Maserati aims to rev up sales in slowing China market with SUV launch

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Italian marque Maserati has launched its first sports utility vehicle (SUV) model in China to revitalise sales in a cooling luxury car market.

The SUV model, Levante, will drive Maserati China sales to double-digit growth this year, said Mirko Bordiga, managing director of Maserati China.

The Italian premium brand is targeting current Maserati owners and other affluent Chinese, he said.

“Many of our customers have two cars in their garages and normally the other one is a SUV. We are targeting a new group of people who need a spacious SUV as a family car,” Bordiga told the South China Morning Post .

Maserati launched the SUV model, priced at 999,800 yuan (HK$1.2 million), on Monday at the Beijing auto show.

“Last year, about 132,000 cars in the luxury SUV segment were sold in China, I think we can grab a few thousands from this market with the Levante,” he said.

The market size of China’s luxury SUV segment is more than double that of the premium segment currently targeted by Maserati, Bordiga said.

China’s economic slowdown and the government’s anti-corruption campaign have weighed on the luxury car market. Popular premium brands such as Germany’s Audi saw a 1.4 per cent drop in sales last year, its first decline in 26 years, while BMW’s sales growth slowed to 1.7 per cent.

Maserati’s total sales last year fell 4.1 per cent to 31,500 as demand weakened in its two largest markets, US and China, the brand’s owner Italian carmaker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said in its annual results announcement. With about 7,000 cars sold in China, its market share dropped to 22 per cent last year from 25 per cent in 2014.

“The general market in China will be hopefully stable,” Bordiga said, adding that he is upbeat on Maserati’s growth this year because of the Levante.

The company tested the waters by selling its first 100 Levante cars on Chinese e-commerce store TMall in March. Bordiga said the cars sold out in 18 seconds, and 30 per cent of the customers bought the nearly 1 million yuan car on their mobile phones.

“Very soon people of this generation just won’t go to shops to buy things but go online. Customers are changing, so why don’t we do something a little bit different?” he said.

Maserati’s new strategy is aimed at reaching customers in cities that the current dealership network does not cover, he said.

Sales of the Levante will begin at the end of July.

Maserati has no plans to substantially expand its dealership network, which includes 45 dealers, but it will explore new online sales and marketing channels that also support dealers, Bordiga said.

The Italian brand, with premium sedan and sports car models in its lineup, is seen as an icon of the second-generation rich and often linked to corrupt figures in China.

Yet Bordiga said the government’s anti-corruption move has had no impact on Maserati sales and that the image of the brand has hardly been dented.

“In every society, the majority of people are honest but you always have exceptions. These people buy all kinds of things, so you cannot link corruption to specific brands,” he said.

By Phoenix Kwong Courtesy SCMP

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