breaking into the UK fleet market, particularly at the premium end, is an immense challenge. It involves managing a number of components very carefully if it is to be done successfully and then requires acceptance and understanding of the position of the brand.
Two of the biggest introductions of the past 25 years were global launches of new brands: Lexus, which rolled out worldwide shortly after its introduction in North America, and Infiniti, which had been firmly established in North America before a global roll-out began seven years ago.
Both of these have had teething troubles along the way, some of which were based on credibility as new marques alongside established premium brand cars. Maserati is a name with 100 years of heritage behind it – one that scored victory in the Formula 1 World Championship in 1957 and has been building exotic road cars ever since.
New ownership under Fiat since 1993 got off to a difficult start, but now, under the stewardship of Fiat’s Ferrari division, its position as a high-end premium car manufacturer has been established. How could this exotic Italian manufacturer be ready to tackle the most sophisticated fleet market in the world?
Since August, Maserati has had a corporate sales manager in Graeme Jenkins, who joined from Toyota/ Lexus, and has been working to ensure the latest models offer competitive residual values and SMR rates. Fuel cost is a box also ticked with the introduction of Maserati’s first diesel engine – a potent 275hp 3.0-litre V6 produced by Italy’s VM Motori, which supplies a less powerful version of the unit to Chrysler and Jeep for the 300C and Grand Cherokee.
The V6 emits 158g/km and offers combined fuel consumption of 47.9mpg. But while Jenkins has been engaging with fleet influencers and leasing companies to explain the market position and his aspirations, Peter Denton, director for Maserati in the North Europe region, says protecting the exclusivity of the brand is one of its key drivers while at the same time allowing growth.
“The advantage that we have is we have got to be considered for all the right reasons for the fleet environment: the lower CO2 from the diesel, the size of car, the fact that it’s now a sensible alternative to the traditional German products,” he says.
“What we have is something that has created a level of aspiration and desire and, while ‘dull’ might be too strong a term , I think people understand what we mean by that. “Corporate business is a very important focus. We have the elements in place: SMR costs need to be competitive, we have established relationships with CAP and Glass’s and paid attention to residual values.”
The corporate sector will help Maserati meet its growth aspirations over the next few years. It plans to sell 1,500 units in the UK in 2014, growing to 3,000 by 2016 when the new Levante SUV will be on sale. The dealer network will grow to ensure better geographic coverage until it has reached 30 sales centres.
Currently, all but one Maserati showrooms are shared with Ferrari, but new dealers will be standalone Maserati sites. In 2013, Fiat Group Automobiles’s leasing division and LeasePlan became the first contract hire companies to quote fleet terms on Maseratis, and relationships have now been established with others.
According to Jenkins, around 80 corporate orders were placed for cars in the last two weeks in January. He expects around half of Ghibli’s projected 1,000 sales in 2014 and half of Quattroporte 300 sales will be to corporate customers.
Well aware that being an unknown quantity will be a challenge, and that it would be competing with some highly competent vehicles at the top end of the executive car sector, Maserati’s objective is to reach a competitive residual value with the Ghibli diesel.
At 36% (three years/60,000 miles), it is a few points behind the 535d but, according to Denton, plans to “minimise the gap” with the BMW. And there is little chance of cars being introduced later at a lower entry point making them more accessible to a greater number of user-choosers. Fiat Group Automobiles said the entry point of the Maserati brand should be no lower than €50,000 (£42,000), with the price points below being occupied by Alfa Romeo (when it has a full range of cars) and Ferrari sitting above.
The well-equipped Ghibli has a single equipment grade and the diesel is priced at just under £50,000, with a typical monthly contract hire rate over three years/60,000 miles at around £700. Petrol versions, which are more powerful, are priced at above £50,000.
Although the BMW 535d has been a benchmark car, the Ghibli has been positioned closer to the 6 Series Gran Coupé, Audi A7 and Mercedes-Benz CLS – more of a niche within the executive car sector where there is demand for something that stands out from the typical E-sector saloon. However, that brings new challenges. “We have to understand the needs of customers at the £50,000 price point,” Denton says.
“We have a very strong view on how a Maserati Gran Turismo and Quattroporte customer interacts with our business. We’re working with our dealer network to achieve a level of understanding of our new customers. It’s unlikely that they will want their cars collected for servicing, for example.”
Every corporate customer will have a full handover at a dealer rather than a car being delivered to a place of work on a trailer. Denton said the plan was to ensure showrooms were suitable and comfortable places for drivers to wait while their car was in the workshop, and allow them to continue with work. Ultimately it wants to be able to offer a Maserati branded courtesy car if necessary. Interest so far has been strong and comfortably within the reach of Maserati’s annual sales, but he says it would resist opening the door to more volume for its own sake.
“We have to maintain a level of exclusivity,” adds Denton.
“The soonest we could deliver a car is three months from build to customer, and certain specification might extend that process. We don’t want to get into a situation where customers have to wait five or six months for a car, but we have to remain sensitive to one of the reasons why customers would choose a Maserati, and to protect our residual values.”