Mahindra Eyeing Italian Auto Designer?

The Indian automaker has shown interest in Stile Bertone, the designer of such race car icons as Alfa-Romeo and Lamborghini

Mahindra & Mahindra has set sights on Italian automotive style company, Stile Bertone—famed for designing iconic models like the Alfa Romeo, Lamborghini, Aston Martin and Ferrari. The Turin-based car designing and contract manufacturer has been up for sale ever since Nuccio Bertone, son of founder-promoter Giovanni Bertone, passed away in February 1997.

The Mahindra group, which developed close business ties with the Bertone group after the Italian company designed some of its utility vehicles, is learnt to be talking to the Bertone family to explore options of buying an equity stake.

However, when contacted, senior Mahindra executives didn't elaborate much. "It's up for sale, and they have earlier designed some vehicles for us," was all that company president Pawan Goenka had to say.

While it's too early to peg a value on the size of a possible acquisition, the unlisted Italian company is estimated to post a revenue of E39.1 million in 2008. A deal with the Bertone family will give Mahindras access to high-tech design and also help the Indian auto company in its plans to build a global R&D centre.

The move will also help M&M cater to global auto OEMs at a time when even the Tatas are planning to open a global R&D design centre in the UK.

Recently, M&M acquired a Turin-based design company, GR Grafica Ricerca Design, for an undisclosed sum. The company was acquired by M&M through its Italian subsidiary, Mahindra Graphic Research & Design. The synergies, resulting from the acquisition of Stile Bertone, will help M&M strengthen its existing design capabilities and also help it emerge as a global auto design powerhouse.

Besides providing an European footprint, it would help M&M leverage technologies and skillsets, and enhance product development by harnessing the talent pool of designers and engineers, said analysts.

Stile Bertone, the creative heart of the Bertone group, styles and contract manufactures for global OEMs.

International news reports had indicated that the Bertone company head and family heir Lili Bertone is planning to sell the company. Incidentally, Ms Bertone—wife of the late Nuccio Bertone—had concluded a deal early January to sell the company to Domenico Reviglio of Gruppo Prototipo. However, a court in Turin cancelled the sale, saying Ms Bertone attempted to sign over more of the company stake than she had a right to.

The company founded as Carrozzeria Bertone in 1914, by Giovanni Bertone, was divided into two units; the Carrozzeria, building as many as 40,000 cars per year and the styling studio, Stile Bertone.

Stile Bertone's designs are very distinctive. The company has designed high-volume cars, including the Daewoo Espero, Opel Astra (coupe and cabrio), Simca 1200S Coupe, Volvo 780 Coupe and the Citroen BX. Although the current revenue figures are not available, analysts expect the Bertone Group to generate E39.1 million in 2008 and E62.2 million in 2009.

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