In March during the New York International Auto Show, Whitewall met with Giovanni Ribotta, the chief designer for all of Maserati’s exterior programs, to discuss the company’s newest model and first SUV—the Levante. Available this fall in a luxury or sport package, the sharp Q4 design gains bits of inspiration from two previous Maserati models, the Ghibli and the Quattroporte. With Poltrona Frau leather interiors stitched with ErmenegildoZegna silk, the Levante’s offers technical prowess, optimum performance, and distinct all-Italian style that is sure to stun prospective car buyers—and not just those looking for a family car.
WHITEWALL: Tell us about your role as the chief exterior designer of Maserati.
GIOVANNI RIBOTTA: I’ve worked for Maserati since 2009 as a designer. I designed the front of the Quattroporte and the exterior of the Ghibli. I know as a designer for Maserati what the process is. Then, I became chief in 2011, and I manage five guys that come from our international team. I did the Kubang in 2011 in Frankfurt, then worked during the Centennial dell’Alfieri in 2014. And then, the same time we did the dell’Alfieri, we worked also on the Levante.
WW: As an automotive designer, you design vehicles that won’t be on the market for several years. What are some key points of inspiration for you when designing, essentially, for the future?
GR: For Maserati’s design point, we have some inspiration from the past and have some iconic elements of the cars. The GT shape, for example, the main shape of the car is made by the intersection between a centerpiece and the four fenders, which is inspired by the sporty car of the past. I think that Maserati is one of the few brands where the sportiness can play with the elegance. So the design is born from a contrast between the sporty and the elegant; classic elements and technical elements. In the interior, we played with the contrast in materials: leather, wood, silk.
The Levante, in the front, is very quick and dynamic, and elegant and real with the shape. Another guideline is that the design is always related to the performance. On the exterior, we keep many targets for our aerodynamic point of view. For example, the car will have proficient aerodynamics that is 0.31. You can see many element designs for the function.
We follow some trends, maybe looking at architecture or fashion design, especially for interior and industrial design.
WW: You debuted the Levante at the Geneva International Motor Show earlier this month. What was the reaction?
GR: The reaction was good. From the design point of view, the challenge was to keep our distinctive identity, combining the main SUV features with our brand’s identity. I think the reaction was, for the first time, a bit strange because, if you look, this is not a boxy SUV. This is a sport gran turismo—a very sporty car. And inside, you can see all of the features, and the overall sensation of specialness. Many people were worried about the SUV for Maserati, but this is a Maserati SUV. The Maserati of SUVs. They said, “Wow!”
WW: In regard to designing Maserati’s SUV, you gained inspiration from two previous models. What was important for you to include in this new style?
GR: It was very important for us to have this coupe style. And so we worked with engineering to have this without compromise, but, again, keeping the main roomy SUV features. The other step was the design related to the performance, so that design didn’t change. It evolved in aerodynamic shape, in the teamwork to achieve the performance of the car, the visual elements that show the on-road ability, and the elements that show the off-road ability. You can see the GranTurismo shape—a body that is powerful but light, and gives the dynamic perception and the reality of the car. For the off-road perception, there is something that is under the skin. It is not described by style.
Italian design is not only from an Italian designer. It’s from the mood, the brand, the kind of work. When we do sketches, we use emotion, but it’s important to put the emotion back into the shape. From when you work with the 3-D model, when you keep the correct line, the volume of the cars needs to speak the same language.
WW: What type of drivers will drive in a Maserati Levante?
GR: I think there is a Maserati-oriented customer. Who drives a Maserati? A gentleman driver. Someone that looks at his car every day, and wants to keep a certain feel. The customer of Maserati is one that, I think, knows that his car can go fast and can perform, but is not interested in showing it.
This article appears in Whitewall‘s fall 2017 Fashion Issue.