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Maserati, the luxury sports car brand owned by automotive group Fiat SpA (F.MI), Thursday said it will add a new model to its own line-up and start making a new model for its Alfa Romeo stablemate in moves to take greater advantage of booming global demand for premium cars.
Maserati will start making the Alfa Romeo 4C GTA, a two-door sports car, at one of its factories. Fiat wants to use the car to spearhead Alfa Romeo's return to the U.S. next year. From May 2013, Fiat aims to produce up to 2,500 of the new Alfa Romeo cars a year.
The new model that Maserati itself will add to its product line-up will be a large luxury sedan to compete with BMW AG's (BMW.AG) 5-series among others. It will be built at Maserati's smaller plant near Turin where Maserati is investing EUR500 million to upgrade the facility.
"Leveraging on its existing presence in 65 markets worldwide and a new generation of products targeted at volume market segments, Maserati plans a significant increase in production," Fiat said Thursday.
Maserati, a relatively small-scale producer compared with its German luxury car-making rivals, aims to reach an annual production rate of 50,000 vehicles by 2015. That's a big jump from the 6,159 units sold in 2011 when it made an operating profit of EUR40 million.
By contrast, Alfa Romeo, Fiat's sporty mass-market brand, sold 132,400 units in 2011, up 18% on the year.
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, Volkswagen AG's (VOW.XE) Audi and Porsche units, and Daimler AG's (DAI.XE) 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's existing line-up is made up of just two models: the GranTurismo two-door coupe and the QuattroPorte four-door sedan. It is putting the finishing touches on a new luxury sports utility vehicle, a particularly 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 latest investment in its Italian factories comes amid fears among political and union leaders of the decline of the country's importance to Fiat after taking control of Chrysler.
"It's very positive," said Bruno Vitali of the FIM-Cisl union who attended a briefing of Maserati's plans in Modena. 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 making the Alfa Romeo 4C GTA at its main plant in the northern Italian town of Modena, Maserati will shift production of a new version of the QuattroPorte to its smaller plant near Turin.
-By Gilles Castonguay, Dow Jones Newswires; +39 02 5821 9908; email@example.com; Twitter: @GRCastonguay