Maserati’s Levante SUV would have shared much with the Jeep Grand Cherokee had Sergio Marchionne not stepped in and told engineers and designers to stop what they were doing and start again.
The Levante had been taking shape on a Grand Cherokee platform for more than 18 months before the Fiat Chrysler Automotive (FCA) boss halted progress. A Maserati needs to be a Maserati, Marchionne said.
He pretty much did the same during development of the Abarth 124 Spider, the soft-top two-door based on the Mazda MX-5.
It was to be built by Mazda at its Hiroshima factory and badged an Alfa Romeo for the global market. But Marchionne said he didn’t want an Alfa Romeo built outside of Italy. An Alfa Romeo needs to be an Alfa Romeo, he said.
His objection muddied the waters of a 2012 model-sharing agreement between Mazda and FCA. The Alfa Romeo badge was quietly ditched. Eventually, Marchionne settled on the made-in-Japan Abarth moniker.
The Maserati Levante was also part of an FCA model-sharing agreement, initially at least. It was to join the Ghibli and Quattroporte sedans, said Maserati’s director of global markets, Umberto Cini.
“It has always been in the same study and plans, but it required more development,” he told website CarAdvice at the launch of the petrol-powered V6 Levante S in Dubai.
“Initially the project was completely different to what you see now. The initial thought was to have the group’s capabilities maximised to deliver a Levante based on the Jeep platform,” Cini said.
“This is where we started working over one year in this direction. One day Mr Marchionne said No! A Maserati needs to be a Maserati. Scrap everything and start from scratch. This is what happened.”
Maserati engineers worked overtime to recover time lost on the project but couldn’t meet the original deadline. “The car was originally meant to be out at the end of 2014, but came out much later,” said Cini.
Instead, the Levante was released to global markets in 2016. “So they really started from scratch and worked against the clock,” said Cini.
“We wasted one and a half years due to the project with Jeep, but I think it was a very wise decision and now we have a chassis and platform, which is a Maserati one. Everything is now 100 per cent Maserati,” Cini said.
The Levante S runs a twin-turbo 3.0-litre petrol engine delivering 316kW/580Nm. It is expected to retail for around $160,000 when it lands in NZ to join the existing diesel Levante line-up.