Is Pininfarina About To Lose Its Independence?**

Bloomberg has reported that Mahindra are rumoured to have plans to purchase Pininfarina.

1975 Rolls Royce Camargue. From carsbase.com
1975 Rolls Royce Camargue. From carsbase.com

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.

2015 Mahindra Verito Vibe.
2015 Mahindra Verito Vibe.

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.

2015 Mahindar Bolero. Untouched by a designer´s hand.
2015 Mahindar Bolero. Untouched by a designer´s hand.

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.

I find this compellingly bad. They made this car - there was demand for this car - until 1986. That´s like hearing that witch burning persisted in Austria until last December. Really?
I find this compellingly bad. They made this car – there was demand for this car – until 1986. That’s like hearing that witch burning persisted in Austria until last December. Really? The C-pillar is too far back behind the line of the rear axle. It’s also too thin.

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”.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

18 thoughts on “Is Pininfarina About To Lose Its Independence?**”

  1. Richard. Since you use one of Pinifarina’s less svelte offerings to illustrate this piece, complete with gold plated mascot, badges and … doorhandles, I couldn’t hep but notice the similarity to a Fiat 124 Coupe.

    But though both the Carmargue and somewhat similar but properly proportioned Fiat 130 were done by Paolo Martin at Pininfarina, the earlier 124 wasn’t a Pininfarina design, being done in-house by Mario Boano at Centro Stile. Am I digressing?

    But, yes, 20 years ago we might have felt a loss at Pinifarina’s effective passing but today the Italian design houses have, unfortunately, lost their relevance. As you suggest, all Mahindra will really buy is a badge to give whatever shape they produce credibility.

    I hadn’t realised that Peugeot had flogged off their moped/scooter arm. Do they still do the coffee grinders? Or will they next decide to stick with that core market and hive off the cars?

    1. Quite right. Poor old Pininfarina is not the force it once was. I am not terribly moved by Mahindra´s plans. The Camargue reminds me of the Datsun Cedric more than anything else. That was a design from the mid 60s, remember.
      Having looked the Cedric again, the similarity is in the rear window more than anything. Also, it shares the same flat surfaces. The Camargue must have seemed dated (rather than retro) when it came out. You´d think that having such a big car to work with would make it an easier job. Was Pininfarina unused to such scale?

    2. I’d suspect that Paolo Martin came up with better proposals that RR would not have deemed appropriate. The Camargue (sorry about the unintentional pun-ish misspelling above) looked dreadful when new though, in the way of these things, time has just rendered it quaint. I know someone who owns one and he says that sitting in it is a huge pleasure.

  2. To avoid accusations of being too lazy to answer my own questions, I’ll report that, although they no longer have a controlling interest in their motorcycle division, Peugeot still produce the bicycles they started off with, plus coffee grinders, herb grinders, etc, all designed under the “Peugeot Design Lab” banner. Since the words Peugeot and Design were uncomfortable partners in recent years, their Design Lab might merit further scrutiny.

    http://www.peugeot.com/en/design

    1. The cycles are still accessible through Peugeot’s website and share a logo.

      As for the grinders, I note that the logo isn’t the same and I started plowing my way through an endless timeline and got as far as their first grinder dedicated to sel de Guérande, then I gave up. Do they have no connection at all with the car people? If so that’s a pity. Somehow the fact that they still made coffee grinders was one of the few facts that still endeared them to me.

  3. Without a doubt they are nice cars to drive about in. That said, even correcting for changes in taste there are aspects of it that don´t add up. The rear bumper seems to rise as if it has been knocked off its mounts. The lamps´shapes don´t harmonise with the rest of the tail. Jaguars´s XJ-S had the same problem: a mess of bits. There is a kooky feature line under the window. The C-pilllars flow awkwardly down to the boot and then end in a pointed shape.
    I had a look at some other 70s C-pillars and bootlids. The BMW 635 gets it exactly right. The Fiat 130 does as well. This very well could have been a shape intended for another car.

    1. And yet… the Camargue appeals to me. But then I also like the Bristol 603 and as for the XJ-S…

  4. The feature line beneath the windows was originally accompanied by a chrome trim. On this example the trim is removed and a pinstripe takes its place. It’s all obviously there as a desperate attempt to lower the glasshouse, but it doesn’t work. The front view is just as clumsy – the car doesn’t have a single elegant angle. Because cars have got so much larger in the intervening period, it doesn’t look quite as massive as it once did.

    Possibly we should put together a small gallery of Pininfarina’s failures as a way of avoiding having to mourn their passing.

  5. I have more important things to do yet I found I had to play around with the Camargue´s side profile. I tried to move the rear axle back a bit, moved the c-pillar forward and made it thicker. I made the grille lean back a shade (it leans forward. I added some more length to the boot. It still looked terrible. Fundamentally the proportions and detailing of this car are all wrong and to make it work you would need to start all over again. This design can not be facelifted to acceptability. Every part affects every other and once on thing changes most other elements also begin to need revision. This car is an example of an ususually thorough and deep seated set of failures. I think it was perhaps not left to mature: they did a few drawings and hurried it through prototyping so no-one got to see the car with fresh eyes.

  6. I always felt the Camargue looked like it should be featured in the North Devon Post under the byline ;

    Barnstaple Man Builds Himself A Rolls : Builder Sid Jeavons promised himself that one day he would own the top-person’s car, a Rolls Royce. As prices escalated, Sid came to a decision – he would build his own. A carpenter by trade, Sid built the bodywork, enlisting the help of fellow workmates for the glass and metalwork. Using MDF and other reclaimed materials, Sid produced this stunner which now takes pride of position on his front drive. Sid says that it always attracts favourable comments and that several people have been convinced it was the real thing. Rolls Royce Motors were unavailable for comment.

  7. Nearly there. How about: “Barnstable body shop craftsman Ron Voss promised himself one day he´d own a Rolls-Royce. With the help of his 16-year old son Frank who is good at drawing, Ron prepared his own idea of a two door Roller. Ron made fibreglass moulds himself and found headlamps from similar cars as Rolls-Royce parts were too costly. The rear of the car is built over a Ford Cortina boot and the front is mostly a Chevrolet. The engine was from a Van Den Plas saloon. The roof Ron adapted from a Vauxhall Ventora and the seats come from a Hillman Sceptre. Ron spent two years of his free time assembling the car. It boasts 18 coats of paint, one more than even Rolls-Royce use. For that Ron did use approved RR paint so it looks as shiny and lustrous as the real thing.” And of course the grille is the genuine article, borrowed from a crashed Silver Shadow.

  8. If Eoin can find a place in his affections for the Camaaargh then I feel my lack of loathing verging on quiet approval for the X-type should be given a free pass. The Bristol 603 and XJ-S are miles away from the Roller’s ineptitude.

  9. The Camarque design suits to a car with a normal length of 4,80m – but not as such a big car. There is too much steel for such a delicate line.

    One of the reasons why car manufacturers does not want to create a design company their car is the risk that the lines will appear at another car of another brand.
    i don´t think that Alfa was amused to see most of the elegant lines of the Alfa 164 at the Peugeot 605 again. And i dont think Peugeot was amused to see the Alfa 164 which was a very beautiful interpretation of their 405 – and comes before the 605 was on the market.
    Maybe the beginning of the end of the Peugeot-Pininfarina-Connection.

  10. Agreed: it looks frail. Consider the 1969 one-off Mercedes in the slide show here. They got one right. I think Paolo Martin got this one wrong and styled for a smaller car.
    Didn’t Pininfarina mess up with the 164 and 405? Could we be charitable and say they missed the similarities in the designs? Or maybe they thought both firms wanted a Pininfarina look? These days I see the differences between the two cars. In 1988 I thought they looked identical. Whatever happened it was a cock up.
    I tend to feel Peugeot got tired of buying styling. Getting rid of Pininfarina still seems like a bad saving.
    May I ask Markus if you are somehow working in a car-related job?

    1. No i am not working in this business – that is why i am interested in it 🙂
      In the eighties i like the PSA-way. Citroen cars are designed by Bertone and Peugeot came with a Pininfarina Styling. Both well designed – but completely different. They do not want two cars look similar – then it must be very disappointing to see the Alfa 164.

      The PSA shareholders surely began to regret the divorces when they see cars like the first Citroen C5 or the Peugeot 407 Coupe…

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