By on April 10, 2016

Alfa Romeo Disco Volante Spyder, Image: Touring Superleggera

The Italian coachbuilding industry took a massive hit during the latest global recession. Storied marques such as Bertone disappeared into the ether under the crushing pressures of debt and a shifting automotive industry that had become more self-sufficient.

Now, some eight years after the beginning of the recession, the Italian coachbuilding industry is making a fantastic comeback — albeit, at a cost.

According to Autocar, Italdesign (now Italdesign Giugiaro) and Pininfarina are enjoying the fruits of foreign direct investment.

For the former, its continued existence is the result of being swallowed-up by Volkswagen Group and becoming a pseudo-in-house firm whose work comes primarily from the group. And work is brisk, says CEO Jörg Astalosch.

“Last year, business was at a record high in 48 years,” Astalosch told Autocar.

Even with business at a high, Italdesign in particular wants to take on more work for more automakers.

“The bulk of the work is for the group, but we want to move away from that. We are a think tank for the industry, not just the VW Group,” said Astalosch.

However, to survive, Italdesign had to give up its independence. The firm is now 90-percent owned by Audi. The same applies to Pininfarina. A debt-for-equity deal will see Tech Mahindra of India take a 76-percent controlling share of the Italian design firm later this year.

It’s within this loss of independence that future struggles might be found: Why would an OEM commission work from a design house or coachbuilder that’s owned by a competing OEM?

To balance the books, design houses are taking on less glamorous tasks, such as building ‘pre-series’ cars — prototypes — for hot- and cold-weather testing.

They’re also taking on more prestigious projects, such as the Disco Volante and a spyder variant by Touring Superleggera, a design house that rose from the ashes in 2006 thanks to a group of investors. Touring is also the contract painter of high-end Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce models.

Whether that work will be enough to float them through the next recession is a question only time can answer. However, it seems those in charge at least have a plan going forward.

“We are rebuilding around six core competencies,” said Astalosch, “to put our investment money where we can make the most of it.”

[Image: Touring Superleggera]

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16 Comments on “Italy’s Coachbuilding Industry Is Thriving – But At a Cost...”


  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    The only Pininfarina designed thing I see on a regular basis is a Coke machine, how sad is that?

    • 0 avatar
      Chan

      Pininfarina has not been known to style very many plebian cars. And I suppose that is why it couldn’t sustain itself.

      • 0 avatar
        NoGoYo

        Oh wait, I forgot about the wacky guy who daily drives an Alfa 164 to the college I go to. But that’s not exactly plebian either.

        Giugaro at least designed some everyday cars like the Mark I Golf and the Mk I Fiat Panda.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    …Touring is also the contract painter of high-end Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce models….

    Because Maaco cornered the market on painting the low end Lambo’s and R/R models.

  • avatar
    Whoa Befalls Electra

    “comb-building”?

  • avatar
    Fred

    Lotus Engineering had the same problems when it was owned by GM. Customers were afraid the information would be shared with GM.

  • avatar
    Joss

    They should get tuned to classy buttons & dials for infotainment. While the rest of us do greasy finger touchscreen and piano surround.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    If VWAG bought those design houses, why is Audi under the death grips of design paralysis? Their design language has never been more derivative… all their new models literally look exactly like the old ones.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      No use messing with a good thing, perhaps? Compared to rivals BMW and MB, they are still the lookers of the bunch.

      Moreover, In Europe, progressivism have now advanced so far, that looking at how the car looks, is considered vulgar. What’s important now, is not how the car is actually styled, but rather that it was styled by someone whom the “experts” say are good designers. If you still don’t like it, it’s your fault, for not being good enough at regurgitating expert opinion.

      • 0 avatar
        Von

        Well said Stuki, while there are definitely some good products coming from Europe, it feels more like a social club. If you don’t like our stuff, it just means you are not refined enough to understand. And that is without regard for any actual merit in the products themselves. Sometimes they make great stuff, sometimes they make crap. But they charge a premium regardless, and it’s your fault for not buying more of it to keep them in business.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    “For the former, its continued existence is the result of being swallowed-up by Volkswagen Group…”

    The formation of the EU is simply a way for Germany to take over Europe without firing a shot.
    .
    .

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    That’s a stunning blue on the Disco Volante there.

    Hey Japanese manufacturers, why don’t you buy a design house or something. Because a Pininfarina-designed LS would be best evar.

  • avatar
    lon888

    That Disco Volante looks like a Saturn Sky schlepped a Porsche 911. no wonder the Italian coachbuilder industry is in the toilet. Yecch!!!

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