Times have been tough for European coachbuilders. Major automakers that once turned to these contract manufacturers for small production runs have since developed the capability to produce in scale. And before the coachbuilders could regroup, the recession hit, and the economy in Europe is still recovering.
That's how Volkswagen ended up taking over both Giugiaro and Karmann, and Fiat absorbed the manufacturing arm of Bertone. Ford long ago gobbled up Vignale and Ghia. But while their futures are now secure under larger corporate ownership, Pininfarina has only faced further setbacks.
Pininfarina had to sell the lion's share of its business to its creditors. And to make matters worse, its recovery started from even further behind than its rivals. After the turn of the millennium, Pininfarina switched to a new business model: rather than have the client automaker pay for development and production tooling up front, Pininfarina fronted the costs in exchange for a larger share of the revenues. But cars built under that pay-for-production scheme like the Alfa Romeo Brera, Ford Focus CC and Volvo C70 all failed to sell in the numbers needed to make them profitable for Pininfarina. To make matters worse, clients like Ferrari and Maserati that were once its most reliable partners have since been handling more of their design work in-house.
With the global economy recovering, Pininfarina is hoping to go back to its roots, rebodying upscale European cars for private customers. Recent examples have included Eric Clapton's Ferrari SP12 EC and the above-pictured Sergio concept that's tipped to see a small production run. Whether that's enough to keep a downsized Pininfarina solvent remains to be seen, but we're looking forward to seeing it try.