A VISIT TO THE MOTHER SHIP by bill orth
Near the end of each year, Ferrari North America has all of its dealers travel to the East Coast for a national meeting. During this forum FNA discusses the current years’ statistics, previews any new model plans and covers any other housekeeping details. I always enjoy the opportunity to talk with dealer friends from around the country to catch up on gossip and to compare notes on business in general. The past two years, the launch of the new Maserati line into the US has been a major topic as well. I thought that our members might like a short report and a few bits of info regarding what’s going on with the importation of our favorite automobiles.
FNA’s new-this-fall President, Mr. Parlato, discussed 2002 in terms of many successes, despite a weak economy and other challenges. The Formula One team absolutely dominated the sport in an unprecedented fashion, winning both Driver’s and Manufacturer’s Championships again. Starting from scratch in March, Maserati will have delivered nearly 1,000 of the new Coupes and Spyders in the States by the end of the year and have integrated several new tweaks to the line for 2003. These improvements include more aggressive-looking wheels, a glass rear window for the Spyder, additional body rigidity, new electronic stabilization to enhance the traction control and several minor trim additions. We were also informed that a Mercedes S-class sedan-size 4-door model, appropriately named the Quattroporte, will be introduced late in 2004 as a 2005 model with over 400 horsepower and an ultra-lux décor interior. Somewhat hush-hush was guarded talk about a Maserati ‘SportsWagon’ that is being considered—on the order of Volvo’s unique 1800ES from the early 1970s!
The Ferrari 360 models continue with few changes, but the 12-cylinder cars are very newsworthy. 2002 saw the introduction of the new 575M, which is the replacement for the 550 Maranello. Although at first glance there seem to be few changes made in this great car, there are actually few components that haven’t been altered—only the body profile remains essentially the same. This is the first production V-12 model to have the F-1 paddle-shift transmission and the software for the system has been reprogrammed for even quicker shifting, but is also noticeably smoother than the 8-cylinder version. The engine has been fine-tuned with larger breathing capacity and other mods, resulting in 515 horsepower. The suspension system is all new, with state-of-the-art Sachs componentry that is much quicker in response than any other commercially-available system today. (This system is also shared by the new Maseratis). New 19” modular wheels put down a giant Pirelli footprint to make all this sophistication and power manageable, plus there are new ‘luxury’ options available, such as upgraded sound systems and navigation.
2003 will see the introduction of the completely redesigned 456GT model. Its name will almost certainly be changed, plus it will receive considerably more horsepower; more on a par with the Maranello. The biggest change will be going to an all-aluminum chassis & body unit, similar to the 360. This will provide substantial weight reduction plus add greater rigidity.
In all likelihood, the F-1 transmission will also be available. A not well-publicized admission came to some of us via a loose-lipped FNA officer who revealed that the plan is to introduce a new Ferrari model each year for the next four years! The 575M in 2002 was the first and the new 2+2, whatever it will be called, will be the second in 2003.
A replacement 8-cylinder car to succeed the incredibly successful 360 should debut in 2004. I had two different FNA officials deny the recent report that the engine will be a derivative of the current Maserati 4.2-liter V8. That probably means that it will be! There are absolutely NO advance information leaks about this next-generation car, so we’ll all have to be patient until it becomes the third new model, planned for release late in 2004, probably as a 2005 model. The last new car being developed is supposed to be an all-new configuration for the 575M. This will possibly be the rumored 6-liter, 600 horsepower, all-aluminum, V-12 monster hinted about in some Euro magazines last year. This car could make its appearance late in 2005.
Note that the Enzo supercar, due out this year, isn’t even mentioned in this lineup of new models! This is because Ferrari doesn’t even consider it a ‘production model’ as such. It is considered something special; a unique, limited opportunity for Ferrari to reward their hand-picked, long-term faithful clients with something not available to the masses. This is similar to how the F-50 was handled eight years ago, but human nature and supply-side economics will assure that if enough cash is on the table, anyone wealthy enough will find one available. (Contracts on the $650,000 cars are currently being offered at $1,000,000+)
So, it continues to be an exciting time in the exotic car business. Ferrari will be focused on prompt development of these new models to maintain their position against new competition from Lamborghini and other worthy advisories. Of course, in their inimitable Italian way, Ferrari might veer from these schedules a bit as market or financial realities manifest themselves, but in recent years they have been pretty successful at matching their promises with production.
-- Bill Orth --