Special Coverage

SAE World Congress

DETROIT – Pininfarina SpA is betting a portion of its future on electric vehicles, as it targets sales of 60,000 of its upcoming Bluecar models annually by 2016, CEO Silvio Angori tells Ward’s here.

The Italian design house, having recently emerged from a financial restructuring, will produce the Bluecar under a joint venture with France’s Bollore Group, which will supply lithium-metal-polymer batteries for the car.

The EV operations will be all that remain of manufacturing for Pininfarina, which is winding down existing vehicle-building contracts for Ford Motor Co. and Alfa Romeo SpA this year.

In December, it finalized a deal to sell that part of its business, transferring some 900 employees along with its Grugliasco, Italy, factory to De Tomaso Automobili SpA.

“We’ll still have a manufacturing footprint,” Angori says in an interview prior to a presentation to the SAE World Congress here. “But it will only be in electric vehicles.”

Pininfarina says in a filing the value of its production contracts dropped 62.4% in 2009 as a result of the decline in market demand for the Ford and Alfa models and the end of a contract to build vehicles for Mitsubishi Motors Corp.

Production of the Bluecar will begin next year, and previous reports have indicated the JV partners expect to ship 2,000 of the vehicles in 2011. Bollore reportedly has said it already has orders for 8,000 of the EVs. The Bluecar will be sold under the Pininfarina brand.

France, where EV interest is high and government support growing, is expected to be a key market for the vehicle, Angori says.

“France may see the market for EVs growing faster, because of the financial incentives,” he notes.

The 4-door, 4-seat Bluecar is targeted to have a range of 155 miles (250 km). Solar panels on the hood of the car will be used to help power ancillary equipment. The first prototypes are undergoing testing now, the Pininfarina executive says.

Meanwhile, Angori says business is improving (for Pininfarina), but not as much as he would like. “But we’re meeting all of our financial covenants. And we’re ahead of projections on some of our key (targets).”

Last year, Pininfarina lost €32 million ($43 million).

The design house remains for sale, with the Pininfarina family’s controlling stake on the block since last year.

Angori declines to discuss potential buyers but says “interest is high.” There is no timetable to complete a sale.

The design side of the business is getting a boost from emerging markets, Angori says. “This probably isn’t widely known, but we generate more than 50% of our revenues from design and engineering work in China and Asia.”

dzoia@wardsauto.com