Speaking to Australian media (including CarAdvice) at last week’s North American reveal of the Maserati Levante in New York, Wester passionately defended the move into SUVs, seemingly without much prompting.
“SUV, it's just another body type for a car, no?” Wester asked.
“Do me a favour. Stop blow[ing] this up. There is not, how should I say, a mortal sin [here]… It’s like in the fashion industry no? People have worked for over a century to develop the finest materials, but the designers design something different each and every day.
“Have you ever heard anybody to say whether it had three buttons, two buttons, one or two rows, or three rows?
“As long as, and I know it’s difficult because you haven't driven the machine, but as long as the car, the styling, the performance, how it drives, how it smells, how it handles, how it performs is 100 per cent Maserati, there is no problem at all.
“And the question is not whether we will do a second or third SUV whatsoever, the question is how will the tastes of our customers evolve,” he said, before adding the company had to be bold enough to follow them.
Wester said the Quattroporte- and Ghibli-based Levante SUV, which is rolling out this year across the world (including Australia), would comprise about 50 per cent of Maserati’s total sales, and lure "many, many women", to the brand.
“I’m just watching, no? If you just drive around in Europe, in US, and China, you see many women driving these cars…. if you talk to SUV customers they will give you… rational stuff [reasons for buying], but at the end of the day, they love the car, they desire the car, they fell in love with the machine.”
Beyond the move into SUVs, Wester said the car market, including Maserati, would naturally “go heavily” into electrification, and make “huge, huge progress” in terms of autonomous driving. The company has already discussed its bold sales targets.
The Levante will be offered with three Ferrari-developed engine choices. On the petrol side is the company’s 3.0-litre twin-turbo direct-injection V6, which is available in two trims: 261kW and 321kW.
There’s also a 205kW 3.0-litre direct-injection turbo-diesel V6 that can reportedly complete the 0-100km/h standard in 6.9 seconds and hit a top speed of 230km/h.
Both petrol and diesel drivetrains are equipped with a standard eight-speed automatic and a torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system.
The Levante’s suspension features double wishbones at the front, a five-link rear setup, height adjustable air springs, and electronically controlled Skyhook shock absorbers.
The company has also revealed the Levante’s leather-clad interior for the first time. The infotainment unit features an 8.4-inch capacitive touchscreen and can be paired to a Bowers & Wilkins audio system.
According to Ateco, Maserati’s local distributor, the Levante will go on sale in Australia and New Zealand from early 2017.