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Monday, February 20, 2012

Pininfarina: When Insolvency and Death End the Romance

(above photo: Pininfarina Hyperion concept based on Rolls Royce Drophead Coupe)

Although most commonly known as Ferrari's main body design agency, Pininfarina is a diverse company whose past and present clientele includes: Alfa Romeo, British Leyland, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Cisitalia, Citroen, Daewoo, Fiat, Fiat-Abarth, Ford, GM, Hafei, Honda, Jaguar, Lancia, Maserati, Mitsubishi, Nash Healy, Peugeot, and Volvo. 

From their site: "With a history dating back to 1930, Pininfarina is now one of the major suppliers of design, product and process engineering and manufacturing of niche vehicles on the automotive scene. Backed by the experience, creativity and innovation that have always been the main hallmarks of its business, Pininfarina now acts as partner also in sectors of  product and interior design and extra-automotive means of transportation. Following the growth and internationalization of the Group, Pininfarina now has facilities in Italy, Germany, Sweden, Morocco and China. Company customers include leading auto-makers."

Certainly, the company most closely associated with Pininfarina is Ferrari. Since 1952 a total of 163 different types of Ferrari are Pininfarina designs, including the 250 GT Coupe, Dino 246 GT, Daytona, Testarossa, F40, F50, 360 Modena and the fantastic Ferrari P4/P5. 

The genesis of this alliance goes something like this: According to Sergio Pininfarina (the son), Enzo Ferrari and Battista Pinin Farina had been acquaintances for a long time, dating back to Ferrari and Pininfarina's days with Alfa Romeo before World War 2. As the 1950s began, both were very interested in working with the other. But out of vanity and ego, each refused to visit each other's factory.  

After a time, the impasse became recognizable among employees. Eventually, Ferrari sales manager Girolamo Gardini broke the stalemate by proposing the men meet halfway, between Modena and Turin in the town of Tortona. Over lunch, the two men formed the basis of the Ferrari-Pininfarina relationship that has become a mainstay of contemporary Italian culture. It was a small, intimate, affair with only two other people there: Sergio Pininfarina and the aforementioned Gardini. The rest, they say, is history.

But how things have changed since the booming, post-war 1950s: The romanticism and heyday has given way to global recession/depression and the bottom line is ever falling to an ever deepening bottom. Indeed, pretty car bodies will always command attention, with Pininfarina's place in history and relevance firmly established. In both vintage and modern form, to have the car graced with the flowing magic of Pininfarina's handiwork is a hallmark of pride and taste. It must not be overlooked that such branding began, and is perhaps ending, with the hard-won and unique labors of highly creative people, living breathing human elements whose combined forces rose to mythical and legendary status. 

Odds, adversity, resistance, can pose tremendous challenges to the entrepreneur at any stage of fiscal or social standing. In this manner, dues are forever paid. And it is often the challenges that engender the greatest moments of triumph and human ingenuity. They say (whomever they are): "It's not the kill but the thrill of the chase." And after claiming victory the prize is that much sweeter when defeat was looming near at any moment during the journey. 

As is the case with both Ferrari and Pininfarina, they began as tiny operations, as unknowns. Indeed, the cottage industry is the underdog against the faceless monoliths of the deep-pocketed competition. The well-heeled and well-funded enterprises are distant goals to the fledgling companies whose dreams outreach their grasp. And when success meets the little guy, the trials and obstacles along the journey can be discussed over drinks and dinner, in celebratory hindsight and reminiscence.

But despite all the aforementioned, it is, likewise, the human element that ultimately sows the seeds of destruction. In the case of Pininfarina, I think the already tenuous state dislodged the firm's sense of its own well being. Alas, morale in general matters a great deal to a team, and the death of Andrea heralded the end of an era. A sense of family cohesion and purity of design ethos matters in the longevity of a boutique design company. And like an athlete sustaining injuries to the body, the constitution and fabric of an organization can be compromised, bit by bit, if enough tragedy pays a visit. And then, in terminal cases, the shoe drops in finality.

Beginning of the End
excerpt from 7th August 2007:
"Italian design firmPininfarina is in serious financial trouble. The company has lost 39.1 million euros in the first nine months of this year, an increase of 22.8 million euros over the same period in 2006.

"Pininfarina has designed (and built) some of the best looking cars in the world today, such as the Ferrari Enzo, Maserati Quattroporte, Ferrari 612 Scaglietti, Volvo C70, Ferrari 599, Ford Focus CC and most recently, the Maserati GranTurismo.

"Pininfarina now hopes to search for new partners in its contract manufacturing activities such as its recent deals with Volvo and Ford. Surveys have found that the Pininfarina name is the biggest asset for the company, a reputation the company will surely exploit."

excerpt from 7th August 2008:

"The motor industry is in mourning today after Andrea Pininfarina, chairman of the historic chassis company which designed some of the best-known Ferraris, was killed in a traffic accident. Pininfarina, 51, was killed instantly near Turin after his Vespa scooter collided with a Ford Focus driven by Giuliano Salmi, 78, after he failed to give way and cut in front of him.

"Salmi was said to be in a state of deep shock following the accident and other witnesses said he had swerved to avoid a lorry unloading sand and an investigation was launched by traffic police."

(above photo: Andrea Pininfarina with Ferrari P4/P5, commissioned by James Glickenhaus)

Seeing the writing on the wall well ahead of time, entrepreneur, car collector, and magnate James Glickenhaus, visionary behind the P4/P5, recalls a deal he proposed with Pininfarina, a while prior to Andrea's untimely demise in 2008: 

A few years ago I sat with Andrea who had come to realise that there were big problems.

I told him there was only one way out. We'd walk into the Bank and throw the keys on the table and make the following offer.

"You take everything but the farm house a few Museum cars and the Pininfarina name for Design. I'll fund it and you get 49 percent."

Andrea told me he couldn't do that. "Jim you don't understand. My family name. I can't walk away if they say no."

I told him that if he didn't he'd lose the company anyway. He nodded and said: "We'll see...We'll talk"

If he hadn't died way too young who knows?

Do Not Pass GO, Do Not Collect 200 Dollars
excerpt from Tue Feb 14, 2012

"Italy's Pininfarina family is set to lose control of the eponymous car design company as lengthy debt restructuring talks head toward the finish line, people familiar with the situation said on Tuesday.

"Pininfarina, designer of dream cars like the Ferrari FF, posted a 16.9 million euros loss in the first nine months of 2011 after closing its manufacturing operations to re-invent itself as a smaller niche design player.

"An agreement with creditor banks including Intesa Sanpaolo , UniCredit, Mediobanca and Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena to restructure net debt of 76 million euros is on track and will be reached in the coming months, said three sources close to the situation.

"The debt situation is stable and the talks are not contentious, so there is no hurry," said one of the sources, speaking on condition anonymity. "The agreement will fix the capital structure for the foreseeable future.

"When finalised, the debt accord will give control of the family's 77 percent stake to its creditor banks, ending the Pininfarina family's ownership of the influential design house founded by onetime Turin carriage maker Gianbattista 'Pinin' Farina in 1930.
"Despite having its name on some of the most glamorous cars in the world, the Pininfarina family generally keeps a low profile.

"Andrea Pininfarina, the founder's grandson, died in a scooter accident in 2008, aged 51, while on his way to the company's factory in Cambiano, outside Turin."
Winds of Change
As in any death, the measure of the loss is gauged by the emotional investment. To many in the automotive community the de facto passing of a design icon is somewhat unbelievable. Pininfarina became larger than life, particularly in its seemingly mythical tale and dance with Ferrari. It is inevitable, perhaps, that everything must pass. But it just isn't any easier to accept when it actually happens. 
What guise Pininfarina assumes has yet to be seen, if it actually continues. But with the death of Andrea, the spirit and financial integrity of the original company severely compromised, it can only be, at best, a shell of its former self. The cold grip of debt and legalistic takeovers by banking institutions has apparently driven the coffin nails through the wonderful phenomenon that was once known as Pininfarina. Rest in peace to you, Pininfarina, with utmost respect.

1 comment:

  1. This is a very sad story for anyone who has lived with and enjoyed the cars that sprang from the Pininfarina/Ferrari association as I did.