Posted by Dale Buss on September 14, 2011 12:03 PM
When Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne tossed around the idea of an American-built Maserati at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit last January, the notion had an odd ring to it.
Even for a group of companies, operations and brands that the peripatetic Italian was still trying to organize into a cohesive global whole, the possibility of Chrysler workers in Detroit — a few miles down the street from the auto show — building a true luxury vehicle for export seemed too far-fetched even for him.
But half a world away, in Germany this week, Marchionne showed just how serious he was when he unveiled the vehicle in question at the Frankfurt Auto Show.
Beginning in 2012, Marchionne said in his presentation, the Maserati Kubang SUV is expected to be built for 2013 delivery in the Jefferson Avenue assembly plant in Detroit along with the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango.
A good number of the workers building the Kubang (which will be Ferrari-powered, by the way) will be new hires and members of the United Auto Workers who are working at about half the wages and substantially reduced benefits compared with other people on the same assembly line, under a "two-tier" wage agreement that the union and Chrysler — as well as General Motors and Ford — began testing a few years ago. And the Kubang will share some parts with the two Chrysler vehicles.
The move is definitely a risk. Maserati prices start at $118,000, and if potential buyers get a whiff of anything sub-par, the whole "Imported from Detroit" experiment for Fiat and Chrysler could go bad, and quickly. But Marchionne firmly believes that such moves are vital to making the Fiat group a vibrant competitor in a rapidly consolidating global auto industry. That was a huge reason Fiat picked up Chrysler from the U.S. government in the first place, two years ago.
So with the Kubang, it appears that a determined Marchionne will suffer the slings and arrows of the skeptics and follow his vision. It seems to be working for him so far.