Maserati SUVs the Planet

by Henry Payne

Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne got headlines this week at a Michigan auto conference when he took his industry to task for “crying wolf” over federal fuel mandates, telling reporters that going green to meet the Obama EPA’s 54.5 mpg-by-2025 diktat was “very doable.” That should have come as no surprise from an executive who owes its ownership of Chrysler to the U.S. government

Better to judge shrewd Sergio by his actions rather than his words. And I have two words for you: Maserati SUV.

The bigger news this week was that Marchionne is leveraging Chrysler’s iconic Jeep truck brand to add an SUV to the Maserati line in his ambitious plan to increase sales ten-fold to 50,000 units year. The move is a confirmation of plans floated last fall that the Italian fox wants to apply the Jeep platform across Fiat’s other brands, including Alfa Romeo.

Brought to the United States by Obama as a missionary to educate savage natives on the European small-car religion (a key to Chrysler’s giveaway was that Fiat would sell its tiny, 40 mpg Fiat 500 here), Marchionne has instead converted to the American green god — the Almighty Dollar.

Marchionne has learned what every other American executive knows — that trucks are the most profitable vehicles in the U.S. market — making $3,000 to $5,000 per vehicle, versus maybe a grand for a small car.

Maserati’s overlord clearly salivates over Porsche, which broadened its product lineup in the U.S. to make the decidedly un-planet friendly, 18 mpg Cayenne SUV (the sports car brand’s #1 best-seller) — and seen record profits as a result.

While Washington fawned over the little 500’s introduction here last month, Marchionne is set to play SUV missionary to the European continent next month with a Jeep-based Maserati SUV at the Frankfurt Auto Show. Don’t expect a joint appearance with Mr. Obama..

“The vehicle, based on the latest Jeep Grand Cherokee,” reports Autoblog.com, “will likely debut in concept form at first. So it might be a while before we find out whether it will carry Maserati’s own V8 engine or something from the Chrysler parts bin.”

A future with explosive growth in gas-guzzling, ground-pawing, Maserati SUVs? So much for that “very doable” CAFE standard.

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