Maserati’s primary focus next year: women.
This from Peter Grady, the president and CEO of the century-old Italian automaker, who sat for an interview this week at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Last year the brand sold 15,400 cars nationwide — more than double what it had anticipated — and execs say that number will double again for 2014. Grady says beyond that, increased sales in the US will rely on reaching more women.
“I can’t believe anybody [in the segment] is more male dominated than us — we do have an issue,” he said. “We are working on trying to make ourselves get accessible to the female segment. We just need to figure out a better way.”
A spokeswoman later reported that 30% of its owners are women. That’s roughly the same percentage as Bentley, and significantly more than the roughly 8% who own a Ferrari, according to statistics from TrueCar.com.
Maserati’s Ghibli sedan, which is the maker’s least expensive model, is its new effort at reaching a broader audience, especially females. Ironically, it is also Maserati’s best-looking line. It’s hoped that the more-attainable price point will attract professional women and upper middle class mothers who — if they had considered the brand at all — often assumed it way out of their price range. “People think it’s an exotic, which is incorrect,” Grady said.
The car is also a good value for its price. It performed solidly on city and highway driving when I drove it last month in New York. I also appreciated its beautifully-styled interior with soft leather, smart design, and advanced technology. So it’s no surprise that sales, 10,000 by years end, have easily met expectations.
More importantly, though, Ghibli is setting the stage for Maserati to debut the Levante SUV in late 2016, which is a more direct effort to welcome women into the fold. It has softly rounded flanks; wide, powerful stance; the signature Maserati trident grill; and plenty of posh personalized options inside. The idea worked for Porsche. Its Cayenne became the marque’s best-selling model for years after its debut in 2002, and executives there built the Macan to further the Porsche SUV appeal for women.
If the Levante looks as good as it did in conceptual form, it has a fighting chance at attracting women, who make up nearly half (45 percent) of the compact SUV buyer pool, according to a 2013 report from Heels and Wheels. The group advocates for women in the auto industry.
But looks will only get Maserati so far — it’ll have to develop have something with stellar safety ratings and superior efficiency too. A 2013 report from Kelley Blue Book found that “women tend to be more utility-minded” and “financially conscious” than men; their top car brands for purchase last year were Volvo, Infiniti and Fiat. Not exactly super-luxury SUV territory.
Thing is, there are really no specific “woman cars” or “man cars.” If automakers make a good product everyone will want it, regardless of gender; most of the generally-perceived difference between so-called girls-cars and man’s cars, like in the fragrance industry, is just marketing.
When I asked Grady what his company is doing to engage prospective women buyers now, he mentioned direct mail, TV spots, and ‘digital,’ though remained cautious. “Whether those will speak to women, I don’t know,” he said. I do. Those efforts sound archaic.
Young affluent buyers today, especially women, take shopping cues from myriad social media conversations, from special events and sponsorships, from product placements in movies and video games, and from partnerships with fashion and music brands. Not from watching TV or from getting paper fliers sent in the mail. (The Heels And Wheels report found that 80% of women heavily consult the Internet as their primary resource before making a car purchase.)
What women of means under the age of 50 watches television except by DVR and streaming, which limit ad exposure, and doesn’t immediately toss snail mail unless it’s a bill or clearly from a family member or friend? None that I know.
Look, Maserati has a great foundation built on stylish cars and a strong Italian heritage. It has plenty of room to grow, perception-wise, in the US right now because precious few women associate it with anything much at all, either positive or negative. “Females know about us,” Grady noted. “They just don’t know what we have.”
Furthermore, Maserati’s recent cars like the Ghibli and Levante look great; there’s no aesthetics problem here. If the Alfieri Concept is anything to go on, which it is, Maserati is primed to drop some stunningly beautiful new models in coming years.
A Luxury Lifestyle
The Alfieri has a 4.7-litre, naturally aspirated V8 engine that gets 343kW and 520Nm of torque. It comes with a six-speed automated manual gearbox and Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes. All of which is overshadowed by just how great its curved hips, thin waist and open grill look – just as good as the Jaguar F-Type, and its direct rival. It will be expensive, which is historically a detriment to winning more women buyers, but the halo effect of its cool elegance will work on everyone regardless of gender.
This is all very promising. Still, Maserati will have to be much more smart, nimble, engaged and relevant if it wants to reach women. It will have to think of itself as a total luxury lifestyle brand rather than just a manufacturer of expensive cars.
Grady knows this. It just takes time, he says. In the meantime, he plans to start the attack closer to home.
“Females related to male owners will be the easiest gets,” he said. “They may have a 7 Series in the garage — but they’re waiting for the Maserati.”