Ritorno al Futuro

At long last, Pininfarina has a new Chief Creative Officer.

Kevin Rice. (c) autodesignmagazine

The last ten months must have been a rather tumultuous period for those working at Pininfarina’s headquarters in Cambiano. First there were rumours of a fierce conflict with erstwhile loyal customer, Ferrari, over the design of Automobili Pininfarina’s Battista EV hyper car, in the wake of its unveiling at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show.  This was shortly followed by a facelift of Battista’s front end.

Much of the blame for these costly, distracting shenanigans was put at the feet of Pininfarina chief designer, Carlo Bonzanigo, who wasn’t seen or heard in public for months, until his resignation ‘for personal reasons‘ was unceremoniously announced in September. Since then, the post of chief designer has remained vacant. Not anymore however, as Kevin Rice has just been announced as Bonzanigo’s successor.

‘Successor’ may be the wrong term on this occasion though, for not only is Rice’s job title that of Chief Creative Officer, rather than Bonzanigo’s Design Vice President, but orderly succession is rather not what Pininfarina is in need of right now.

Upon its announcement in 2017, Carlo Bonzanigo’s appointment seemed like a reminder of more successful and far simpler times above all else. After all, Bonzanigo’s name was strongly associated with that of former Pininfarina chief designer, Lorenzo Ramaciotti, who had been in charge before the business model of the carrozzieri in general and that of Pininfarina in particular had started to erode dramatically (by which point Ramaciotti joined FCA, incidentally).

But back in its heyday, Pininfarina did everything the Pininfarina way. Clients were keen on benefitting not just from Turinese know-how, but the prestige associated with the name. However, as car manufacturers themselves established design facilities that left nothing to be desired and hired whichever talents they desired, the going got a lot tougher for the independent studios of Turin. Once Pininfarina’s internal and external issues became known to the public (and the ties to a certain marque from Modena were severed), even the proud company’s name lost quite a bit of its allure.

It was against this backdrop that Bonzanigo’s immediate predecessor, Fabio Filippini, set to work in 2011. Filippini joined Pininfarina from Renault and was the first chief designer who wasn’t trained in-house. Out of necessity, Filippini stood for a break from certain traditional Pininfarina habits – under his guidance, the carrozzeria opened up in an attempt to reinvent itself not as a somewhat haughty authority, but a sophisticated service provider.

Projects like the BMW GranLusso, which was created in close collaboration with the Bavarian brand, would have been unthinkable in the past, when Pininfarina simply knew best and such a level of interaction with a client would have been deemed both unseemly and subservient. But this new-found humility (amid numerous other measures, of course) did the trick and made Pininfarina attractive enough a business to be bought up by Indian industrial conglomerate, Mahindra Group, ensuring the carrozzeria’s longer-term survival.

Even disregarding the Battista affair, Carlo Bonzanigo’s brief tenure almost seemed as though the inevitable break with the past instigated under Filippini had been a mistake in need of amending. For despite years spent at PSA, Bonzanigo was a man steeped in the Pininfarina way of doing things, which showed both in terms of attitude and aesthetics. But the past, no matter how glorious it may have been, cannot be replicated. Even for as proud a name as Pininfarina’s, today’s changed environment simply means adapt or die.

Kevin Rice’s previous posts at Mazda (as well as a stint at BMW during a period of moderately-sized kidney grilles) speak in his favour. As does the fact that he’s an outsider who is (again: hopefully) respectful of his new employer’s heritage and ideals, but not blinkered by constrictive conservatism.

On the face of it, Kevin Rice may be just the man to take Pininfarina back to the future.

Author: Christopher Butt

car design critic // runs www.auto-didakt.com // contributes to The Road Rat magazine // writes a column for Octane France //

5 thoughts on “Ritorno al Futuro”

  1. One, Kevin Rice has a cravatte and it´s very smart. I like this style.
    Two, Pininfarina uses Chartpak ID markers which are very good indeed. They are the ones I like best. Not cheap but they last a good long while and are easy to use.

    1. Mr Rice certainly scores 10/10 For looking the part: his spectacles, haircut, goatee and attire have all align perfectly with expectations of a designer.

      Christopher, the link to your piece on the BMW GranLusso should really be prefaced with a warning for those likely to be upset by crimes against design: the new 8 Series is just unforgivable.

    2. I should have added that Christopher’s piece on the 8 Series is well worth reading again (as I have just done) despite the visual trauma it entails.

    3. In fairness Richard, the photograph above dates back to Mr. Rice’s stint at Mazda. So this is either Mazda policy, or that of Kevin himself. Either way, I don’t think we can credit the house of Pininfarina in this instance.

    4. In its own, highly peculiar way, the 8 series is fascinating.

      It’s quite obvious that the intention was to create an Aston Martin DB9 Munichoise. That and how they failed on any aesthetic level is rather spectacular, given the appeal inherent in a rear-wheel drive 2+2 architecture.

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