(Corrects second paragraph to show that annual increase was of 7,300 units last year not of 7.3%)
* Maserati sales grew to 24,200 units in 2021
* Sales hit recent high of 51,500 in 2017
* Co sees sales topping 30,000 cars this year
* New MC20 Cielo convertible to hit market in Q1 2023
* Selling price of 260,000 euros
MODENA, Italy, May 25 (Reuters) - Maserati's turnaround plan aims to liberate the Stellantis luxury brand from being a "slave to volumes" which has weighed on quality, its CEO Davide Grasso said on Wednesday, unveiling a convertible version of its MC20 sportscar.
Maserati, which returned to operating profit last year, delivered 24,200 cars in 2021 - 7,300 units more than in 2020. That still leaves it far from 2017's peak, when it sold 51,500 cars.
"That was a success in terms of numbers, not necessarily for customers," Grasso said, adding defect rates at Maserati were at that time higher than the average in luxury and premium markets.
"You enter a vicious circle of unsold cars and bigger and bigger discounts," he said. "We were not good enough with quality, new powertrains, infotainment".
Grasso said Maserati's performance would keep improving this year and in 2023 in terms of market share, products, revenues and margins.
The brand has recently unveiled its new Grecale SUV, which will be available in a full-electric (BEV) version in 2023. Next year Maserati will also introduce new versions of its Gran Turismo and Gran Cabrio models, and plans to make all its range electrified by 2025.
Chief Commercial Officer Bernard Loire said sales could potentially top 30,000 units this year though it was not a target.
"It's a projection based on our current performance," he said.
Loire said China, Maserati's second largest market after the United States, was being hit by an ongoing lockdown, but feedback from initial orders for Grecale were very positive.
"We see a much better second half," he added.
He said Grecale would allow Maserati to compete in a segment, worth around 40% of the luxury market, where the brand has not been present so far.
With deliveries expected to start in the first quarter of 2023, the new retractable hardtop MC20 Cielo - 'Sky' in Italian - will contribute to Maserati's sales only in 2023.
Fitted with a six-cylinder, three litre, 630 horse power engine, for a top speed of over 320 km per hour, it will cost 260,000 euros ($277,000), 30,000 euros more than its coupe sister MC20. That's higher than entry level models of Ferrari and Aston Martin.
Combined capacity for MC20 and MC20 Cielo, both produced in Modena, northern Italy, amount to about 1,400 units a year, with flexibility to adapt output between the two models.
Their BEV versions are expected by 2025. ($1 = 0.9381 euros) (Reporting by Giulio Piovaccari Editing by Keith Weir)