"The soul of our designing is in Italy," said Silvio Petro Angori, CEO of Italian design house Pininfarina S.p.A. "We will do all styling in Italy – we will not do that in China." But in order to cater to the growing number of contracts from Chinese automakers, Pininfarina will soon begin engineering and product development in China with a center in Shanghai's suburb of Anting.
Pininfarina has been working with Chinese automakers since 1996. The company claims it has a 30 percent market share of the new cars designed in China. At the Beijing motor show this year there were seven new models designed by the Italian firm.
As the Chinese auto market matures, car designs are changing. Consumers in China are more savvy and sophisticated than they were back in the ‘90s.
"China is the biggest automotive market, but the sports and luxury vehicles domestically developed are very under represented; this market will mature over time," Michele Straniero, General Manager of Pininfarina China and Engineering Business Development Director at Pininfarina, says. "It will have them [luxury and sports cars] over time – but they will still need support in the medium and long term."
In order be closer to customers in China, and to better engineer products suited for the Chinese market, Pininfarina is now set to open an engineering center in Shanghai.
"In the next few months we will establish a product development center to service our customers in China," Angori told Car Design News at an interview in Shanghai. "Our strategy is to enhance our presence here with a wholly owned Pininfarina engineering center in China with a local team."
Pininfarina has created a wholly owned foreign enterprise in Shanghai to establish a product development and engineering center in China. The agreement was signed on July 26 in Shanghai.
The engineering and product development center will initially be based in leased premises in the Anting suburb of Shanghai. In the future it will be housed in the Shanghai International Autocity Development (SIAD) in Anting, which is expected to be constructed by 2012. The Pininfarina China product development center will be run by Michele Straniero.
Despite engineering and product development in China, all of the design work will continue to be done in Italy.
To become a Pininfarina designer it takes around 10 years of experience says Angori, plus the design house has a very strict selection process. "This is why you recognize the Pininfarina style – the proper balance of shapes, the proper lines – when you see the harmony in the design. That is essential. It is not baroque in a sense, it is pure. These are the elements that characterize Pininfarina style and you cannot get that reading a book, you have to be part of the team that has developed these elements for over 80 years," he says.
In order to further strengthen its presence in China and potentially build up Chinese designers, Pininfarina has entered into two agreements with universities in China. "We want to establish very close links with major institutions to develop new talent," says Angori, adding: "We can then probably have them as part of our local team."
The Pininfarina Design and Engineering Centre in Cambiano in Turin, Italy will develop training programs with Shanghai's TongJi University and Tsinghua University in Beijing.
As Pininfarina's presence in China grows, revenue from the region is a substantial portion of the Italian design house's global revenue. China accounts for around 50 percent of revenue generated from styling and engineering. "At this moment activities we do for Asian customers is substantial," says Angori. "Pretty substantial – close to 40 to 50 percent of revenue is generated from China."
In China the design house has worked with Chery Automobile Co., Shenyang Brilliance Jinbei Automobile Co. and Jianghuai Automobile Co. amongst others.