Maserati CEO Davide Grasso on the Company’s Push for Quality—and Electrification | Kanebridge News
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Maserati CEO Davide Grasso on the Company’s Push for Quality—and Electrification

By Jim Motavalli
Thu, May 4, 2023 9:27amGrey Clock 3 min

Maserati is sitting out the auto shows—at least most of them.

“The world is changing, and we made the decision about auto shows in 2019 or 2020, when the pandemic happened, and we’ve stuck with it,” CEO Davide Grasso told Penta in an interview. “No more auto shows, except Shanghai. We make an exception for Shanghai.” It helps that China now has the largest auto market in the world.

Indeed, at Shanghai on April 19, Maserati unveiled its second electric Folgore model (after the redesigned GranTurismo, which was also being introduced to China). The new entrant is the SUV Grecale Folgore. “It’s a new beginning for the brand,” Grasso said in Shanghai. “We’re celebrating Folgore, the electrification plan that has become a reality and is ready to pave the way in this revolutionary era. I’m very excited to be here in Shanghai, which is not only an international exhibition but also a global platform for innovation. It’s the ideal place to unveil the first electric models in the history of Maserati.”

Maserati’s Davide Grasso: “To succeed as a luxury brand, you have to focus on quality, not quantity.” (Maserati photo)

When it released the Grecale Folgore, Maserati said it would be built in Italy with a 105-kilowatt-hour battery and “all the true Trident performance elements.” These include more than 500 horsepower with 590 pound-feet of torque. The top speed will be over 124 miles per hour. There are now three versions of the Grecale: the GT, with a four-cylinder mild-hybrid powertrain and 300 horsepower; the Modena, with a three-litre, 530-horsepower V-6 related to the Nettuno engine in the MC20; and the Folgore, 100% electric with 400-volt technology.

Grasso saysMaserati is thriving as part of the 14-brand Stellantis, headed by hard-charging CEO Carlos Tavares—a stickler for quality.

“The quality issue is important,” Grasso says. “Carlos is a great believer in the potential of the Maserati brand. To succeed as a luxury brand, you have to focus on quality, not quantity. So we are putting a lot of effort into upgrading our processes. We took the time to ensure that the Grecale would be pristine..”

Maserati had a 24,269-vehicle global year in 2022. That was not the loftier goal set by the company in 2018, but it was quite a successful year nonetheless

The company’s full-year profits were US$221 million, nearly double of 2021“Maserati is back, doing the right things in the right way,” said Tavares in an earnings call. Unlike Tavares, Grasso did not come up through the auto industry ranks. Before Maserati, he was CEO and president at Converse, and prior to that was chief marketing officer at Nike. But shoes or cars, the core principles are basically the same, Grasso says.

“The pillars are brand marketing, customer service, residual value, and human resources. Without all these things and the right mindset, managing a luxury brand won’t work. You can have the best marketing team, but if you’re bad at servicing—if we don’t give you a loaner, if we treat you badly—it all falls apart,” he says.

Grasso also says he was happy with the electric versions of the GT and Grecale.

“The electric GT is heavier, but the cars are still very responsive, with 2.7 seconds to 60 mph and 760 horsepower on tap,” he says. “We are in full execution of our electrification strategy now, and we’re excited by the level of performance. We will have an electric Quattroporte in early 2025 on a brand-new platform, redesigned from the inside-out. Then the new Levante. We will be only electric by 2030. The plans are coming together, so it might even be earlier than that.”

Although SUVs dominate today, Grasso sticks up for the sedans and two-seat sports cars (the MC20) in Maserati’s lineup.

“It’s never all SUVs,” he says. “There’s the comfort of a sedan versus the off-road capability of an SUV. Maserati was born on the track, so we combine speed and luxury. Many of our owners have multi-car garages, so they can own different types of vehicles.”

Maserati has been aggressive in establishing its U.S. dealer network, and now has more than 100 outlets. “We are right-sizing it, and there are some locations where we don’t need to be,” he says. “We have to be where the customers are. And going forward, the stand-alone dealership is the model. We have to make sure that the dealerships are aligned with our core values, treating the customers with courtesy and streamlining the buying procedure. But we don’t want to woo people with bells and whistles if it’s not matched with excellence in the rest of the operation.”


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China rocked the auto world twice this year. First, its electric vehicles stunned Western rivals at the Shanghai auto show with their quality, features and price. Then came reports that in the first quarter of 2023 it dethroned Japan as the world’s largest auto exporter.

How is China in contention to lead the world’s most lucrative and prestigious consumer goods market, one long dominated by American, European, Japanese and South Korean nameplates? The answer is a unique combination of industrial policy, protectionism and homegrown competitive dynamism. Western policy makers and business leaders are better prepared for the first two than the third.

Start with industrial policy—the use of government resources to help favoured sectors. China has practiced industrial policy for decades. While it’s finding increased favour even in the U.S., the concept remains controversial. Governments have a poor record of identifying winning technologies and often end up subsidising inferior and wasteful capacity, including in China.

But in the case of EVs, Chinese industrial policy had a couple of things going for it. First, governments around the world saw climate change as an enduring threat that would require decade-long interventions to transition away from fossil fuels. China bet correctly that in transportation, the transition would favour electric vehicles.

In 2009, China started handing out generous subsidies to buyers of EVs. Public procurement of taxis and buses was targeted to electric vehicles, rechargers were subsidised, and provincial governments stumped up capital for lithium mining and refining for EV batteries. In 2020 NIO, at the time an aspiring challenger to Tesla, avoided bankruptcy thanks to a government-led bailout.

While industrial policy guaranteed a demand for EVs, protectionism ensured those EVs would be made in China, by Chinese companies. To qualify for subsidies, cars had to be domestically made, although foreign brands did qualify. They also had to have batteries made by Chinese companies, giving Chinese national champions like Contemporary Amperex Technology and BYD an advantage over then-market leaders from Japan and South Korea.

To sell in China, foreign automakers had to abide by conditions intended to upgrade the local industry’s skills. State-owned Guangzhou Automobile Group developed the manufacturing know-how necessary to become a player in EVs thanks to joint ventures with Toyota and Honda, said Gregor Sebastian, an analyst at Germany’s Mercator Institute for China Studies.

Despite all that government support, sales of EVs remained weak until 2019, when China let Tesla open a wholly owned factory in Shanghai. “It took this catalyst…to boost interest and increase the level of competitiveness of the local Chinese makers,” said Tu Le, managing director of Sino Auto Insights, a research service specialising in the Chinese auto industry.

Back in 2011 Pony Ma, the founder of Tencent, explained what set Chinese capitalism apart from its American counterpart. “In America, when you bring an idea to market you usually have several months before competition pops up, allowing you to capture significant market share,” he said, according to Fast Company, a technology magazine. “In China, you can have hundreds of competitors within the first hours of going live. Ideas are not important in China—execution is.”

Thanks to that competition and focus on execution, the EV industry went from a niche industrial-policy project to a sprawling ecosystem of predominantly private companies. Much of this happened below the Western radar while China was cut off from the world because of Covid-19 restrictions.

When Western auto executives flew in for April’s Shanghai auto show, “they saw a sea of green plates, a sea of Chinese brands,” said Le, referring to the green license plates assigned to clean-energy vehicles in China. “They hear the sounds of the door closing, sit inside and look at the quality of the materials, the fabric or the plastic on the console, that’s the other holy s— moment—they’ve caught up to us.”

Manufacturers of gasoline cars are product-oriented, whereas EV manufacturers, like tech companies, are user-oriented, Le said. Chinese EVs feature at least two, often three, display screens, one suitable for watching movies from the back seat, multiple lidars (laser-based sensors) for driver assistance, and even a microphone for karaoke (quickly copied by Tesla). Meanwhile, Chinese suppliers such as CATL have gone from laggard to leader.

Chinese dominance of EVs isn’t preordained. The low barriers to entry exploited by Chinese brands also open the door to future non-Chinese competitors. Nor does China’s success in EVs necessarily translate to other sectors where industrial policy matters less and creativity, privacy and deeply woven technological capability—such as software, cloud computing and semiconductors—matter more.

Still, the threat to Western auto market share posed by Chinese EVs is one for which Western policy makers have no obvious answer. “You can shut off your own market and to a certain extent that will shield production for your domestic needs,” said Sebastian. “The question really is, what are you going to do for the global south, countries that are still very happily trading with China?”

Western companies themselves are likely to respond by deepening their presence in China—not to sell cars, but for proximity to the most sophisticated customers and suppliers. Jörg Wuttke, the past president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, calls China a “fitness centre.” Even as conditions there become steadily more difficult, Western multinationals “have to be there. It keeps you fit.”


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