There are rare occasions when the open road reveals a familiar curve that prior experience can navigate with superior performance in achieving top-tier results.
William (Bill) Peffer’s career in the auto industry is analogous in many ways. It began when his father moved the family from Boston to Detroit to take a job with Ford Motor Company. The eldest of four children, upon graduating from Michigan State University, Peffer’s natural progression seemed to be to follow in his father’s footsteps.
So, the advertising major embarked on a career at Ford that led him to roles of increased responsibility. While at Ford, Peffer earned his MBA at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, which led to tenures at Nissan Motor Corporation, General Motors, and Kia Motors America, as well as a stint as COO for a privately held dealer group that operated 24 locations across three states. The latter provided him with a fresh perspective on the dynamics between original equipment manufacturers, dealers, and customers.
Thirty years on, Peffer continues to pave a profitable path in his role as CEO of Maserati Americas. The legendary Italian automotive brand, steeped in a 100-plus-year tradition of luxury and exhilaration, maintains its niche status through innovation and a delicate balance of supply and demand, building momentum in the fast lane of high performance.
Since joining Maserati Americas in 2021, Peffer has set out to create new momentum for the iconic brand as it establishes itself in the luxury EV and SUV markets, while still playing to its strengths with the MC20 and MC20 Cielo supercars, the latter of which made its debut at the 2022 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, Maserati’s annual marquee event in the U.S.
Founded in 1914 by Alfieri Maserati, whose five brothers would all eventually contribute to the business, the company has a long history of participation in motorsports, including Formula 1, sportscar racing, and touring car racing. That racing tradition continues, and in the 2022-2023 season, Maserati became the first Italian manufacturer to compete in the Formula E racing series, a motorsport championship for electric cars.
Today Maserati is owned by Stellantis, a multinational conglomerate of companies formed by the merger of Italian American Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the French PSA (Peugeot S.A.). Brands under the Stellantis umbrella include Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Fiat, Jeep, and Peugeot.
“From a positioning standpoint, we are the only global luxury brand in the portfolio of 13 different car brands,” says Peffer. “So it allows us to tap into a near-limitless resource pool to bring out these new, transformational products. Of course, there’s a strong commitment to a return on that investment, but we see ourselves at an advantage versus other competitors that are standalone, that don’t have access to that R&D, or don’t have that backing by a big company like Stellantis.”
The evolution of Maserati continues, says Peffer, noting the transformation from a sedan company to a purveyor of luxury performance vehicles for a product-led transition geared toward a new generation of drivers. “The mindset has changed,” he says, “but really it’s about all these new products giving us opportunities in segments that are growing and having customers look at us for the first time in the modern era.”
The iconic trident logo, designed by Mario Maserati, retains a connection to the automaker’s city of origin, as it was inspired by the Fountain of Neptune in Bologna, Italy.
Peffer is bullish on the direction the trident is pointed. “Electrification is here to stay,” he says. “We’ve reached an inflection point.”
The debut of the Folgore iteration of its GranTurismo in 2023 further refines the Maserati standard of “purposeful luxury” for the coming decade. And in the spirit of folgore (Italian for “lightning”), Peffer says the GranTurismo has the best all-around performance, fastest zero to 60 (2.9 seconds), and best top speed (203 mph) of any EV. The company has pledged to produce electric versions of its entire fleet by 2025, with a plan to phase out its internal combustion engines completely by 2030.
“We’re not changing platforms to do this,” Peffer clarifies. “We are making sure that we pay off on our unique selling proposition of performance and handling. And so, in the case of the GranTurismo, the battery pack is in its configuration and the occupants actually sit around the battery, as opposed to our competition—most of them have a skateboard and they sit on top of it. When you sit on top of it, not only do you disrupt the center of gravity and the weight distribution, but you have a higher car that’s higher off the ground.”
Maserati, which previously bought its engines from ex-partner Ferrari, has developed the Nettuno, a twin-turbo V6 engine with a compact size and considerable horsepower. “The compactness of that engine has allowed us to amplify the application,” Peffer says. “It also allows for better weight distribution and pays off one of the unique selling propositions of a Maserati, which is the way the car handles, the way the car performs.”
Comparing the gas and EV capabilities, Peffer says, “The horsepower range in the GranTurismo [gas engine] is running between roughly 480 and 550 [hp], and in the MC20 that same engine is putting out 621 all the way up to 750. Compared to the electric version, this 800-volt, three-motor technology that’s going in the GranTurismo, those motors put out a gross over 1000 [hp], brings almost 800 to the rear wheels. It’s an all-wheel drive with four wheels that can go anywhere between 50-50 all the way to 90-10 in terms of its distribution of power.”
CURATING DEMAND FOR A STORIED BRAND
A storied brand steeped in racing heritage, the Maserati name is truly international. ”We sell global products in 70 different countries, so we don’t build a regional product like some of our competition does,” explains Peffer. “We’re not for everybody.”
The company continues to build its entire fleet and product menu in Italy. Peffer quickly realized that while the company was growing, “we weren’t making a lot of money. So the first year here was about turning around the business and setting a foundation in preparation for this product-led transformation that the brands evolved through over the last 24 months. And we’re in the middle of it.”
The dealer relationship differs markedly from Peffer’s previous experience. “We have about 123 retailers in the US.,” he explains. “And we’ll say to them, here’s what your allocation earned is. But in order for us to fulfill the order, you need to bring us a customer with a sales agreement and we’ll see if we can build the configuration. And then we fulfill the order once we see the signed contract from the customer, from the prospect.”
In its pursuit of operating with a “luxury brain,” Maserati must circumvent price point by appealing to emotion, says Peffer. The Fuoriserie Personalization Program plays on that theme by offering the customer a revolutionary palette of options for customization in performance, style, and innovation.
The company is building a new community of Maserati enthusiasts through its Tredente app, and Peffer is thinking of ways to “activate and evangelize” that audience to not only become advocates but ultimately purchase products.
“That’s where partnerships will be once we further build this community,” he says. We’ve been around for a long time, and so no matter where you go in the world, there’s a positive affinity for the brand. What we had to do is pay off on that positive affinity with a new generation of products in order to grow.”
In addition to the GranTurismo, the current Maserati model line includes luxury hybrid crossover SUV Grecale; Ghibli, luxury performance sedan; Levante, luxury performance SUV; Quattroporte, luxury sport sedan; and the MC20 and MC20 Cielo supercar and Spyder supercar, respectively.
“Luxury is about emotion and it’s about exclusivity,” Peffer says. “Our customers … want to be caught up in the middle of what is avant-garde in terms of technology—what’s next, not what is. And that’s the way we balance our heritage from 100 years ago, steeped in racing, and where the market’s evolving too. If we can use the Trident of Maserati to pay off on a new set of principles that luxury consumers value and seek, then not only will we have a new product lineup, but we will grow organically, which is the right way to do it with a luxury car company.”