PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- It is the quiet Italian giant.
Whether it's concours-winning prewar classics, the inextricable link with Ferrari or Dustin Hoffman's Alfa Romeo Spider in The Graduate, legendary design house Pininfarina has been the pen behind some of the most iconic automotive designs of the past 85 years.
At the same time, it was designing and engineering scores of less glamorous models sold around the world and producing plenty of others under contract at its plant near Turin. It also was handling industrial design assignments outside the auto industry.
But the last decade has been unkind to Pininfarina; previous excellence pays only so many bills. Thus, with new ownership secured last year and fundamental changes to mobility looming in the coming decade, the Italian powerhouse is reshaping itself for the future.
"If you look at the DNA of our brand, you see purity, elegance and innovation," Silvio Angori, Pininfarina's CEO, told Automotive News at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in August. "That is always what denotes what we are. And you can be revolutionary in coherence with our past, with our legacy, with our DNA."
That legacy of design collided head-on with the realities of the auto industry post-2008 financial crisis, says Geoff Wardle, executive director of the graduate program for transportation systems and design at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, Calif.
First, automakers became more protective of their global brand identities and thus stopped looking outside their walls for design work. At the same time, contract vehicle manufacturing became untenable; automakers wanted a builder such as Pininfarina to shoulder too much of the financial risk, and capital was scarce.
The nail in the coffin was that contract vehicle manufacturers built the very kinds of cars -- small, sporty and low-volume -- that no one buys during a recession.