Maserati may lead the charge for Chrysler's electrification efforts

Following Volvo’s announcement that it will launch only electrified vehicles beginning in 2019, another premium automaker is reportedly considering a similar move. But this one — Maserati — may be a little more surprising.

Maserati is known for fast cars powered by big, loud engines, so its embrace of quiet electric power would be a major course change for the brand. But Sergio Marchionne, boss of Maserati parent Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, told Auto Express that Maserati may become completely electrified after 2019, leading the charge (pun intended) for a major FCA plug-in hybrid push.

“When it [Maserati] completes the development of its next two models, it will effectively switch all of its portfolio to electrification,” Marchionne said. Like Volvo, Maserati has the advantage of a small lineup, making the electrification effort more manageable. Volvo has said its electrification push will include mild hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and all-electric models, and it’s likely that Maserati will implement a similar mix of powertrains.

That means Maserati’s electrified lineup could include mild hybrids with very little electric assist, which would have a similar feel to regular internal-combustion cars. It’s also likely that Maserati will rely heavily on plug-in hybrids, possibly borrowing knowhow from corporate cousin Chrysler’s Pacifica Hybrid plug-in minivan. That would help Maserati compete with plug-in hybrids from German luxury brands like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche.

As an Italian luxury brand known for emphasizing performance and passion rather than efficiency, electrification would be an unusual move for Maserati. But it would also be unusual for its parent company, which has shied away from electrified vehicles. CEO Marchionne has been a vocal critic of electric cars, and FCA has adopted hybrid powertrains at a much slower rate than its competitors.

Yet Maserati is in need of a bold move. The automaker is more or less staking its future on the recently introduced Levante SUV, hoping to ride the wave of SUV popularity. Maserati is asking the Levante to do a lot of heavy lifting though, as the rest of its lineup is aging. The Ghibli and Quattroporte sedans were part of a push to make Maserati more mainstream that didn’t really work out. The GranTurismo coupe and GranCabrio convertible are based on designs that date back to 2007, making them ancient by industry standards.

Maserati needs a shakeup. Electrification is certainly relevant in an age of tightening emissions standards and concern over climate change, so it’s as good a plan as any. But Maserati must implement it without sacrificing its core character.