Italian automaker eyes women

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MASERATI’s primary focus next year: women. But they will need more than just an SUV and affordable sedan (but it’s a start).

Last year, the brand sold 15,400 cars nationwide, more than double what it had anticipated, and execs say that number will double again for 2014. Beyond that, increased sales in the US will rely on reaching more women. So said Maserati’s president and chief executive officer Peter Grady.

A spokeswoman reported that 30% of its owners are women. That’s roughly the same percentage as Bentley, and significantly more than the roughly 8% who own a Ferrari, according to statistics from TrueCar.com.

Maserati’s Ghibli sedan, which is the maker’s least expensive model, retailing around US$75,000 (RM253,500), is its new effort at reaching a broader audience, especially females. Ironically, it is also Maserati’s best-looking line.

It’s hoped that the more-attainable price point will attract professional women and upper middle-class mothers.

The car is also a good value for its price. It performed solidly on city and highway driving when I drove it last month in New York. I also appreciated its beautifully-styled interior with soft leather, smart design, and advanced technology. So it’s no surprise that sales, 10,000 by year’s end, have easily met expectations.

If the Levante looks as good as it did in conceptual form, it has a fighting chance at attracting women, who make up nearly half (45%) of the compact SUV buyer pool, according to a 2013 report from Heels and Wheels.

But looks will only get Maserati so far — it’ll have to develop something with stellar safety ratings and superior efficiency too.

A 2013 report from Kelley Blue Book found that “women tend to be more utility-minded” and “financially conscious” than men; their top car brands for purchase last year were Volvo, Infiniti and Fiat. Not exactly super-luxury SUV territory.

Thing is, there are really no specific “woman cars” or “man cars.” If automakers make a good product everyone will want it, regardless of gender; most of the generally-perceived difference between so-called woman’s cars and man’s cars, like in the fragrance industry, is just marketing.

To engage prospective women buyers now, the company is using direct mail, TV spots, and “digital”. These efforts sound archaic.

Young affluent buyers today, especially women, take shopping cues from myriad social media conversations, from special events and sponsorships, to product placements in movies and video games, and partnerships with fashion and music brands.

Not from watching TV or from getting paper fliers sent in the mail. The Heels And Wheels report found that 80% of women heavily consult the Internet as their primary resource before making a car purchase.

What women of means under the age of 50 watch television except by DVR and streaming, which limit ad exposure, and doesn’t immediately toss snail mail unless it’s a bill or clearly from a family member or friend? None that I know.

Look, Maserati has a great foundation built on stylish cars and a strong Italian heritage. It has plenty of room to grow, perception-wise, in the United States right now because precious few women associate it with anything much at all, either positive or negative. “Females know about us,” Grady noted. “They just don’t know what we have.”

Furthermore, Maserati’s recent cars like the Ghibli and Levante look great; there’s no aesthetics problem here. If the Alfieri Concept is anything to go on, which it is, Maserati is primed to drop some stunningly beautiful new models in coming years.

It will be expensive, which is historically a detriment to winning more women buyers, but the halo effect of its cool elegance will work on everyone regardless of gender.

This is all very promising. Still, Maserati will have to be much more smart, nimble, engaged and relevant if it wants to reach women. It will have to think of itself as a total luxury lifestyle brand, rather than just a manufacturer of expensive cars.

“Females related to male owners will be the easiest gets,” said Grady. “They may have a 7 Series in the garage, but they’re waiting for the Maserati.” — Bloomberg

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This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on December 1, 2014.