Luxury automobile dealer and Indy Racing League team owner Dennis Reinbold, ever the fan of fast cars,
might have inhaled too much ethanol at the Speedway this year. Or maybe Reinbold is clever as a fox.
In the midst of one of the worst financial markets since King of Spain Alfonso XIII paraded around in
his Duesenberg J-model, Reinbold has launched Maserati of Indianapolis at his Dreyer & Reinbold BMW-Infiniti-Mini complex
on the north side.
The Italian cars sporting the trident of Roman sea god Neptune on the grille go for $110,000 to $140,000, fresh from Modena in northern Italy.
For a number of prospective buyers in this range, it's safe to say a hundred grand or so is at least how much they've lost lately as the stock market has bid adieu to trillions of dollars.
"Our timing is not ideal," said Reinbold, in the dry manner often used by the doctors, lawyers and airplane pilots to whom he's sold high-end cars over the years.
But for those who've sold their interest in the cardiology practice to their partners, these Italian cars are da due soldi. The 400-horsepower-plus Quattroporte sedan and GranTurismo coupe are at least $100,000 less than a Ferrari and one needn't wait two or three years to get one.
And while domestic automakers teeter on the verge of bankruptcy, the relatively low-volume Maserati is seeing a sales resurgence.
Last year, Maserati sales rose 20 percent and were still on a roll even late into this year, according to industry reports. Helping sales was Maserati's decision to dump a dog of an automatic transmission for a new ZF six-speed in the Quattroporte. It also introduced a new luxury coupe, the Pininfarina-styled GranTurismo, which has been well received.
"It's great you guys are getting a dealership. They're really coming on quite strong in the marketplace," said Wesley Brown, a partner at Los Angeles-based consumer and product research firm Iceology.
"You look at the brand and it screams Italian from a number of angles, including the sexy design, even for the four-door [Quattroporte]."
About a third of the Maseratis sold in the United States are sold in Brown's back yard of Southern California. Not in the Midwest, where the passion for Italian is more of the driving-to-Pizza-Hut variety.
Yet the United States is Maserati's biggest market. It sold about 2,600 cars here last year, ahead of the 714 sold in Italy, according to Edmunds.com's AutoObserver.
Maserati, owned by Fiat since 1990, sold about 7,600 cars worldwide last year and was planning to sell more than 8,000 in 2008.
Last year, Maserati even turned a profit, which will be Reinbold's goal, as well.
Helping mitigate the risk of adding a new car line in this economy is that his upfront capital costs are modest. He'll sell the cars, at least at first, out of his Infiniti dealership.
He'll also use existing staff.
"They're not requiring a great deal at first," Reinbold said.
Also a big plus: Unlike a Ford or Chevy lot, Reinbold won't be under the gun to move dozens of cars each month. "We don't expect to sell a whole lot of them." Five, six?
"I'd be surprised if we sold that many," initially, he said.
Reinbold and his team will spend their time courting a small but wealthy group of customers. Playing to their advantage is that Maserati's arrival taps a new market in a city where a 6-Series BMW or S-Class Mercedes is about the closest comparison. Before, Maserati aficionados had to drive to Cincinnati or Chicago to find a dealer.
"There's not much in the city of Indianapolis yet in this price point," Reinbold said.
Not that Maseratis are priced at the level of true exotics, like the Ferrari.
But they have some Ferrari DNA. The Maserati GranTurismo contains a version of the 4.2-liter V-8 engine block found in Ferrari's F430.
The Maseratis are not featherweights as are Ferraris, however. The GranTurismo weighs in at a relatively heavy 4,147 pounds, or about the weight of what you'd find in a Wal-Mart parking lot. It's more touring car than sports car.
"You still have a stronger image than the typical luxury brands," Brown said. "You still have some level of exclusivity.
"I'm a little more hip. I'm younger ... I've got almost a little edge to me" if I drive a Maserati, Brown said.
If pop culture bling is your thing, a Maserati was a hit in the HBO series "Entourage" and "The Sopranos."
"I've always really admired the cars," said Reinbold, who was approached by Maserati as it tries to build its U.S. dealer base that now numbers barely 50. That's exclusive.