NEW YORK – Italian ultra-luxury car maker Maserati SpA has seized leadership in its U.S. segment, says Jim Selwa, president and CEO of Maserati North America Inc.

Quattroporte sales dominate the U.S. $100,000-plus sports-sedan market, he says, predicting the auto maker in North America will be profitable in 2007, just as it was last year.

North American sales may help push the parent company in Modena into the black for the first time in its history, as well, as the region accounts for 45% of worldwide sales that totaled 5,700 units in 2006. Last year, U.S. sales increased 5%. In 2005, they jumped 90% compared with 2004.

Maserati sales in North America this year already have climbed 14% over like-2006, even though the auto maker currently only is selling the Quattroporte. April deliveries for reached 242 units, beating the brand’s previous best-ever sales month in July 2005.

Selwa says Maserati’s success is propelled by its exclusivity. He suggests the BMW 760 and top Mercedes S-Class models aren’t distinctive enough from their lower-priced versions to appeal to Maserati customers.

Other Quattroporte competitors include the new Audi A8 12-cyl. and Bentley Flying Spur. “We’re the clear leader in the class all the time,” Selwa says. “We command that segment.

Selwa, who previously held top marketing positions with other luxury brands, including Lotus and Rolls-Royce, says Maserati likely will see U.S. sales approach 2,600 units this year compared with 2,201 in 2006.

Worldwide capacity is pretty much tapped out this year, he says. But Maserati’s management is mulling adding a third shift to the Italian factory.

“We could build 7,000 units in three shifts,” Selwa says, noting the company will make a decision in the fourth quarter.

At the same time, he says the auto maker does not want to grow too aggressively and be forced to discount when inventories get high. At present, U.S. customers have a 3-4 month wait for delivery of the Quattroporte.

Initial allocations for the Maserati Gran Turismo already are sold out, even though the plant doesn’t begin production until July. The last market to get the GT is the U.S., with output beginning in September

Customers here will see the first GT models in November, when Selwa expects to deliver 400 cars in a few weeks time.

About 22% of Maseratis are leased in the U.S. Retail financing is used by 33% of the customers. About 56% of Maserati cars are financed through the company’s new financial services division.

Meanwhile, Maserati has pre-sold all 99 Alfa Romeo 8C models it has been allocated. The car, which has yet to be homologated for the U.S., will have an asking price “north of $200,000,” Selwa says.

Only 500 Alfa 8Cs will be built worldwide, with production slated to begin in late 2008.

“We hope to return (Alfa) to the U.S. market by the end of the decade,” Selwa says. “But we have a lot of development to do (before they go on sale here).”

Alfa previously has said it expects to sell at least 18,000 vehicles in the U.S. in 2010.

He says Alfa could be sold here by current 49 Maserati dealers in North America, adding he expects to add six more dealers this year.

However, should Maserati start to bring large numbers of lower-priced Alfas to the U.S. that would require an expansion of the dealer infrastructure, capable of handling up to 20,000 units annually, Selwa says.

The country’s top Maserati dealer is The Collection in Coral Gables, FL. The Southeast is the second-best Maserati region, with New York’s tri-state region as third. Southern California, where the brand has added two high-profile locations, also is a key market.