Paolo Pininfarina is Chairman of the legendary design and engineering company Pininfarina. Following the recent launch of the Battista electric hypercar (pictured above), he reveals what it takes for a heritage brand to keep ahead.
Paolo Pininfarina is a scion of the greatest dynasty in automotive design. His grandfather, Battista ‘Pinin’ Farina, was the tenth of 11 children and proved precociously talented in the pioneering days of the automobile. Battista began working in his brother Giovanni’s body shop aged 12 and met and impressed both Fiat founder Giovanni Agnelli and Henry Ford, when in his teens and twenties respectively.
Carrozzeria Pinin Farina was founded in 1928 and designed and made bodies for Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lancia and many more. Postwar, Battista’s work on the 1946 Cisitalia 202 set a revolutionary new template by fully enclosing the chassis and mechanics in a timelessly elegant body. But it was his work and long relationship with Ferrari that secured the legend.
Cars such as the 250 GT SWB (1959), Dino (1967) and Daytona (1968), up to 2009’s 458 Italia, have crystallized many people’s idea of what a sports car should look like. When Ferrari set up its own Centro Stile (design center) in 2011, Pininfarina’s role was transformed to designing and manufacturing one-off and small series cars, and the company increased its diversification further.
Pininfarina has broadened its remit into industrial design, but following its acquisition by Indian conglomerate Mahindra in 2015, it is also doing something its founder never managed: manufacturing its own car.
Automobili Pininfarina is using the asset-light business model, applying existing technology and partnerships, to build the Battista, a 1,900 horsepower, pure-electric hypercar, limited to 150 units and costing around $2.3 million (€2 million) each. The most powerful Italian road car ever made, it can accelerate to 62mph (100kph) in less than two seconds, to 186mph (299kph) in 12, and has a top speed of 250mph (402kph). Pininfarina promises a range of about 250 miles (402km) and batteries that can be 80 percent replenished in 40 minutes on a rapid charging system.
Here, Pininfarina Chairman Paolo Pininfarina offers his insights on keeping a legendary brand relevant for today.
My grandfather would be delighted about this new car, the Battista; it deserves to bear his name. He was dreaming his whole life: he had a vision of speed, velocity and performance. In the 1930s, he developed high-speed streamlined cars, and he masterminded record-breaking cars in the 1960s. Battista was an outlier, one in a million. To succeed as an outlier, you need several things: talent, commitment and to be born at the right moment and raised in the right place. He was born in 1893 in Turin, born with the automobile and surrounded by other talented people who were exploring the future of the car. With all this, success came. Almost 90 years later, I am proud to say I am the only Chairman of a design house belonging to the third generation. That is very special.
Amplify brand values
Elegance and beauty are fundamental. Pininfarina’s mission is to design cars that are innovative, pure, simple and elegant. The Battista project was a great challenge because we are designing for ourselves: It is not a negotiation or a compromise – this is us. So we really explored all the values of the brand, and I think we succeeded.
Embrace new technology
The Battista’s outstanding technical aspect is that it is fully electric. This represents the future: a benchmark for electric hypercars. It makes it special and new. Let me tell you a story about electrification, a story not many people know. In 1959, my grandfather went to the White House and he met the President, Dwight Eisenhower. They discussed Italian styling and American styling, and President Eisenhower asked what the future of the car was. Electrification was the answer my grandfather gave, before adding that it would be down to his children to bring it to the market. I was born in 1958!
We started to work outside automobiles more than 30 years ago, and since then we have developed 700 projects – in areas such as industrial design, furniture, boats and aerospace. This diversification has added a lot of value to our company and our brand. It also demonstrates the sort of communication you can make worldwide with good design.
Build on your experience
I was seven [when my grandfather died]. He was kind to us children, a special man. We understood the importance of Pininfarina, of being Pininfarina, and often listened to stories about him. There were 5,000 people at his funeral, and only then did we fully understand how important he was to the community. My father Sergio did not force my brother and I into the family business. It was a gradual learning experience, until it was a natural thing for us to enter the company. And I have been here 36 years.
Jason Barlow is a motoring journalist and broadcaster based in London. He is a regular contributor to the The Sunday Times, Top Gearmagazine and GQ magazine.
This article first appeared in the May 2019 edition of WERTE, the client magazine of Deutsche Bank Wealth Management.