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Frankfurt show: Here comes the Motown Maserati

Cayenne rival: Maserati will put its Jeep Cherokee-based Kubang SUV into production ahead of a likely Australian debut in 2013.

Jeep-based, Ferrari-engined Maserati Kubang to be made in Detroit and headed for Oz

Maserati logo14 Sep 2011

By RON HAMMERTON

MASERATI’S answer to the Porsche Cayenne will be built for global markets by Jeep in Detroit – and sold in Australia.

Unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show in concept form, the luxury Maserati Kubang SUV is planted on a Jeep Grand Cherokee platform under a model-sharing arrangement between parent company partners Fiat and Chrysler.

Maserati alluded to the Jeep connection in its Frankfurt press release, referring to “potential synergies with sister brand Jeep”.

But Maserati was at pains to point put that not only will its first-ever production SUV be completely cloaked in a Maserati-designed body but it will get a complete set of Italian-engineered go-fast underpinnings, including Ferrari-built engines.

These engines are expected to start with Ferrari’s new 425kW 4.5-litre V8 from the Ferrari 458, but might not stop there, with a suggestion that the even more powerful 456kW/608Nm 6.0-litre V12 from the Ferrari 599 might appear under the bonnet of the new SUV, making the Kubang the supercar of SUVs.

Maserati is expected to stick to the upper end of the luxury SUV market and is unlikely to try to match the V6-powered Cayenne entry-level models that, in Australia, start at $107,700.

Instead, it will be aiming at the fully loaded 4.8-litre turbo Cayenne that is priced at $248,600 – and probably even step higher than that.

32 center imageIn Australia and around the world, Cayenne has been a huge hit for Porsche. So far this year, Porsche has sold almost 600 Cayennes locally – more than all its other models put together.

The Maserati SUV unveiled in Frankfurt is a concept, but the company did not disguise its enthusiasm for a production version that is likely to appear first at next year’s Geneva motor show ahead of a production start at Jeep’s Jefferson North plant later in 2012.

The vehicle is likely to hit Australian showrooms in 2013.

The Kubang – taking its name from a SUV concept shown at the 2003 Detroit motor show – is set to become Maserati’s global top seller and a key plank in its plan to drive up sales from 6400 units last year to a whopping 45,000 by 2014.

North America will be a key market for the Detroit-made vehicle, which will roll down the same production lines as the Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango.

The all-new Grand Cherokee was launched in the United States last year and will arrive in Australian showrooms in June.

Jeep’s latest GC platform was originally designed by DaimlerChrysler for the Mercedes-Benz GL, R and M-class. The latest M-class has just been launched in the US, where it is built.

Here, the most expensive Grand Cherokee is the $69,500 V8 Overland – well short of Maserati price territory.

Jeep is set to lend another platform to Chrysler’s Italian partner, this time for an Alfa Romeo SUV.

As well, Fiat is also planning to offer a 4x4 Panda to its US partner, to be reskinned as a mini-Jeep.

Maserati said it had been considering adding an SUV to its range since it developed the original Kubang concept for the Detroit show eight years ago.

It said all major system components of the Kubang would “unmistakably be Maserati” and that these would include the styling, engine, suspension and brakes.

“Style, handling and performance will all be 100 per cent Maserati in picture-perfect continuity with the brand’s core values of sportiness, style, elegance, luxury, performance and craftsmanship,” the media release said.

Maserati said the distinctive Maserati styling of the Kubang had been penned at the Maserati Style Centre by Lorenzo Ramaciotti.

It said a new generation of high-tech proprietary engines would be designed in Modena by Paolo Martinelli – former Ferrari formula one engine program chief and now head of the Maserati Powertrain Department.

The engines will be made in Maranello by Ferrari and mated with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Suspension, brakes and other dynamic qualities of the vehicle will be developed by Maserati’s own team in Modena.

“Sportiness and luxury today don’t have just one definition,” Maserati said. “They can also take the form of a very dynamic looking and high performing sport luxury SUV.”

Mercedes-Benz and BMW both build their luxury SUV ranges in the US, as does Honda.

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