At Maserati, Wester can now cite impressive successes. It may only be a small contribution to FCA’s hoped-for sales jump from 4.4 million to 7m sales by 2018 – sixth position in world manufacturing terms – but Maserati’s projected volume of 35,000 this year will more than double last year’s already increased tally.
Volume is looking good for 50,000 units next year, after which the planned SUV, the Levante, will hit showrooms at a volume tipped to exceed 25,000 units. Given all this, the 75,000 target is looking relatively safe, in Fiat terms at least.
Not that Wester would think of making such boasts. He is a compact man of 56, with a friendly face, amused eyes, a well-developed sense of humour and a fine line in quick ripostes. He relies on his listeners’ perception of an intelligent approach to earn their respect, rather than a loud voice and a lot of bombast.
If his reputation among his peers is any guide, it works very well. “Harald is a very clever bloke,” says one European contemporary. “He knows how to build good cars quickly but, most of all, he stays calm and clear-headed when the explosions are going off. That’s a major asset these days.”
Although I suspect that Wester wouldn’t disagree with the last part of that assessment, when I ask him to spell out the future relationship between Maserati and Alfa Romeo – previously presumed to be very close – he defines the need for clear thinking much more formally for my notebook.
“It’s vital to have the best possible idea of what your brands stand for,” he says, “and about their positioning and price structure relative to one another. There should not be much overlap – you don’t want everyone doing a little bit of everything.”
Here I look for a grin or twitch that implies a criticism of the VW Group, where at least four marques seem to do ‘a little bit of everything’. There is none. Wester has made it clear in previous meetings that he retains great respect for the company that provided his formative skills. Nevertheless, at Maserati-Alfa-Abarth, he will do things differently.
Which is why the five-tier, six-strong model range that he is constructing at Maserati will use architecture not to be shared by any other brand, and why Alfa Romeo, which once looked certain to use powertrain components donated by Maserati, now will not.
Instead, Maserati will emphasise its upmarket position by using own-tune versions of turbocharged V6 and V8 engines made in Maranello by Ferrari. As Wester proudly points out, the engines are the work of Paolo Martinelli, previously in charge of Ferrari’s F1 engine design.
Just outside our office, the Alfieri concept car is drawing eyes by the thousand. It is named for the most creative of the company’s five founders. (“Maserati began with five brothers”, says the company blurb, “four mechanics and an artist.”) In Paris, it is still officially a styling model, but this is the second time that it has been shown.
The first time, at Geneva last March, it won great critical acclaim and the nod and wink from Maserati people says that this is how production cars will look.
With the debut of the Alfieri, the proposed six-model range to be completed by 2018 will be half complete. The big refresh began last year with the latest Quattroporte, which moved the luxury four-door closer to the premium mainstream and introduced the all-new architecture and running gear to be used by successive models.