TURIN – In a world where auto makers are desperate to expand into every last niche, many lack the resources, people-power or expertise to create and build comparatively low-volume models in-house. No wonder the out-sourcing of design, engineering and assembly is one of the auto industry's great growth areas.

There are a few companies that provide the expertise to design, engineer and produce a car. They are Italy’s Bertone SpA, the U.K.’s Group Lotus and TWR Inc. – and that’s it. Italdesign SpA designs and engineers cars but, despite rumors, has never been a manufacturer. Now Pininfarina SpA wants to become, in the words of research and development chief Lorenzo Ramaciotti, "a full-service provider."

Mitsubishi plans to enter the Montero SUV in the Canadian market in September.

Up to now, Pininfarina only has been involved in design and assembly, lacking the resources to engineer a complete car. Last September, the third-generation Pininfarina family members, who now run the company under the paternal eye of Chairman Sergio, their father, decided the company should develop a serious engineering operation.

Pininfarina's Cambiano Studi e Ricerche centre, just south of Turin, is adding a new engineering center to the complex, a change that warrants a new name. It's now Pininfarina Ricerche e Sviluppo (R&D). Cambiano, whic currently employs 200 people, including 15 designers and 35 modelers, by 2003 expects to double that number.

"We want each department to have its own visibility and autonomy but also to have the three activities work together," says R&D boss Ramaciotti. "Our clients can choose any one, or any mix of two, or all three."

Auto makers exploring different model lines on the same platform don't want to incur the work involved in developing a project beyond a certain point, he says. Now, they can hand over the entire project to Pininfarina."At the same time, we are open to alliances in specific fields to widen even more the possibilities. The 50/50 joint venture with (Germany’s) Webasto AG to develop roof systems is the perfect example."

Pininfarina traditionally has assembled cars for Peugeot Citroen and Fiat Auto SpA. Ford Motor Co. joins the list in early 2003 with StreetKa.

There's no hiding the production side of the business, but clients often prefer the outside world to think the design and engineering was in done in-house. Pininfarina at the Frankfurt auto show could have, but didn't, claim responsibility for 20 models from eight different car makers. The list now looks set to grow.