Italian car icons: Ferrari vs Maserati in SA car sales war

Image: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond
Image: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond
Charlen Raymond

Cape Town - As talk of a Chinese takeover  stalks the Italian automotive industry, how healthy are the businesses of Ferrari and Maserati in South Africa?

An absence of advertising is the ultimate credit to a brand’s strength. If your products are priced for optimal profit and demand remains strong enough for you to never have bothered even considering a marketing campaign, well, then you are Ferrari. 

The most iconic of all automotive brands doesn’t need to market its cars. There is an argument that its lavishly funded F1 team is the true marketing substitute but fundamentally, Ferrari trades on a legend all of its own making.

Bad year for Ferrari? 

Maserati? Once it also had an F1 heritage to rival Ferrari’s but that’s faded over time. Abysmal build quality nearly ruined the brand but it has recovered admirably and in 2017, it’s the upstart of both Fiat’s automotive empire and the South African luxury automotive sales charts. 

Whereas Ferrari once outsold Maserati handsomely in Mzansi, the success has been inverted of late. Statistically 2017 has been a terrible year for the scarlet brand, mirroring the petrolhead logic that when Ferrari F1 does well, Ferrari PLC doesn’t. 

Year to date Ferrari has sold 46 cars. That’s with an available range of six different models. Maserati has homed 116 cars, with a product range of only five different models. Product shortage has most certainly not been the explanation for Ferrari’s performance. 

What can explain the amazing success of Maserati in South Africa thus far this year?

The numbers are truly remarkable, it has outsold its more fancied Group Fiat sibling, Ferrari, by 152%. For years Maserati was only known locally as the Italian Aston Martin: strikingly styled cars, which made a lot of noise – when they weren’t at the dealership being tended to. 

Maserati’s current success is a triumph of the most notable trend we’ve witnessed in high-end automotive retail. For decades, the formula was simple; V8 or V12 engines, lots of noise, a few cows worth of leather inside, and theatrical styling with blind spots in every direction.

In 2017, that doesn’t work anymore.

Maserati is besting Ferrari despite a model portfolio of five versus six, for the simple reason that it has aspirational luxury and performance cars that people with enviable amounts of disposable income wish to buy - SUVs and luxury sedans. 

Which would you rather own - Ferrari vs Maserati? Tell us why

It’s an oddity that despite a near collapse of the traditional family sedan market, true luxury and performance four-door cars haven’t suffered severe cannibalisation by SUVs. Maserati has Ghibli and Quattroporte to offer for customers who wish to have something with dramatic presence and stupendous sound, but also the utility of being able to transport four people. Ferrari? They have nothing to that effect. 

Then of course, there is Levante. The SUV which was considered heresy for a marque with Maserati’s lineage, but it has inflated sales notably. Again, Ferrari has no counter and truth be told, the presence of an SUV in Maserati’s model line-up has hardly depreciated the brand’s standing or appeal for those established customers who prefer their Italian cars with as little ground clearance as possible. They’re drawing new customers without alienating traditionalists. It’s brilliant business.

Ferrari is never intended to be a volume brand, but it once had the measure of an ailing Maserati in the local market. If we extract a month comparative sample, for July 2014 (which reports into August), Ferrari had sold six cars, Maserati only one. 

It’s one thing to have a brand strong enough to be beyond the realm of any advertising or marketing effort. And Ferrari is iconic in its role as the most recognisable performance car marque in the world. But it’s no use if your sibling brand under the Group Fiat organogram, is outperforming you due to the foresight of realising how the market is evolving. 

Demand for significantly expensive performance cars are now sourcing from customers who want all the drama, space for four and the ability to travel a little gravel too. It’s something wealthy South African automotive enthusiast want – and something Maserati understands, perfectly. 

Wheels24 reader Natalie-Dominiue Louw says: "Although I am an aficionado of both the Ferrari and the Maserati, I really do not wish to own any one. The reason being one of economics. I can’t afford a Ferrari or Maserati. I am perfectly happy with my Alfa Romeo GT.

"Alfa is also a true blue blooded Italian sportscar and capable of also making noise and leaving rubber on the tar. Yes I know the Alfa is not mentioned in the same breath as the daughter (Ferrari) and cousin (Maserati) but for me as an ordinary woman wishing to drive a sportscar without committing financial hara kiri, having an Alfa satisfy my desire." 

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