When's the last time we posted on a run of comprehensive success at Alfa Romeo or Maserati? True, Maserati nearly tripled its U.S. sales from 4,768 in 2013 to 12,942 in 2014. However, the brand's been stuck around that number ever since, selling 13,711 units in 2017. Worse, those figures highlight how far Maserati has fallen behind its own goals. In the last five-year plan, the brand targeted 75,000 global sales this year — then downgraded the target to 50,000 in June this year. At 26,400 units through the first nine months of 2018, short of Poseidon surfacing to work some deus ex machina, even that reduced goal won't be met.
New Fiat Chrysler CEO Mike Manley is working to give Maserati the leaders and support it needs to point the trident in the right direction. On an analyst call at the end of October, Manley said, "With hindsight, when we put Maserati and Alfa together, it did two things. Firstly, it reduced the focus on Maserati the brand. Secondly, Maserati was treated for a period of time almost as if it were a mass market brand, which it isn't and shouldn't be treated that way." In October 2016, FCA named Reid Bigland to head Alfa Romeo and Maserati; this was back when Alfa Romeo dreamed of selling 400,000 cars annually by 2018.
When Manley named his new executive teams last month, after assuming the CEO post following Sergio Marchionne's death in July, Manley separated Alfa Romeo and Maserati. Tim Kuniskis, who had taken over from Bigland, now heads Alfa Romeo and Jeep. Manley then restored Harald Wester to the head of Maserati. Wester ran Maserati from 2008 to 2016, after which he became FCA's chief technology officer, a role he maintains in the latest shuffle. Wester poached Jean-Philippe Leloup from Ferrari. LeLoup ran Ferrari's Central and Eastern European business operations; he now heads a concern called Maserati Commercial. Al Gardner, head of Maserati's North American dealer network since 2015, keeps that role and takes over as head of Maserati North America.
Maserati has favorable brand value, but the leadership will confront almost every other problem a brand can have. Half the automaker's sales come from China, and the economic slowdown there is a serious drain on the numbers. In Europe, the WLTP emissions protocol, bloated inventories, and the need for incentives have dulled the edge. Sales worldwide are down 26 percent this year. Global vehicle shipments in Q3 declined 19 percent year-on-year, earnings were 87 percent down, and profit margin shrank to 2.4 percent from 13.8 percent, yet that 2.4 percent in Q3 exceeded the number from Q2 of this year.
The products the brand has don't sell as well and compete with new and recently refreshed vehicles. And the products the brand needs are still a ways off. Six models are promised by 2022, including the Alfieri coupe, convertible, and EV, and a midsize SUV, but we don't have launch dates. By then, Maserati wants to move 100,000 units globally, and hit a 15 percent profit margin. Somehow the Italian firm will do this in the face of Manley's prediction for "tougher regulations, intense competition and probably slower industry growth around the world."
We have a year to wait to see results. On that analyst call, Manley hinted at more steps in the fourth quarter this year. The first half of 2019 will involve "[sorting] through some of the channel issue," he said, "but I'm expecting Harald and his team to make some significant progress beginning in the second half of 2019."