. If it's good, then who gives a shit. The idea of a luxury car like a Maserati is to have quality componentry. If the nav system from Chrysler is truly good, then what is the complaint about Maserati using it? Similar argument with the switch gear. The question is not where the parts came from, but how good they are. Are they made well? Do they feel nice? Are they durable? If the answer to those questions is "yes," then nothing else matters.

"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."

Making a huge fuss about quality components (assuming the Nav system and switch gear in new Chryslers is good - I don't know, so I can't make an honest assumption one way or the other) is what's undesirable. It's nothing more than an exercise in displaying irrational brand snobbery. The fact that those minor components show up on another vehicle doesn't show a lack of care - it shows an ability to find what's good and use it. And if I am going to buy a luxury vehicle, that's exactly what I want.

Quite honestly, I'd be very curious to know just how many people that wind up buying the Maserati have any fucking clue that the window switches also are used in another car. Something tells me that there aren't very many. And a long heritage of hand-crafted excellence? Really? When was the last time Maserati sold a truly hand-crafted car? Certainly not in either of our living memories.

But really, if we're going to be talking about the joys of hand-crafted exclusivity and the perception of bespoke quality, let's talk about some of our other favorite "hand-crafted" cars, like, say, the McLaren F1. I can't help but wonder how many poor schmucks know that they paid over a million dollars at the time for a car with an engine that could be found in a lowly little $90k BMW. For shame, McLaren. For shame. Or how about the Shelby Cobra? In its day, a hyper exotic sports car that was nothing more than cheap parts from a Mustang and an Ace, that Shelby charged an arm and a leg for?

And poor James Bond! he had to drive an Aston Martin Vanquish that had the same radio knob as a Mustang! That must have been absolute torture for him, especially since he had to use that radio knob to activate the tire spikes so many times. Either that, or he neither knew nor cared because the part felt and worked just fine.

Oh, and what about the Maserati MC-12? That shares damn near everything except the body with the Enzo! How terrible!

Look, at the end of the day, I can see your argument that parts sharing could be viewed as cost-cutting to a select audience that knows enough about cars to tell (and not many who are in the market for this thing do), if - and only if - the parts used truly are cheap and possess inferior functionality. But thus far, no evidence has been presented one way or the other by either of us (in my case, because I honestly don't know in this instance).

But the concept that an expensive car sharing small parts with a less expensive car is somehow disgraceful is an absurdist argument. How many people driving around in their big, expensive BMWs know that some of the parts that they can touch are used in mass-produced Mini Coopers? Of those that do know, how many care?

Sharing a few minor parts - so long as they are quality parts - isn't what is currently plaguing, and has historically plagued, Maserati. What's plaguing Maserati is its inability to compete. In the case of of its original founding, it was one out god knows how many specialist Italian sports car marques competing for a tiny share of the pie. At some point, it didn't matter how good the cars were, some marques were simply going to die because there just wasn't enough market to support them. In the case of Maserati's later iterations, it simply wasn't allowed to compete as it should. It's now alive post-Italian-speciality-sports-car-apocalypse, where there are few enough brands and enough market that Maserati could very possibly support itself as a specialist Italian sports car maker. The problem is that it's now brothered up with Ferrari under Fiat, and will always be the red-headed stepchild next to Ferrari. Fiat will never give it free reign to compete with Ferrari as it should. Instead, Fiat is trying to force Maserati into a market that it never had any presence in specifically so that it doesn't compete with Ferrari.

That, and not some switch gear from the Chrysler 300 (which, by all reviews, seems to have a very nice interior), is what is threatening to kill Maserati.