Maserati's sales are booming, relatively speaking, right now. That's because of all-wheel drive and a less expensive four-door sedan, the 2014 Maserati Ghibli. Watch them really boom now that everyone knows what a Ghibli is because of a certain TV ad.
It wasn't too cold to buy a Maserati in January, because the brand shifted 567 cars last month. That sounds pathetic, but they only moved 172 cars in January 2013 – and that was an improvement over 2012. Sales more than tripled in 2013 over 2012, and that was pretty much on the back of the new and bigger Quattroporte.
The last time Maserati got really ambitious about selling cars, it was when it was owned by DeTomaso. That era was kicked off by the Maserati Biturbo, which was supposed to introduce the brand name to every luxury buyer's shopping list. It made the Maserati name memorable, but not really for the right reasons.
The Biturbo was a radical shift from the supercars developed under Maserati's Citroen ownership in the decades prior. You couldn't call it adventurous or innovative by any stretch of the imagination. For 1984, though, it was attractive two-door coupe (later convertible and sedan) for $25,000 – or about what a BMW 5-series cost back then.
Maserati built about 38,000 Biturbos, with only about 5,000 coming to the U.S. before the company went on hiatus here at the start of the 1990s, according to Hemmings. That's a pretty pathetic showing for a "mainstream" Maserati. Yes, some of that has to do with how the Biturbo wasn't well-engineered until after reliability problems became well-known. Some more issues include its core demographic was caught up in savings and loan scandals by the end of the '80s.
The Ghibli will be different. For starters, it has the backing of Fiat Chrysler. That means money. That means it wasn't exactly engineered on a shoestring, either. At least the Ghibli looks like a quality product. Sure, it has some Chrysler 300 switches and the UConnect system out of a Dart, but at least it's usable and there are a lot of people who know how to use the interface, without having to study German menu arranging as a hobby.
Second, its brand cachet is intact. The Biturbo left things pretty broken for Maserati in the U.S., but its reintroduction in 2002 with cars that were better thought out. And it was smart to introduce all-wheel drive from the get-go, an error that cost Jaguar dearly with the XF and new XJ.
There are a few ways Maserati can screw this up, and some errors they're already making.
The Ghibli looks good, much more imaginative than the Biturbo was. But it looks good because it looks pretty much like a Quattroporte. I have to be really careful not to use a picture of a Quattroporte in these Ghibli posts.
Then there's the issue of marketing. Yes, the Super Bowl ad was amazing, even if they forgot to tell you what the Ghibli costs. But the first ads for the Ghibli in print looked like they were made in an afternoon for about $38. When you're selling something with this much prestige, the dumbest thing you can do is make the ad look cheap.
These aren't fatal errors at this point, though. It would be great if Maserati were finally able to become a serious luxury car competitor, sort of exclusive in the way Jaguar has become and Porsche used to be. After all, the industry could really use some good, special cars that actually sell.
Photos: Maserati, Wikimedia Commons