Prepare for claims of “Tesla killers” from Maserati in the mainstream media, as FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne awkwardly proclaimed that the brand would produce an electric vehicle around 2020 in an earnings call on Thursday.
Sergio Marchionne has been vehemently opposed to electric vehicles since being forced to build electric vehicles in order to sell Fiat and Chrysler group vehicles in US states with ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle) mandates in effect. Moving into the luxury electric vehicle market ~9 years after the Tesla Model S was first introduced makes Maserati a latecomer by any measure. It is reflective of Marchionne’s reluctance to build electric vehicles more than it is any type of carefully planned strategic move into a new market.
Marchionne noted on the call, “I think we’re now in a position to acknowledge that at least one of our brands, and in particular Maserati, will, when it completes the development of its next two models, effectively switch all of its portfolio to electrification, and as these products come up for renewal post 2019, it will start launching vehicles which are all electric.”
Rather, the move signals the recognition that electric vehicles are coming — and fast — into FCA’s key markets. The behemoth is responding but with a token announcement that signals merely a concession to market trends rather than a serious commitment to move into electric vehicles in earnest. If I were an investor or customer, I would be worried at the lack of movement into plug-in vehicles by FCA while all signs point to plug-in vehicles posing dire threats to internal combustion–based businesses.
Maserati specifically is not subject to normal market economics. It has long been a niche brand with a following of loyalists who purchase its vehicles to see and be seen in rather than for a particular lifestyle. They are known for their signature logo, accompanied by the roaring exhaust notes that just don’t feel the same with an electric drivetrain. Maseratis are classified as luxury supercars compared to the Model S luxury sedans that they compete against in Tesla’s stable.
Sales of Maseratis are also on a completely different (lower) level than even Tesla’s Model S sales today, with just over 12,000 vehicles sold in each of the last 3 full calendar years compared to just under 50,000 Model S vehicles sold last year.
With such low volumes, building electric Maseratis will not change the fate of FCA, but it does show that economics are driving change even among the most reluctant movers in the business. By 2020, however, the market will be in a much different place. My money is on electric being recognized by mainstream consumers as the future because they will by that time be synonymous with autonomous, connected, and intelligent vehicles that make consumers’ lives easier.
Source: Detroit Free Press