Maserati Ghibli at the Shanghai auto show, Maserati in China

Mr. Harald J. Wester, Chief Executive of Maserati GB Ltd. Mr. Wester and Chief Executive of Alfa Romeo at Fiat S.p.A talked to Lou Ann Hammond, CEO, www.drivingthenation.com about the Maserati Ghibli, Maserati and China. Maserati was purchased by Fiat in 1993.

Maserati increased sales 2% from 2011 to 2012, with the United States having it’s best volume performance in 8 years and confirming the U.S. and Maserati’s number one market. China captured second spot, increasing more than 10% year-over-year. Maserati is bringing out the Ghibli to compete head-to-head with the BMW 5-Series. The Ghibli was produced from 1967 to 1973 as a gran turismo.

Wester was asked when China would be the number one market and Wester forecasted, “maybe never, but for market segmentation, potentially China could be the number one market for the SUV or Quattroporte. China will never be the number one market for the Gran Turismo S or the Ghibli.” (Wester thinks the Ghibli will sell the best in the United States). Ghibli will compete with theAudi A6, BMW 5 series, Jaguar XF and Mercedes E class.

Ferrari is the engine provider for Maserati, V-8 and V-6 petrol and V-6 diesel, produced in Maranello, Italy. Wester says “not yet” to considering a 4-cylinder engine or a car smaller than a Ghibli. When asked about a smaller SUV he hesitated, but said no (which is different than “not yet”), “you have to consider that there are different brands in the group.” Jeep introduced the Cherokee and the Grand Cherokee at the 2013 Shanghai auto show.

Ten years ago Maserati had two car dealerships, one in Shanghai and one in Beijing. At the end of 2012 there were 26 Maserati car dealerships and there were 1,000 cars sold. The network will be completed at the end of 2013 in all tier 1 and tier 2 regions with a total of 49 Maserati car dealerships. Wester says they expect to sell 4,000 in 2013 with those dealerships and, “maybe twice as much” in 2014.

I asked Wester to expand on his remarks that he didn’t see Maserati as a hybrid, and that he didn’t see hybrids as a business, “all the discussions about electric cars and zero CO2 is nonsense, it’s far away from reality, we all know this.” When asked what Wester saw as solutions for fuel economy for the future he said, “for the time being in Europe is diesel and CNG. CNG is a perfect solution for the United States as well.”

I then asked Wester if he saw a CNG Maserati for the United States, “if CNG would become a viable alternative to hybrids.” When I pointed out that there was less of a public infrastructure for CNG than for EVs Wester totally agreed. ”

What Wester would rather have is a CO2 target, “instead of imposing technologies. We have to discuss, more honestly, the real CO2 balance. Pure EVs, in terms of CO2, are not the answer. What no one talks about is the energy mix behind the electric energy. This varies very much from region to region, from country to country, depending on how the energy is produced, nuclear, coal and so on, but even the best is not ahead of the internal combustion engine.” China sells almost 20 million vehicles, a small percentage of them are electric vehicles. Fortunately, Maserati is part of a bigger group, Fiat, which owns Chrysler group. It is the group as a whole that can buy the technology needed to create the fuel efficiency required by the country they are selling their cars in.

A point that Wester didn’t make, that I would have made, is that there are certain vehicles, certain engines that are so well tuned, so melodic that to make them an electric vehicle would be taking away a part of the car that is intrinsic to it’s heritage. Making a Maserati an electric vehicle would extinguish the engine sounds. Making a Maserati a hybrid, or a plug-in hybrid, would allow the low-end torque and the melodic sounds of the unique engine.

What is Wester’s favorite part of the Ghibli? What is mine?

About the Author:

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY), Women's World Car of the Year (WWCOTY), and the Concept Car of the Year.