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Maserati on Friday released the first images of its long-awaited Levante sport utility vehicle, which will make its global debut March 1 at the Geneva Auto Show.

The Levante is the first SUV in the history of the brand owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV. Maserati said the first models have already started coming off the assembly line in Turin, Italy. Vehicles are expected in European showrooms in spring, followed by the United States and other countries later this year.

Aside from Maserati design characteristics, including a prominent grille with the brand’s trident, the Levante includes a chassis that is claimed to combine “the outstanding on-road performance typical of every Maserati” with good handling on slippery surfaces and off-road.

The vehicle features an “intelligent” all-wheel drive system and eight-speed automatic transmission. Other details such as engines, performance and pricing were not available.

The Levante has been more than a decade in the making. Since 2003, the company has unveiled two concept SUVs. Maserati would not confirm reports that the Levante will be unveiled in January at the 2017 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Production of the SUV was originally planned for Detroit instead of Italy.

Maserati is late to the luxury SUV/crossover market, which as defined by IHS Automotive, has grew from 23 percent of global luxury vehicles in 2010 to 31 percent in 2014. The automotive consulting and advisory service firm estimates SUVs, including crossovers, will grow globally to 33 percent in 2016 and 36 percent in 2020.

Head of Maserati Harald Wester previously told The Detroit News that the Levante should move Maserati to its next chapter of growth.

“We are outperforming the markets with nearly all of our products in nearly all regions. From this point of view, I am satisfied,” Wester said in August. “Obviously, I would have preferred to have the Levante nine months earlier, which would have allowed us to have a more continuous growth.”

Last year was a difficult one for Maserati, following record sales and financial performance in 2014. In 2015, it earned 105 million euros (about $117 million), down 62 percent from the previous year. Revenue decreased 13 percent, and shipments declined 11 percent to under 32,5000 vehicles globally.

The declines were primarily due to a slowdown in China’s auto industry, with regulations that increased the cost of importing luxury vehicles into the country.

mwayland@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2504

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