Bloomberg has reported that Mahindra are rumoured to have plans to purchase Pininfarina.
This news caused Pininfarina´s shares to rise in value. It also presumably caused many car enthusiasts’ hearts to sink correspondingly. However, such a purchase might not be the worst outcome. ItalDesign has been taken over by VW, a firm that does not lack design talent. Bertone´s car production and design operations went bankrupt in 2014. The industrial design operation continues though. Ghia was long ago subsumed into Ford and is now utterly dead, remembered mostly as a high-level trim variant of ordinary cars. Further back we have Vignale and Touring.
Mahindra, at least, actually need the services of Pininfarina. Their current range of cars is not all that fetching. Pininfarina have been working with Mahindra already and it seems that Mahindra would like to use some Italian expertise to give it the competitive edge that it lacks across the board in its car portfolio.
Bloomberg´s journalists have a shaky understanding of which cars made Pininfarina´s name: “Pininfarina could help the Indian manufacturer add flair to its namesake brand and its Ssangyong unit. Pininfarina has designed cars like the Rolls-Royce Camargue, Cadillac Allante and Maserati Quattroporte.” Two of those three are well-known turkeys. And all of Pininfarina´s excellent work for Peugeot is ignored. Given Pininfarina´s recent track record, I feel they just struck lucky with the Maserati QP.
It could very well be that Mahindra is paying a lot of money for a tired nameplate and a suite of CAD systems. As is the case with ItalDesign, the real value of the firm walks out the door every evening. One of the advantages design consultancies have is independence. They can avoid stale thinking and since they must change clients regularly, they gain a broad perspective in-house designers can lack. Once Mahindra owns Pininfarina, it is unlikely other car manufacturers will want to hire their talent more than they want it now (which is not very much). I would contend that Mahindra could get a better design boost simply by hiring ten seasoned studio managers at €2 million a pop and let those managers hire some staff themselves.
Mahindra has been buying other firms: Peugeot motorcycles, Ssang Yong and possibly NEV in Sweden.
**Post-Script: Bloomberg later reported “Pininfarina’s controlling shareholder, Pincar, confirmed that India’s Mahindra & Mahindra has expressed interest in buying the Italian car designer.” So the answer to the headline´s question is “Yes”.