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Maserati, the sports-car maker owned by automotive group Fiat SpA (F.MI), plans to expand production in Italy as its parent seeks to take greater advantage of booming worldwide demand for premium cars, people briefed on Maserati's plans said Thursday.
One of the cars will be the Alfa Romeo 4C GTA, a two-door sports car, with which Fiat wants to mark the return of Maserati's sister brand to the U.S. next year, labor union officials at the Maserati factory in the northern Italian town of Modena said. The second will be a new Maserati sedan to be made at Maserati's factory near Turin.
"It's very positive," said Bruno Vitali of the FIM-Cisl union. Vitali said Maserati officials declined to disclose the cost of the investment.
Maserati, which presented its latest plans to staff earlier in the day, said it aims to reach 50,000 unit sales a year by 2015--a big jump from the 6,159 units sold in 2011--the officials said. Maserati's previous goal was to sell 45,000 cars a year by 2014. Alfa Romeo is Fiat's sporty mass-market brand whose sales rose 18% to 132,400 units in 2011.
Fiat and Maserati officials weren't immediately available for comment.
Maserati, a relatively small-scale producer compared with its German rivals, had previously said it is working on the expansion of its product range, which is made up of just two cars: the GranTurismo two-door coupe and the QuattroPorte four-door sedan.
Other European manufacturers of luxury cars are selling record numbers of vehicles as demand surges in China and the U.S. and remains robust in some European markets like Germany.
Strong sales at BMW AG (BMW.XE), Volkswagen AG's (VOW.XE) Audi and Porsche units, and Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz division are in stark contrast to declining demand in Europe for volume manufacturers like Fiat, PSA Peugeot-Citroen (UG.FR) and the European operations of General Motors Co. (GM) and Ford Motor Co. (F). All four lost money in Europe in 2011 with the overall market is expected to shrink again this year.
Maserati is also putting the finishing touches on a new luxury sports utility vehicle, a particuraly fast-growing segment, that will be built on a Jeep Grand Cherokee platform at Chrysler Group LLC's plant in Jefferson North, Detroit.
Chrysler is 58.5%-owned by Fiat which is counting on sharing parts and platforms across the two group's line-ups to reduce costs and shorten the time it takes to develop new models. The Maserati SUV is due to go on sale in the second half of 2013.
Maserati's investment in Italy is the latest announced by the Fiat group despite fears among political and union leaders of the decline of the country's importance to the auto maker after taking control of Chrysler.
In December, Fiat reopened a plant near Naples that it refurbished for the production of the latest version of the group's Panda city car.
-By Gilles Castonguay, Dow Jones Newswires; +39 02 5821 9908; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @GRCastonguay