In a week filled with news from the Geneva international auto show, this may be the least significant announcement to hit the automotive world since Rolls Royce announced it is working on an electric car. Maserati has a new crossover SUV called the Levante ready for production and it will offer a plug-in hybrid option.
Now, most Gas 2 readers are not your typical Maserati buyers. Sure, they are great cars, but they really are just overgrown Fiats. Even Maserati CEO Harald Wester told the press in Geneva that the Levante is for people who don’t want a another Mercedes, Porsche, Audi, BMW, or Lamborghini. He says the Levante will be for those who want something different in an SUV. The Levante is Italian, which should make it different enough. At least Maserati hopes so.
Even if the news is far from earth shattering, there is a part of it that is important. The plug-in hybrid system, when it becomes available, will be based on the technology developed by Chrysler for its upcoming Pacifica plug-in people mover. (It hardly seems appropriate to call these vehicles “minivans.”. There’s nothing “mini” about them any more.)
According to Motor Trend, Wester told the assembled media in Geneva “A standalone program would be suicidal, so we have to look at FCA.” That statement offers a peek at what will become a trend in the auto industry over the next 5 – 10 years. Smaller companies simply don’t have the resources to develop batteries and plug-in hybrid technologies on their own, even though that technology will be crucial to meeting emissions and fuel economy standards in the near future. Fiat Chrysler intends to use the engineering that went into the Pacifica plug-in hybrid system throughout the companies range of vehicles.
Mazda, for example, is offering its SkyActive high efficiency gas and diesel engine technology to Toyota in exchange for Toyota’s assistance with hybrid electric powertrains. Even among the big manufactures, cooperation is occurring at a level that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
Initially, the Maserati Levante will come with 3.0 liter twin turbo V-6 gasoline engine. Buyers can select either a 345 or 424 horsepower version of that engine. Wester predicts less than 6% of customers will opt for the plug-in hybrid powertrain. The Levante is expected in US showrooms in late summer.
Wester was at pains to point out that the Levante is not a rebadged Jeep. He says its platform is 100% unique to Maserati, although there are some components shared with the Ghibli sedan. Maserati did unveil a concept car called the Kabang in 2011 that it said would be built in Detroit at the same assembly plant that makes the Jeep Grand Cherokee, but the new car will be built in Italy at the company’s Mirafiori facility. The last thing Maserati wants customers to think is that the Levante is just a gussied up Jeep.
No prices have been announced yet, but if you took a guess that a Levante would probably sell for about as much as a Porsche Cayenne S, you would probably be pretty close to the mark.