Ferrari's CEO says he is 'dead serious' about making an SUV -- but he may be toying with Wall Street

  • Ferrari CEO Sergio Marchionne has gotten more serious about an SUV.
  • The challenges for the brand to create one are immense.
  • It would have to be an SUV that is reinvented to align with Ferrari’s reputation for exclusivity.

Back in February, Ferrari CEO Sergio Marchionne (he also runs former Ferrari parent, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) effectively said that Ferrari would never build an SUV.

His adamant made sense at the time because Ferrari had just launched an IPO and had placed the brand’s aura of exclusivity under moderate threat. Prior to 2015, Ferrari answered to no one. After the IPO, investors would have a direct say.

But now Marchionne appears to be changing his tune, even though in August he said that a Ferrari SUV that wasn’t up to the brand’s standards gave him “hallucinations.”

He landed at the New York Stock Exchange on Monday and, according to Bloomberg, said that the Ferrari SUV would get serious consideration. But he isn’t calling it an “SUV” — the term is “FUV,” for Ferrari Utility Vehicle.

Marchionne has set a 30-month timetable, a good indication of two things. First, that any Ferrari SUV would be a clean-slate, all-Ferrari design, not a rebadged or re-engineered vehicle from another FCA brand (and besides, Maserati and Alfa Romeo have both seen SUV launches in the past year).

Second, that Marchionne might stay on as Ferrari CEO after he steps down as FCA CEO, at least for a while. He’s slated to retire at FCA in 2019.

How serious is Sergio?

Alfa Romeo Stelvio LA Auto ShowAlfa RomeoThe Alfa Romeo Stelvio SUV.

Three years is sort of a long time to spend on developing an SUV, given that these are the hottest vehicles in the market at the moment. By 2020 or thereabouts, an SUV-driven sales boom in the US should have subsided, and it’s anybody’s guess what gas prices will look like. So a Ferrari SUV could be late to the game.

Ferrari’s IPO has turned out to be wildly successful: the carmaker’s stock is up 113% over the last 12 months. The run-up has had nothing to do with Ferrari building an SUV, and Marchionne knows very well that it would be a major challenge for Ferrari — basically, a race-car company that builds road cars on the side — to execute on even a very special “FUV” reimagining of such a vehicle.

The biggest impediment is Ferrari’s factory in Maranello, Italy, which is relatively new and designed to build two-door sports cars and GT or Grand Touring cars — two doors with back seats. Ferrari would need a new SUV plant, or assembly line. Slapping a Ferrari badge on any other FCA product would not go over well.

The big question now for Wall Street is: “How serious is Sergio?” The timetable suggests that Ferrari is no longer treating the SUV idea as heresy. But Marchionne — who has the soul of a banker and has always understood what Wall Street wants better than he peers, going back to Fiat’s takeover of Chrysler from the US government in 2009 — is clearly pulling some strings here, as the Ferrari story needs new chapters to support the stock price.

That said, the unthinkable now sounds as if it’s being thought about.

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