Amidst the gleaming automobiles and the whisper of California’s coastal breeze, I had the privilege of delving deep into the world of Maserati during the prestigious Monterey Car Week.
From interviews with Head Designer Klaus Busse and top Executives (such as Bill Peffer, CEO of Maserati Americas, and Bernard Loire, Chief Commercial Officer for Maserati Global), to chats with Rita Case (a leading Maserati dealer) and Fiore Cappelletto (VP and General Manager, Automotive & Marine Business at McIntosh Group Inc., which produces the Sonus Faber sound system for Maserati), at this year’s event, I gained tremendous insight into what fuels this 100+-year old brand to go the distance.
The Driving Force behind Maserati Americas
My journey began with an in-depth interview with Bill Peffer (picture below), a seasoned executive in the auto industry who now serves as the CEO of Maserati Americas.
With a career that has seen him in senior positions at prominent auto brands like Kia and General Motors, Bill not only brings a wealth of experience and vision to Maserati but also exudes a down-to-earth and amiable personality, which is something I admire, especially as a leader of a luxury brand. During our conversation, he painted a vivid picture of Maserati’s commitment to excellence, which was exemplified earlier that day at the brand’s global debut of the limited-edition Maserati MCXtrema track-only car, presented at The Quail at Quail Lodge & Golf Club in Carmel, California.
Here’s a peek into some of the topics we discussed:
CLP: As your leadership plays a pivotal role, can you share your perspective on how Maserati’s iconic brand of luxury and performance resonates uniquely with the American market, in particular?
BP: That’s a great question. The brand, as you know, is 109 years old and we’re steeped in racing history. The Americas represent a huge market for Maserati. So it’s imperative we build a global car for all of the markets, but a lot of times when we’re looking at what we build and how we homologate it, we’re looking at the US market as one of the key markets for us. Understanding the customer and listening to our dealer body, as we have 122 retailers around North America, it’s imperative to make sure we get it right because there’s a lot of great competition here at The Quail.
CLP: Maserati is known for its legacy of craftsmanship. How do you navigate the balance between heritage and innovation to engage a new generation of enthusiasts?
BP: Well, you have to keep up with the time. We’re making a transformation not only from where we’ve been in recent times, sedans into UVs and a return to supercars, but we’re also electrifying the lineup. So everything we are bringing out from our MC20 a few years ago, we’ve committed to full gas versions, our own technology, as well as electric.
CLP: The luxury automotive industry is dynamic and competitive. What strategies do you implement to position Maserati Americas as a front-runner in the market, while maintaining the brand’s sense of exclusivity?
BP: I think it’s about managing the demand with supply. We can keep the demand in excess. One of the things we’ve done with MC20 very successfully is we’ve sold the model year out in one period of time, all at one time. So in the case of MCXtrema, which we’ve introduced here today, we’re already sold out. We have a Tridente application that we have generated community followers, one way you activate them is with special events, like the MC20 or the MCXtrema. So, in coming to The Quail this year, as we sold out, the only way to get one of those cars is to have someone come off of their commitment and already be on the waiting list. So, the demand has been really strong, so we’re excited about that.
CLP: Were most of the customers who purchased this, people who already had Maseratis?
BP: It was a balance. There were certainly enthusiasts, and a lot of them had a car collection. There are two types of customers for MCXtrema. Some are going to put it in their collection like a piece of artwork; whereas, others are going to use this car on the track. The car has a full FIA-certified roll cage and we’ve finished it to the point where we allow the customer to work from a clean palette to make it bespoke for themselves. We have a customization program in Italy where you can virtually customize a car to your own taste.
CLP: Creating memorable customer experiences is paramount. How does Maserati Americas ensure that each touch point from showrooms to after-sales service reflects the brand’s essence?
BP: That’s a challenge because we want to create an experience that is consistent for the evolving customs base. So, we do work very closely with our network partners, not only to provide a superior experience at the time of sale, but then, after the sale, the piece of ownership is very important through the ownership lifecycle of the vehicle, and then hopefully, get the opportunity to do business with these customers when they come back.
CLP: In your leadership journey, can you recall a turning point where innovation in marketing or branding significantly enhanced Maserati’s presence and customer engagement in the Americas?
BP: I think MC20 was the watershed moment. We really took the community by surprise when we brought this car, a culmination of a lot of efforts to bring a supercar like this back to Maserati.
CLP: What are your most popular regional markets within the Americas? I assume Florida, to start with, as I know Rita Case is doing quite well down there.
BP: We have a lot of our cars sold in the Tri-State area, in the Northeast, obviously in Florida with a concentration in South Florida, and also in the California market. This is a big market for us, particularly in LA and San Francisco.
CLP: Yeah, I definitely noticed on the Monterey Peninsula more Maseratis driving around recently, so obviously, you’re doing a good job here. And I think also having a presence at The Quail speaks to that too.
BP: It does. This is a great environment for enthusiasts who are already familiar with our brand, and our history, and most importantly, are made aware of what we’re offering.
CLP: As a leader, your insights are here to inspire others. Can you share a personal motto or guiding principle that has consistently steered your decisions and contributed to your success at Maserati?
BP: We often talk about staying humble, staying hungry, and being students in the marketplace. The minute you stop looking at what’s happening around you, you’re going to lose because somebody else is paying attention. And if you take your eyes off, especially in a competitive industry like the auto business, that’s going to impact you negatively.
CLP: Your journey from various executive roles to CEO of Maserati Americas is inspiring. Can you share a key leadership lesson that has guided your ascent, shaping your approach to leading teams, and driving success?
BP: Well, I think you’re always learning. I’ve been in leadership positions for a long time, but learning every day. Each one is different. This is the first experience I’ve had with a true luxury brand, and the approach to how you interact with the customer base and within the industry is different. These are not needs-based customers; they make emotive-based decisions. So your approach has to be one of excellent execution, from a customer satisfaction standpoint, which isn’t always the case for a mass market brand, which is often about transaction prices. Luxury isn’t about that.
CLP: In the dynamic world of luxury automotive, challenges are inevitable. How do you maintain a resilient mindset that not only navigates challenges but also fosters innovation and growth within your team? And beyond that, do you have a daily mindfulness practice or routine that helps keep you grounded?
BP: The routine I have is staying consistent. You don’t want to surprise people because that’s usually when unpredictable things happen, so I try to stay consistent and logical.
CLP: So, essentially, you’re the guy they can count on.
BP: Yes! We have a relentless pursuit to hit the targets and reach our objectives, but we have to stay consistent to do so.
CLP: As a seasoned executive, you’ve likely encountered moments of doubt at times. How do you overcome self-doubt and leverage it as a catalyst for your personal and professional growth?
BP: You don’t give up, you can’t give up. You have to have that mindset.
A Quick Road Trip Back in Time to Learn Maserati’s Illustrious History
Before delving into the MCXtrema’s remarkable features, it’s essential to go backward before charging forward, so that we can discover and appreciate the rich history that has been the backbone of Maserati’s legacy, which, to my surprise and delight, I learned a great deal more about during this year’s car week festivities.
Founded in Bologna, Italy in 1914 by Alfieri Maserati, the company quickly established itself as a symbol of Italian style and engineering prowess. Over the past century, the brand has undergone many changes and even different owners.
By chance coincidence, that weekend during Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, I happened to sit down at a table at which I met a gentleman named Antonio Orsi. As we started chatting, I quickly found out that Antonio’s father (Adolfo Orsi, Jr.) has been one of the Concours Judges for the past 25 years, which is why they were at the event that day. I came to learn that his Dad is a distinguished automotive historian in the realm of Italian motorsport, recognized for his expertise in vintage car collections, dedication to upholding authenticity, and unwavering commitment to the preservation of automotive history. Additionally, he has held the esteemed position of Chief Class Judge for the FIVA Award at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance since its inaugural event in 1999. But that’s not the most ironic or interesting part of our conversation…
As I explained my involvement with Monterey Car Week and the auto brands that I was covering this year, in mentioning Maserati, he lit up. Upon hearing this, he went on to explain the background of his family’s deep connection with the company, as their stewardship saw Maserati evolve from a boutique automaker into a global powerhouse, as his ancestors owned the Maserati brand many decades ago.
Of course, now my wheels were spinning, so I naturally felt compelled to delve deeper.
Upon doing more research into this story, I discovered that in 1937, in Pradella, where Adolfo Orsi Sr.’s iron warehouse was located, he crossed paths with the Maserati brothers. The story goes that they came to his warehouse to weigh a racing car for the purpose of balancing it for an upcoming race in Modena.
As explained in an article by Maserati, “Corrado Filippini, journalist and correspondent of the Bologna-based sports newspaper Littoriale, had an inspired idea which was to change the fate of Maserati. Filippini knew the Maserati brothers well, and aware of their vast technical and human potential, he decided to put them in touch with a friend of his from nearby Modena, the self-made industrialist Adolfo Orsi.” That’s when Adolfo Orsi, Sr. spotted a gleaming opportunity for a business venture.
What began as his role as a mere sponsor for the Maserati brand ultimately evolved into his ownership of it. Consequently, in 1939, he relocated the production of the renowned Maserati Trident’s race cars from Bologna to Modena (which is where Antonio and the Orsi family still live today, in addition to where Maserati is still produced).
This pivotal era not only expanded the brand’s reach but also solidified its reputation for creating high-performance cars.
As explained on Wikipedia, “Orsi remained active within the management of Maserati until 1968, when he decided to sell his remaining shares to Citroën, who at the time was a major stakeholder.” Between then and 2000, the brand was owned by other automakers including FIAT S.p.A. (now FIAT Chrysler Automobiles) and Ferrari. To bring you up to speed on where the brand currently stands, since 2021, Stellantis (one of the world’s leading auto conglomerates) has owned the company. Today, Maserati’s enduring commitment to luxury, style, and innovation is a testament to the legacy established by the Orsi family.
Now that we know more about the history of the brand, we can delve into their modern marvel – the MCXtrema.
The MCXtrema: A Modern Symphony of Speed, Power & Performance
Maserati has always been synonymous with power, elegance, and performance. The MCXtrema, true to its heritage, is a beast on the track. Designed to dominate, this track-only supercar features a 3.0-liter V6 engine, delivering a breathtaking 730 horsepower. The MCXtrema is poised to redefine the limits of performance, pushing the boundaries of speed and precision.
The MCXtrema’s design, a testament to Maserati’s commitment to excellence, was a true masterpiece crafted by Klaus Busse, Head of Design (pictured below). The supercar’s aerodynamic lines and sculpted body not only ensure optimal performance but also exude a sense of artistry that is quintessentially Maserati.
The following day, at the House of Maserati in Pebble Beach, I spoke with Klaus to speak about his design process and learn more about what inspires him as a creative.
Klaus has been the creative driving force behind Maserati’s design division since October 2015, guiding the brand’s current lineup, including the acclaimed MC20. His illustrious career spans a tenure at Mercedes-Benz designing in Germany, followed by a decade in the United States, where he oversaw interior design for FCA North America. His design expertise has earned him prestigious accolades, including the Automotive News All-Star award for design and recognition as one of the 50 most influential figures in the automotive industry by Motor Trend Magazine. Autocar magazine also celebrated him as the 2021 Design Hero.
During our illuminating chat, I delved into his unique insights and perspectives on Maserati’s design philosophy and learned more about the MCXtrema. Here’s a glimpse into some of what we chatted about:
CLP: Where are you from originally?
KB: I was born in Germany.
CLP: Has that influenced any of your creations?
KB: I learned my design foundation in an English school and then spent 10 years at Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart, so I think this was excellent training. Then I went to the US for 10 years and that was an interesting angle, because, as a non-American, to support American design, I was really able to look at their design from an external point of view, which really helped us because we could crystallize what we wanted to do.
Then this idea, when I brought it to Italy, worked very well because I could offer an external view of what I think is the coolest country in the world. When you say Italy to anyone on the planet, there’s a dreamy look in their eyes. It’s the food, the fashion, the people. So, to bring this kind of perspective and this confidence, from an external point of view, is fantastic.
And then last, as a German in Italy, the design team is actually very international. Just like there are no espresso beans from Italy, yet, they still make wonderful espresso.
CLP: I love that Maserati’s brand essence exudes a perfect blend of luxury and sportiness. How do you strike the balance between these two elements in your design language?
KB: This balance is what we’re all about. We were born from racing 109 years ago, and that’s why we have the MCXtrema. Seventy-six years ago, when the Maserati team decided to build road cars, it was to do exactly that – to find this perfect blend of performance and comfort, and that created this idea of Gran Turismo. Also, ironically, in the same year became a racing category, because before, you either had a road car or a race car, and with the introduction of the Gran Turismo racing category, you were now allowed to take road car racing. So this idea of combining these two aspects is ingrained within us. This element of Gran Turismo is really at our core.
CLP: Designers often find inspiration in unexpected places, whether it be architecture, nature, or anything, such as food. Could you reveal a unique source of inspiration that fueled a breakthrough design concept for you?
KB: For me, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a shape or color that I wanted to apply to our product. But what I look for is energy. For me, that could be like having an espresso at a piazza in Italy and just watching people, (observing) their confidence and posture. What that says about Italy (is there’s) this inherent pride, self-confidence, nonchalance, and a kind of effortlessness; and I see that in our cars. Our cars look like they’ve been designed with a sense of effortlessness, when, in reality, I can assure you it’s very hard work to make them look effortless. So that’s the idea of maybe converting something I see and feel into our product.
CLP: Love that! From sketches to stunning creations, your design process is captivating. How do you nurture and guide your team’s creative energy to bring the essence of Maserati to life?
KB: Every design process for us starts with words, with talking about the product we’re about to do. What will it do for the brand? How will it elevate the brand? Which direction do we want to take the brand? For us, the idea is not to give you 10 different flavors in the same direction, but our job is to gather with the leadership of the brand to determine where we want to take the brand and what can we make that look like. That’s what we do, as a design team.
For my designers, I’m not only looking for beautiful sketches and creativity, I’m looking for people with character who can come to me with an opinion and challenge me, so that we can have a wonderful debate. I need a point of view, especially since we’re now in the AI era. The risk now is that the more creative the tools become, the higher the risk that the creator gets lost. So he or she needs to know exactly what we’re about.
CLP: Oftentimes designers talk about design language as more of a visual cue, but if you were to describe the design language of Maserati, in 3 words, what would they be?
KB: The most important thing about Maserati is performance; design is the second most important thing. As a designer at Maserati, you have to have respect for what the engineers do, and vice-versa. That allows us to actually create this plant of performance and comfort in style. We are almost like an Armani suit. We want to amplify the driver and not overpower them, so these are fundamental things. For example, purity is with us because of visual longevity. Iconic elements, we use the Trident not only as the logo but also as design elements.
CLP: When you’re leading a team, part of your job is really to motivate and inspire them to be their best. When they challenge your ideas, what you’re actually doing is strengthening their ability to express their own unique voice. So, when you have different perspectives coming together, you can catalyze great ideas.
CLP: Since the Maserati MCXtrema exudes raw power and performance, can you share a semblance of the driving experience you envision for this new race car, and explain how it’s design compliments its dynamic capabilities?
KB: The wonderful thing about driving a Maserati is that it is really still celebrating the driving experience. Our road cars have all the screens you need, but we put them in places that they don’t distract you because we really you to be thrilled about the driving experience. Now let’s amplify that to the MCXtrema. I personally find one of the most meditative moments is actually being behind a race car on the racetrack because you cannot afford to think about anything else.
CLP: It’s all about focus. I call it the “Zen Zone”.
KB: With the MCXtrema, when you see the interior, you’ll see that it’s all focused around this one mission, about getting the best out of you. And we are giving you the best hardware that Maserati has to offer, with all their 109 years of experience.
CLP: What are some of your favorite design elements, either of the MCXtrema or any other car?
KB: I would say, in general, that our cars have this timeless, beautiful sculpture-like aspect. With this car, it’s a completely different element though. I can summarize the car in just three lines, and I think that is so important because it’s so easy to get complex and get lost, and it becomes a cacophony of shapes in front of you. The key, I think, is for good design in general, not just for car design, to make it easily digestible. We’ve had a lot of positive feedback resonating exactly that, where people say ‘Wow! What a machine, but it’s not overpowering.’. I think it’s because we are giving it these fundamental lines; it’s like the spine of a body that organizes everything.
CLP: When you go out into the world, as a creative, I know you think differently than maybe an engineer or a financier or someone else would. You talked about energy, walking into a room, taking it all in, and absorbing that. I totally relate to that. How does the world impact you and the way you think and synthesize information?
KB: I’ll start with the big picture. When I walk through the world, it is everything I see, and it’s not only about design, it’s also about where we are as a society or culture, with the things that are going on. We collaborated with the Italian Pavilion at the Dubai Expo, and the motto was ‘beauty connects people’. That is something that is very important for us, because, from Italy, I think we can say it’s a country of beauty. So, our role, as a car brand, is not to divide, but it’s to connect through beauty. I want our cars to be seen as rolling sculptures. That’s the big picture.
On a more precise point, I also drive a Maserati, a GranCabrio with the V8, the previous model Gran Turismo. When I drive that car, usually as a reward on the weekend, by myself or with my family, when we’re going through the mountains or down to the wine region, or the Mediterranean Sea, it’s a state of flow. It’s the right music, not driving aggressively. It’s flowing, almost like meditative, and you become one with the machine.
So all these things compute in my head to help the team create the next product.
CLP: It makes sense. I love driving, especially by myself. When I put on my music and get behind the wheel, we go into autopilot mode essentially. It’s basically like tapping into your subconscious mind, and that’s actually where we often start to have ideas pop up, as we’re in a more expansive state, so we can synthesize information differently. It truly is an immersive experience that heightens the sensory perception of life while helping us tap into different sides of our psyche.
In addition to talking about inspiration, the design and creative process, and his insights into life and the brand itself, Klaus and I also chatted about everything from yoga and wellness to family life, people that motivate us, and even ways that we incorporate a sense of balance into our busy work lives.
Sonus Faber: Tuning the Sound of Maserati’s Success
Maserati’s commitment to providing a multisensory experience extends beyond the engine’s roar. Fiore Cappelletto, VP and General Manager, Automotive & Marine Business at McIntosh Group Inc., sat down with me at the House of Maserati in Pebble Beach to discuss the partnership with Maserati, highlighting the vehicles’ renowned Sonus Faber sound system, which has won prestigious international awards.
During our chat, Fiore enthused, “First of all, when we started working together, it was all about our made-in-Italy roots, the position of the brands, and how we look at each other is very complimentary. So, of course, meeting in Italy, lots of heritage and craftsmanship, and also the way we look at the future. So that’s essentially the basics. Then, of course, we implemented and have been working very closely with the design team, Klaus, and the engineering team. The goal was to implement in the closest way possible the audio that we have in our home audio systems, with the same technology, materials, and of course, the same sound DNA, which is actually our ‘secret sauce’.”
He continued by sharing, “Technology-wise, it’s all hand-crafted in Italy, but our R&D team has been expanding so much and the design team too, so we’re understanding what’s next. For automotive, we study new technologies that can be implemented in the next vehicles, and the path we are taking is about refinement, the materials we use, and performance.
For the 3rd time, we’ve won the Eisa award, which is important in Europe and globally, as the best car audio system. We are introducing more all-in-one systems like smart speakers to get to know new generations that are looking up to Maserati and getting to know Sonus Faber. So, at the same time, our clientele is in love with our hand-crafted speakers, they’re also passionate about cars and Maserati. So we see a lot of opportunities for cross-matching.”
Rita Case: A Commitment to Excellence
Finally, when it comes to the success of any auto brand, beyond the vision, executive planning, design, and manufacturing processes, the ultimate responsibility falls into the hands of the dealers who drive the sales.
Since this story has had its unexpected twists and turns, much like the uncharted road ahead, as luck would have it – over the course of Car Week, on four different occasions, I kept bumping into Rita Case (pictured below, on left), one of Maserati’s top-selling dealers. So, naturally, we ended up chatting about everything from her experience running a successful dealership and being the woman in charge (and the face of their brand), to the experience of steering the wheel of a long-lasting family business (which I know very well, as a 20-year executive at my own family’s global manufacturing company).
As a testament to Maserati’s commitment to excellence, Rita Case (the President of Rick Case Auto, which owns and operates one of the leading Maserati dealerships in the USA, amongst other brands), shared her insights.
Not only is she a powerhouse entrepreneur with an incredible background as a leader in the auto industry (her family-run company is one of the biggest auto dealer chains in America, as they run multiple brands and dealership locations that have been serving South Florida and beyond since 1985), but she’s also recognized nationally as an honorable female leader and a key benefactor to many charitable organizations. In addition to being a super-seller of automobiles as well as the marketing visionary behind her company’s illustrious success, Rita’s active involvement on various boards and committees has played a pivotal role in collectively raising over $100 million for charitable causes in South Florida.
Rita exclaimed, “It’s been exciting to lead the amazing Maserati brand in South Florida for the past 8 years. I would say that customer loyalty and retention are my operational priorities. Not charging over-MSRP for high-demand, low-supply units, a customer and associate loyalty program, and even writing a book titled Our Customers, Our Friends, which documented our strategy for creating customers for life. Being a female, I believe does lend to sincerely wanting to care for everyone’s needs, solve issues quickly, and be welcoming and available.”
She continued by sharing, “I am the spokeswoman for our TV advertisements, the community sees me nightly on their news channel and appreciates my personal involvement in our company’s community support.”
“I believe, as a female, I have an internal priority of making a sincere connection with people. It’s important to me to feel a meaningful part of our associates, customers, and community’s goals and success. I spend a substantial amount of time building appreciated relationships in every aspect of my business, which has rewarded us with associate and customer loyalty.”
In conclusion, Maserati MCXtrema’s global debut at Monterey Car Week 2023 was more than just a showcase of speed and style; it was a testament to Maserati’s enduring legacy and the exceptional global team behind the brand. What this story illustrates is that Maserati has long been committed to pushing the boundaries of performance and luxury, promising enthusiasts a driving experience that moves them like no other.
To explore more Monterey Car Week events, interviews, and insights, catch up on my recent auto week stories on Inspirations & Celebrations.
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