After a long wait, Maserati is finally set to deliver its first SUV to customers next month, the global roll-out of the new Levante set to begin in Europe, with China and the U.S. to follow later in the year.
The launch marks the end of an unusually long gestation, the luxury SUV originally introduced in the form of the Maserati Kubang concept in 2003. Under the Levante nameplate, the production model will carry a U.S. price tag starting at $72,000, officials revealed during a media drive of the new model.
The Levante will be one of the most important models ever to wear Maserati’s distinctive trident logo and, officials said, they expect it to be the biggest seller in the brand’s 102-year history, accounting for nearly half of Maserati’s total volume once production gets fully up to speed in 2017.
The Maserati Levante will enter an increasingly crowded segment, but once where sales have been outpacing the addition of new models. Once limited to a few niche brands like Land Rover, luxury sport-utility vehicles are, in many cases, outselling traditional, high-end sedans, coupes and sports cars.
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Utes have become commonplace offerings among what might be called mainstream luxury brands, from Lexus and Lincoln to BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Now, however, they’re rapidly proliferating among niche and high-line marques, as well. The Maserati Levante reaches market about the same time as the new Bentley Bentayga – which will start at around $250,000.
Among ultra-premium brands, Aston Martin, Lamborghini and even Rolls-Royce are planning entries of their own over the next several years.
The Maserati Levante will more directly challenge the Porsche Cayenne. Skeptics abounded when the German maker first announced plans to add an SUV, but the Cayenne is now Porsche’s best-selling model, and the performance arm of Volkswagen AG added a second, more affordable model, the Macan, two years ago.
The Kubang concept had its own disbelievers when first unveiled, but for the renamed Levante, the skeptics are few now considering global market trends.
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The maker itself is targeting sales of around 30,000 a year once production gets up to speed in 2017, said product developer Davide Danesia. That would be more than 40% of overall sales for Maserati, which is targeting global volume of around 70,000 in 2018.
The roll-out of the new Maserati Levante will begin in Europe next month, with the Chinese market on tap over the summer. American customers will follow a few months later, as will other key markets such as Japan and South Korea.
China, which is expected to become the world’s largest luxury car market in the next few years, is forecast by Maserati to generate about a third of total Levante sales, or roughly 10,000 annually. The U.S. and Canada will be close behind, predicted Danesia.
In the States, the 2017 Maserati Levante will start at $72,000 for the 350-horsepower version. The upgraded, 430-horsepower version, the Levante S will go for $83,000, officials noted, adding that a fully loaded version of the SUV will nudge the price tag up to somewhere just short of $110,000.
Additional versions are under study, including a V-8 model, but Maserati has yet to confirm plans to further expand the Levante line-up.
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