Stola S.p.A. is hoping to succeed where other Italian design and engineering houses have failed - in the United States.
The Turin, Italy, company has teamed with former Ford Motor Co. designer Ken Grant and software expert Michael Check to open Stola's first North American design studio. The studio is in Ferndale, Mich., outside of Detroit.
Stola is counting on Grant's and Check's contacts to help the company's U.S. division succeed.
In the 1980s, Italian rivals Italdesign Giugiaro, I.DE.A. Institute and Pininfarina S.p.A. opened units in the Detroit area. Their plan was to offer design and engineering services to the Big 3. But lack of work forced all three to close their offices by the mid-1990s.
"We believe we can succeed because we have more conservative expectations," Check said. "We also have a good network of contacts in Detroit, and that's important here."
Teresio Pirra, Stola's sales and marketing vice president, said the venture is part of the company's global expansion strategy.
"The globalization of the market is the reality all companies will have to deal with from now on," Pirra said.
Grant, 40, began his auto career at General Motors, where he helped design the Pontiac Firebird. He worked as a designer at Ford from 1991 to 1998 on nameplates such as the Jaguar XK8, Ford Mustang and 2002 Ford Thunderbird. He has been an independent design consultant for seven years.
While working for Canadian company Alias Systems Corp., Check, 44, helped develop a three-dimensional design software package called StudioTools. Most carmakers use the package.
Stola owns 60 percent of the shares in the U.S. operation. Grant and Check have the rest.
Stola North America will seek work from the Big 3 for new concepts, facelifts or low-volume engineering. The Italian company has engineering, modeling and prototype centers in Italy, Brazil, China and France. It also operates a stamping and body-in-white assembly site for Fiat in Brazil.