European coachbuilders will sink or swim in changing market

We've posted a number of articles in recent months about coachbuilders like Pininfarina and Bertone finding themselves in financially troubled waters. The difficulties these and other independent manufacturers around Europe are suffering now appear to be part of a larger trend that's forcing these companies to either adapt to the changing market or face extinction.

While major manufacturers once subcontracted the production of niche vehicles – sports cars and convertibles especially – to smaller companies, the larger carmakers have been adapting their assembly lines towards small runs of diverse automobiles, leaving the indie coachbuilders with declining business. As a result, Pininfarina, for example, has been dipping further and further into the red, while Bertone was forced to sell its business on the verge of bankruptcy hearings.

Industry experts now advise that the coachbuilders will have to change their focus in order to survive and return to profitability. Although some have been receiving patronage from wealthy customers seeking original automotive creations like Zagato's Maserati GS and Pininfarina's Ferrari P4/5, that business is sporadic at best. Magna Steyr continues to be awarded contracts from carmakers like BMW, and Karmann is gearing up for an anticipated contact from Kia, but these and other coachbuilders will need to begin looking elsewhere for continued viability. Pininfarina and Bertone can return to their erstwhile core business of automotive design while shutting down or severely downsizing their manufacturing divisions, while emerging markets like China could provide potential contracts in the future. But while there may be a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, European coachbuilders will need to streamline to reach it.

[Source: Automotive News (subscription required) via Winding Road]

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