Ferrari's acquisition of the Maserati marque in 1997 cleared the way for Maserati to focus on global sales growth. After investing $350 million in revamping Maserati's production and headquarters facilities, Ferrari SpA is ready to take Maserati on its largest global expansion in recent years — including the opening of several U.S. dealerships.

A big milestone will take place in March, when Maserati begins selling its new Spyder convertible in the United States. That will be quickly followed by the Maserati Coupe, which will go on sale in May. Maserati also plans a new four-door sedan, which will debut in 2004.

The return of Maserati marks the end of a 12-year hiatus for the brand, which pulled out of the U.S. in 1989.

Ferrari/Maserati North America has already formalized plans with 30 Ferrari brand dealers to sell the new Maserati Spyder in the U.S., with plans to expand the number of dealers to upwards of 60 within the next five years, according to Stuart Robinson, president of Ferrari/Maserati North America.

“We have 30 dealers from the launch and that will rise over the next five years to over 50 or 60 dealers,” Robinson tells Ward's. “They will become, some of them, exclusive Maserati dealers in the years to come because the volumes will be there.”

Maserati has taken careful steps to screen its participating dealers in the U.S. It has so far selected those 30 Ferrari dealers whom Robinson calls “excellent.”

He says other Ferrari dealers could be get a Maserati franchise if they commit to invest in separate showrooms, technicians and service areas.

“We have instructed our dealers, ‘Please have a separate showroom for Maserati and separate technicians,’” Robinson says. “We haven't granted (a Maserati franchise) to all of them because they have to come up with the buildings, the people and we're firming those plans up as we go along. As it turns out, about 90% (of Ferrari dealers) will be Maserati.”