Q&A: Martin Leach, Chief Executive Officer, Maserati SpA

Mark Gillies
0503 Leach 200

How is Maserati going to build sales?

This past year, we built just over 4800 cars and sold 4600 directly to customers, 63 percent better than in '03. I know it's a bit of a clich, but it's literally one car at a time, because Maserati's point of differentiation is that we have a personal involvement with the customer. When Porsche is chasing 100,000 units, we're there looking at 5000, which is an entirely different style of business. We have found people want one-on-one service.

The Quattroporte is a better demonstration of what Maserati is about, we feel, than the original Coupe and Spider. Where do you think Maserati needs to go with its products in the future?

I think that product excellence is critical for Maserati, and there's no doubt that the more recent launches-MC12, Quattroporte, and Gran Sport-are a lot farther ahead than some of the older cars were, if you look at it from the standpoint of trying to produce the perfect car in its class. We have to know what we stand for and have to put in place the processes to deliver cars with those qualities.

So, what does Maserati stand for?

In the customers' minds, first and foremost, we stand for outstanding design and, second, for what we call "motor," which really means a combination of the engine's performance and its technology. These two dimensions, coupled with exclusivity and a one-on-one relationship with the customer, are the real differentiating factors for us.

Ultimately, we've heard that Maserati is aiming to sell 10,000 cars a year. Does that still hold true?

I think that number popped out a couple of years ago. It really relates to the maximum shift capability that we have. It sort of sits there like a medium-term vision for what you could do without massive expansion and investments-it's not something we feel beholden to. We want to continue to grow in a way where the whole system is in equilibrium. We have to be a pull company; we can't be a wholesale, push type of operation.

Is Maserati profitable at current volumes?

We don't have to be at 10,000 sales to be profitable. We can see a way to profitability according to the business model we have established. Maserati is in a high-investment phase. In the last full year's accounts, the R&D spending alone accounted for about 27 percent of revenue. Because Maserati has celebrated its ninetieth anniversary, one tends to think of it as an old company, but in reality, the Maserati of today is more like a 1998 startup.

There's a lot of talk about Maserati heritage, but do you think it can be an impediment?

Heritage is one ingredient in the meal but not the dominant one. Heritage alone cannot cover up other deficiencies in the equation. It can be an enhancement, a bit like putting salt and pepper on your food, but it is not one of the primary ingredients.

Have you found that you are taking sales away from rivals with the Quattroporte?

It's hard to look at our volumes in a meaningful statistical way. We know that if someone has considered purchasing a Coupe or a Spider they have considered or have owned a Porsche 911. If we take a Quattroporte, they are most likely to own a BMW 7-series and are most likely to be considering, alternatively to the Maserati, a Mercedes-Benz S-class. Now, whether we are taking sales away from anyone is difficult to say, because our average client has four cars: they could be buying our cars incremental to their fleets or substituting, but it's difficult to ascertain. Essentially, people don't buy a Maserati because they need one; they buy it because they want one. And my job is to make them want one so badly they can't possibly live without it.

What's the deal with Audi and VW, as that seems to have gone quiet of late?

Frankly, we don't want to be making a lot of noise about it! Every time we make another agreement with one of our technology suppliers, we don't issue a press release about it.

Sure, but this isn't just about a new technology, this is supposedly about platform sharing.

Well, it may be news on your side, but we don't look at it that way. It could be technology, it could be access to certain parts in the system, it could be a commercial tie-up on the distribution front.

The initial thought was that there would be a Maserati crossover based on Audi technology, wasn't it?

0503 Quattroporte 200

To be honest, the Maserati brand could be applied to any vehicle concept except a pickup truck. Whether that means we should do any of those concepts is another matter. The MC12 shows that we can position a vehicle right at the top end of the market. I think I have good headroom on pricing for the Maserati brand, and I think I have good appeal on the intrinsic values that would enable me to do different products. As and when we want to broaden the range, I think we can do it, but at the moment, we are concentrating on the core products, such as the Quattroporte and the Coupe and the Spider.

Do you foresee Maserati being able to do an SUV, as Porsche has?

I think we have to reach a certain equilibrium with what we have got. I don't feel any great pressure to just copy the Porsche strategy. I think it is true, though, that in terms of brand expectation, it's easier for us to do an SUV than Porsche.

Would you think of doing another supercar?

There's absolutely no reason why not. It has been very good for the company in terms of getting back on the track and in terms of what it has done for the brand reputation.

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