For a company that doesn’t market its own cars, there aren’t many bigger names in the auto industry than Pininfarina, the Italian design house that’s penned more iconic cars than any other automaker on the planet. Over its 85 year history, the company has styled cars for Rolls-Royce, Cadillac, Honda, Fiat, Peugeot, and Ford, among others, but it’s best known for its close ties to Ferrari. In fact, when you think of your favorite Ferrari, chances are, it was designed by Pininfarina.
The Testarossa, California Spyder, Daytona, F40, and Dino all wear Pininfarina’s fender badge, and for those of you who aren’t familiar with the company’s automotive oeuvre, its industrial design wing styled that fancy computerized Coke machine that seems to be everywhere too. But despite a portfolio consisting of dozens of beloved cars, the 2006 Winter Olympics torch, and a host of trains, buses, hotels, among other projects, the company is in serious financial trouble.
Once prevalent in Italy, and revered around the world, coach builders have long been a dying breed. Ghia was snapped up by Ford in the 1970s. ItalDesign, the company that designed the Volkswagen Mk. I Golf, BMW M1, and DeLorean DMC-12 was bought by Lamborghini in 2010, and was completely absorbed by the company last month. Bertone, the house behind the Lamborghini Muira, and the Fiat X1/9 went bust and shut its doors in 2014. And while none of these companies enjoyed Pininfarina’s high visibility in their waning years, the company’s recent financial woes show just how precarious its position in the automotive world has become.
When Battista “Pinin” Farina founded his company in 1930, the automakers and coach builders had a symbiotic relationship. All over the world, companies from Ford to Rolls-Royce offered rolling chassis models that were shipped off to have their bodies designed and built to customer specifications by these shops. By the end of World War II, however, advances in production meant that more automakers began designing their cars in-house, and the coach builders slowly began to disappear from the automotive landscape.
But it seemed that Italy, and Pininfarina specifically were immune to the changes. Thanks to its relationship with Ferrari, the company became synonymous with beautiful design, and soon the world’s biggest automakers came knocking. By the the 1960s, it was both styling and building cars for other automakers, and continued to expand well into the ’80s. It built over 200,000 Spider convertibles for Fiat, finished the bodies for the Cadillac Allante in Italy before shipping them to Detroit, and in recent years, built thousands of Volvo C70s, Peugeot 406s, and a number of Alfa Romeo models.
But the party has been over for some time now, as the company’s manufacturing contracts have all expired, and its workforce has dwindled from a high of 2,768 employees in 2006, to just over 800 as of 2012. It has been in and out of debt restructuring since 2008, and the company continues to hemorrhage money, its owner Pincar (the Pininfarina family’s holding company) has been desperately looking for a new buyer to offer a new lease on life. Since 2014, Pincar has looked to company Mahindra and Mahindra as a potential savior, but after a deal fell through earlier this year, the Indian company has noticeably cooled on the deal.
Still, the world’s most famous coach builder hasn’t given up, and while it posted a first-half loss of 4.4 million euros, bringing its debt to 52.7 million, the company still believes that it can keep Mahindra interested. While it sees Indian company as a lifeline, it’s far from a match made in heaven. Reuters was quick to point out that “Talks would resume in September but one source said Mahindra was “very cautious” and wanted to invest in Pininfarina “at the lowest possible price”.” Bad deal or not, it would be a tragedy to see the company disappear like the others. As cars like the BMW Gran Lusso Coupe, Ferrari Sergio, and Cambiano coupe have shown us, the magic is still there.
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