Investing in India

Mahindra conglomerate snaps up Italian car designer Pininfarina

David Keohane and Rachel Sanderson
'India must embrace new manufacturing models'

Indian billionaire Anand Mahindra's conglomerate bought Italian car designer Pininfarina on Monday as the group looks to add flair to its offerings while continuing its push into Europe.

Tech Mahindra, the IT focused arm of the acquisitive Mahindra group, and Mahindra & Mahindra, the company's auto business, together bought the iconic Italian brand for roughly €33m ($36.31 m)

The Indian companies will buy a 76 per cent stake in Pininfarina's holding company Pincar for €1.10 per share, or about €25m. They plan to make an open offer for the rest of the shares listed on Milan's stock exchange at the same price.

The deal is the largest to date for Mahindra in Europe, and insiders suggested it was a way for the Indian conglomerate to enter the European car market in the longer term using the Pininfarina brand.

Consumer companies struggle to tap aspirational middle-class India

Pininfarina, whose designs included the Ferrari Testarossa and Alfa Romeo Spider, has been unprofitable for 10 of the past 11 years. It has already worked with Mahindra on development of sports utility vehicles and on the Halo electric sports car launched last year.

Pininfarina's €100m of debt has been rescheduled by four banks and Rothschild advised Mahindra on the purchase.

"It's structured as a joint venture because it has two aspects — engineering and automotive — it will seen as something which will fit both capabilities," said one person close to the deal adding that Mahindra "doesn't want it to be seen as a pure automotive play".

Mahindra, which is dominant in the price-sensitive Indian SUV market, is also hoping to employ Pininfarina's designers on projects beyond its vehicle business at a time when design is increasingly a key differentiator for consumer brands.

Pininfarina's "legendary brand status" will allow Mahindra "powerful access to relationships the iconic designer has nurtured with the best in the world over its 85-year history", Mahindra said in a statement.

Mr Paulo Pininfarina, who will continue as chairman, said: "If we have a consistent and competitive engineering business proposition with elegant and special design, [that] can make the difference on the global market."

Harold Cunningham | Getty Images

Pininfarina is the latest Italian luxury brand to be snapped up by a foreign buyer. In the past five years, France's LVMH bought Bulgari and Loro Piana and Kering bought Pomellato, Qatar's Mayhoola bought Valentino, ChemChina bought Pirelli and Haworth of the US bought Poltrona Frau.

Harvard-educated Anand Mahindra, who took the helm of the $16bn Indian conglomerate as chairman three years ago, is buying Pininfarina on the back of the successful 2010 purchase of Ssangyong Motor, the lossmaking South Korean carmaker for $460m.

Mr Mahindra purchased a majority stake in Peugeot Citroen's scooter division last year for €28m, but he has failed in a series of attempts to acquire upscale global brands, including British luxury sports car maker Aston Martin.

Pininfarina's shares were suspended in Milan on Monday ahead of the announcement. Tech Mahindra gained 1.2 per cent in a subdued Mumbai market while Mahindra & Mahindra rose 2 per cent.

Follow CNBC International on Twitter and Facebook.

Related Tags