Porsche's success looms over Maserati sales push

Mon Apr 14, 2014 12:00pm EDT
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By Agnieszka Flak and Stefano Rebaudo

MILAN (Reuters) - As Fiat Chrysler FIA.MI moves to reinvent its small Maserati brand as a serious rival to the world's luxury car makers, the pressure to succeed is all the greater for the startling success of Germany's Porsche.

The German sportscar maker has set the standard for multiplying sales of an expensive brand without damaging the exclusive image that reaps big profits.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne wants Maserati to be for the Italian automaker what Porsche is for its parent company Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE: Quote) - a formidable source of profits that are less vulnerable to swings in the economy than the group's mass-market brands.

Maserati has Italian allure and a recognized sporting heritage. But Fiat Chrysler, the world's seventh-largest auto group, sold just 15,400 of the growling, muscular sportscars last year - not yet enough to change the group's fortunes - compared to Porsche's sales of over 160,000.

Porsche's 18-percent automotive operating margin - the rate of underlying profit on its sales - has made it a more valuable company than rivals selling millions of cars each year. Even in the premium sector, the average margin is only 10 percent.

Porsche contributed less than 2 percent of VW group sales in 2013 but about 22 percent of its operating profit. Maserati's trading profit tripled last year but still contributed just 5 percent of Fiat profits and less than 2 percent of sales.

By 2015, Marchionne wants to be selling 50,000 Maseratis. The goal hinges on a rapid take-up of new models designed to appeal to a broader variety of driver tastes and budgets.

Maseratis are priced at around a 20 percent premium over similar-sized rival German cars, so the product offensive must not cheapen the brand.   Continued...

The company logo is seen on the bonnet of a Maserati car during the media day ahead of the 84th Geneva Motor Show at the Palexpo Arena in Geneva March 5, 2014. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann