How an ex-Converse CEO is transitioning Maserati to an electric future

Jumping from apparel to auto, Maserati’s global CEO Davide Grasso is optimistic about the transition to electric.

Article by Justin Jackie

Photography by Abbie Melle.The Australian launch event of Maserati’s first electrified car, the Ghibli GT. Photography by Abbie Melle.

Those lucky enough to have attended the Australian launch of Maserati’s first electrified car, the Ghibli GT, would be excused for feeling slightly conflicted about the experience. For many, our introduction to the Ghibli name was watching Alain Delon in a 1968 V8-powered Tipo AM115, blazing through the Côte d’Azur in the French cinema classic “La Piscine” (1969), and while the southern highlands of New South Wales isn’t quite the French Riviera, the new mild hybrid is even further removed from Giorgetto Giugiaro’s original fastback. This isn’t to say it isn’t an exquisite vehicle — on the contrary, it’s beautifully built and captivating to drive — it’s just that the new powertrain lacks the sensory symphony that’s synonymous with the Italian legend.

Through no fault of its own, the carmaker seems to have found itself in the midst of an automotive identity crisis, juggling the blood of its passionate, clamorous history with the fire of its whispering, electrified future. Of course, the technological disruption of electric powertrains isn’t unique to the Italian marque, but with a ledger full of world titles, theatrical engines and bespoke designs, Maserati faces a unique conundrum.

The company’s global CEO, Davide Grasso, was born and raised in Turin, Italy, and has spent the bulk of his career working for Nike, where he was eventually appointed the CEO of Converse. Speaking over the phone, he tells me: “The 20, 25 years spent with Nike can be summarised with one lesson: serve the consumer.” It’s a simple approach, though Grasso’s campaigns for Nike were anything but. Many credit him with bringing the basketball legend LeBron James on board as a brand ambassador and spearheading Nike Sportswear. He was also responsible for the “Write the Future” FIFA World Cup campaign. Of course, the jump from apparel to auto poses challenges, but Grasso brings to the role an understanding of how to manage a global icon. “The values of the brand are timeless and universal and can be played with,” he says. “However, we must respect Maserati in a way that the brand remains accepted by the market, the dealers and, at the end of the day, respected around the world by the customer.”

Grasso took on the role in 2019, not long before the launch of the MC20 supercar in Modena. “The MC20 is the first of its kind,” he says. “There is no other sports car that actually has been conceived to excel with both power frames [electric and internal combustion].” While many agree that the V6-powered MC20 is one of the more passionate releases to bear the famous Trident, it is an haute couture halo car as opposed to its ready-to-wear siblings, such as the Ghibli GT. Together with the release of the new Levante GT and forthcoming Grecale, these more attainable models raise the question: what makes a Maserati a Maserati?

“I can’t wait for you to try it,” Grasso says of the Grecale. “Particularly in this part of the world, you’ll be amazed how it has kept the distinctive traits of Maserati, including the sound and the performance elements. It is catapulting us into the future.” He is coy on details, but it’s clear that internal combustion engines and electrification will dance side by side for the next couple of years.

By 2025, it’s expected that all models will be offered with at least one type of electrified powertrain. Grasso acknowledges the transition to electric will be problematic, but he’s optimistic. “We have world-class, benchmark electrification technology which brings the brand to the top of the automotive world in the electrification and digitalised driving space,” he says. “There’s no question about it.”

Grasso spends the remaining minutes of the interview discussing sustainability projections, future models and Maserati’s 2023 Formula E debut. He recognises the importance of preserving the romantic vision of the melodic Maserati. “It really boils down to three things: innovation, performance and style,” he says. He assures me that car buyers still have a few more years to get hold of that glorious V6 Nettuno engine, and while powertrains will become hushed after that, Grasso is confident that both current and future electric models will evoke the nostalgic passion that’s been associated with Maserati for more than a century.

Ultimately, navigating the rough seas of electrification will require insight and forbearance. And while future buyers may not get the canorous catharsis of their dreams, they can bet that Grasso’s understanding of the brand will help preserve its sensorial past while inspiring drivers in a sustainable tomorrow.

This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our fifth edition, Page 53 of T Australia with the headline:
“Blood and Fire”
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