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Aussie Maserati importer expands into South Africa

Done deal: Umberto Cini (left) and Glen Sealey sign the contract for Maserati distribution in South Africa.

Neville Crichton’s Sydney-based EAI wins Maserati distribution deal in South Africa

Maserati logo10 Apr 2015

INDEPENDENT Maserati importer for Australia and New Zealand, European Automotive Imports (EAI), will take over distribution of the Italian sports-luxury brand in South Africa on May 1.

Part of New Zealand businessman Neville Crichton’s automotive empire and a sister company to Ateco Automotive, the Sydney-based EAI was awarded the contract by Maserati SpA after an invitation-only competitive tender and is now restructuring the retail operations in South Africa, which includes establishing its own standalone dealership in Johannesburg.

Importation and sales in South Africa’s three biggest cities – Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban – were previously the responsibility of Viglietti Motors, which will retain responsibility for Ferrari but now stands to lose its Maserati sales outlets across the country as EAI seeks new partners.

General manager of Maserati’s EAI operations, Glen Sealey, told GoAuto that the new contract could act as a springboard for expansion into further new markets where the trident brand is not currently represented, though only once the South African operations were established and providing that any such move was viable.

He also said the new deal marked another example of the confidence the Italian manufacturer – part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles – has in the brand’s independent distribution arrangements in this region, and that adding South Africa into the mix should give EAI more influence to secure vehicles from the factory that are better specified for each of its markets (all of which are right-hand drive).

“We were aware that South Africa were reviewing their representation in South Africa, and as such we were then invited to put our hand up, so to speak, and from there it snowballed to an appointment,” Mr Sealey said.

“There were certainly other parties involved – it wasn’t a lay down misere – but for us it’s something that we value, it certainly cements our relationship with Maserati and we now have a lot of work to do in the meantime.”

Mr Sealey is overseeing the newly formed subsidiary European Automotive Imports – South Africa (EAI-SA) and said he was hopeful the Johannesburg dealership would be open by May 1, although work will continue to bring the renovation up to the required standard.

The company is putting together dedicated teams for both distribution and sales in South Africa and has appointed Brad Graaff as head of operations for the new venture.

Mr Graaff was previously managing Maserati’s retail business in Australia, and is a former sales executive at the EAI-owned Ferrari Maserati Sydney dealership.

Announcing the deal this week, Maserati’s managing director of general overseas markets Umberto Cini said: “EAI not only has a proven track record of handling Maserati with sales and customer satisfaction consistently rising since its appointment, it can also draw on the unique expertise its company owner, Neville Crichton, and his companies that have been at the forefront of vehicle distribution in Australasia and the USA for nearly 50 years.”

EAI has held the distribution rights for Maserati in Australia and New Zealand since 2005. It took on Lotus in 2011, and was previously responsible for Ferrari before relinquishing it to a newly created factory operation in 2013.

Ateco Automotive currently handles South Korean brand SsangYong and Chinese brands Great Wall, Foton, Chery and LDV.

Mr Crichton, who is the owner and executive chairman of both EAI and Ateco Automotive, said: “This is not just an outstanding vote of confidence in what we have achieved in Australia and New Zealand – it is also a clear acknowledgement that we have the people and the expertise to transform Maserati’s position in the South African market to offer a new benchmark for exclusivity and dedicated customer service supporting Maserati’s unique range of performance cars.”

The current range in Australia comprises the Quattroporte flagship sedan, the GranTurismo and GranCabrio two-doors and, since last year, the Ghibli executive sedan – an all-new model that cut the price of entry to the brand by more than $100,000 (to around $140K) and took total annual sales in Australia past 400 units for the first time.

A record 70 new Maserati vehicles were delivered in New Zealand last year.

More growth in all markets is expected with the all-new Levante SUV due early next year and, further afield, the Alfieri coupe and cabriolet.

Mr Cini revealed to GoAuto last year that Maserati was expecting Australian sales volume to reach 1500 units in 2016, with global sales capped at 75,000 per annum. Last year, the brand reached 36,500 units worldwide, 23,500 of which were of the Ghibli.

The South African new-vehicle market is about half the size of Australia’s. EAI’s first launch in South Africa will be with the Ghibli, due mid-year.

“While Maserati sales in South Africa, as they have around the world, will inevitably increase as we put our plans in place, achieving this sales target or that market share is not what our long-term plan for South Africa is about,” Mr Sealey said.

“We will provide South African car buyers with a new level of exclusivity, personal customer service and personalisation that has not been previously available at this level in the market.”

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