Customers First at Maserati

NEW YORK - A guest interrupts Maserati North America's Robert Allan as he chats up auto writers at a soiree here in a dealership where the iconic Italian auto maker debuts two new cars. While product planner Allan touts the debutantes on the showroom floor, the invitee - small, unassuming and schoolmarmish - puts her hand on his arm and quietly asks something. He leans down to listen, then steps away

NEW YORK - A guest interrupts Maserati North America's Robert Allan as he chats up auto writers at a soiree here in a dealership where the iconic Italian auto maker debuts two new cars.

While product planner Allan touts the debutantes on the showroom floor, the invitee - small, unassuming and schoolmarmish - puts her hand on his arm and quietly asks something. He leans down to listen, then steps away to show her features on a nearby car.

Returning to the journalists, he says, “Sorry guys; a customer.”

The woman debunks the Maserati-owner stereotype. She doesn't look like an Italian sophisticate, a Manhattan socialite or a speed freak hooked on an ultra-luxury performance car that can close in on 200 mph (322 km).

But in auto retailing, a customer is a customer. Those who can afford the car, get the car. In this city, many rich people put their money on Maserati.

“New York is a key market for us,” Allan says at Maserati of Manhattan, a sleek 5,000-sq.-ft. (464-sq.-m) storefront dealership in the trendy Tribeca district. “We've had incredible owners here. And the city has some of our biggest and strongest dealers.”

The Hayim family's Experience Auto Group runs this store, as well as dualed Ferrari-Maserati outlets in Long Island, NY, and Ft. Lauderdale, FL. “Ferraris and Maseratis are mechanical works of art,” says Garrett Hayim.

In the U.S., 55 dealers sell Maseratis, particularly here and on the West Coast. “They are astute at knowing area tastes, from colors to stitching,” Allan says. “They are automotive haberdashers.”

This summer, they start selling the new models, spin-offs of the Quattroporte, its striking exterior done by legendary coach builder Pininfarina.

One new car is a Grand Turismo Sport convertible. The other is a Grand Turismo MC. Allan calls it “the masterpiece of 2011.”

It features a tuned suspension, an engine that cranks out 440 hp and “massive” aerodynamic downforce for stability at high speeds, Allan says. He notes an MC confidently hit 185 mph (298 km) at an Italian test track.

The convertible costs $138,000. Price is pending for the lean MC with a fighting weight that is 220 lbs. (100 kg) lighter than the regular Quattroporte.

Some cars are fast, some beautiful. Maserati is both, says Allan, a Mercedes-Benz veteran who took his current job in 2009. “If you look at everything on the road today, you'll not see another vehicle quite like a Maserati.”

There aren't that many to see. It remains very much a niche vehicle compared with the millions of more down-market vehicles parent company Fiat sells. Maserati says it sold 1,717 cars in the U.S. last year. Deliveries reached 2,510 units in the record sales year of 2008.

TAGS: Dealers Retail
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