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(08:30 May 20, 2004)
Despite obstacles, new CEO Leach sees a bright future for Maserati


By BRADFORD WERNLE | Automotive News Europe

LONDON -- Incoming Maserati CEO Martin Leach sees a bright future for the Italian carmaker.

He predicts growing demand for low-volume exotic brands such as Maserati and Bentley.

"The well-established premium brands have grown in such volumes now they have lost some of their exclusivity," Leach said in a telephone interview with Automotive News Europe last week.

"I think we could see a market emphasis on those brands such as Maserati that can offer more exclusivity without being actually priced in the stratosphere."

Leach, a former president and chief operating officer of Ford of Europe, says his experiences at Ford of Europe and Mazda have prepared him well for the top Maserati job.

"Maserati has a good positive culture which will be something I'll be looking to use.

"The fact that it is low-volume means that a lot of the potential baggage and infrastructure that goes with a high-volume car company is not likely to be there."

Fiat group CEO Giuseppe Morchio, who picked Leach for the job, is obviously pleased with his appointment.

"Leach is one of the best automotive top executives," he said. "He is a high-profile choice for Maserati."

Apart from serving on Ford's Jaguar transition team in 1989, Leach has limited experience in luxury brands. But he feels his product-development experience will be an advantage to a company that will have to rely on top-quality new models to return to profitability.

Leach also believes his general approach to business should help him in his new job.

"The fact that I'm a naturally competitive person fits well with the culture at Maserati," he said.

Leach drove the Maserati coupe a year ago and was struck by its spacious interior. "I think Maserati is one of the few options that gives you true four-seat capability with sportiness and luxury," he said.

The new Maserati chief joined Ford in 1979 as a body engineer after a promising career as a racecar driver was aborted by rheumatoid arthritis.

He moved up rapidly at Ford, proving his versatility during the 1980s by supervising Ford of Europe's car marketing plans.

In 1997, he took over as product development chief at Mazda, but he returned to Ford of Europe in 2000. He became president and chief operating officer in 2002.

Leach's career at Ford ended in a controversy that is still unresolved. He was fired after Ford of Europe lost more than $500 million in the second quarter of 2003. Before he was fired, Fiat Auto had approached Leach about taking the top job there.

But Ford refused to release him from his two-year non-compete agreement. Leach subsequently went to court and won the right to work for another company. He has sued Ford for compensation. The case will probably be heard toward the end of the year.
 

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That is interesting. I hope you are right about the QP giving the boost as sales were down. But from what I've seen the world economy is up. Japan is on the rise after 20 years of recession (damn long time), China is still growing, India is on the rise and I think Europe is as well.
 

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From what I have heard from my dealer, preliminary demand for the QP is very strong - much stronger than what was ever seen with the coupe/spyder. 9 month long wait lists from what I have heard. And the automotive press seems to be much more kind with the QP than they were with the coupe/spyder back in 2001. By most measures, Maser's efforts with the QP seem to be their best hope, so far paying off...
 
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