Back in 2010, Giugiaro was happily pictured doing a deal to sell 90% of his company – including his name and patents – to Audi, which put its new acquisition under Lamborghini’s control. Five years later, the Germans completed the purchase, Giugiaro departed and Italdesign’s talents were deployed on group projects intended to bring it closer to the mothership. It worked so well that industry pundits began referring to Italdesign as ‘Audi’s design and technology arm’, which for many implied too close a relationship.
So now Italdesign is changing again. The arrival in late 2015 of an ambitious new CEO, Jörg Astalosch, a finance man for much of his 20-year career at the Volkswagen Group, Audi’s parent, has aligned well with an urgent (post-crisis) need for Italdesign to earn its own corn. Astalosch has laid down three priorities for the company: to get back into providing engineering and design for outside clients; to establish an Italdesign academy to train promising young engineers and designers; and to establish an Italdesign brand for ultra-low-volume, top-price supercars. All of which is why I recently visited Italdesign, a decade after I was last there.
Right now, the most obvious push is on the recently revealed V10 supercar, the Zerouno, or ‘01’ in numerals. Just five examples will be made. As you read this, the first car is on display at the Geneva show, with chief designer Filippo Perini as its proud presenter and its anonymous Belgian owner doubtless prominent in the audience. He’ll have parted with well over the nominal starting price of £1.3 million for the privilege. Each Zerouno owner is being offered extensive upgrades and options that could push prices as high as £2m.
Behind the scenes, Italdesign is also working hard on its other missions. The academy is already flushing out as much young talent as it can handle, and the company has again become successful at finding outside clients, especially for engineering projects.
“People know us as a design company because of the reputation of Mr Giugiaro,” says Franco Bay, an Italdesign director helping lead its renaissance. “But pure design projects account for only about 15% of what we do. We do lots of behindthe-scenes engineering, can deliver turn-key cars and can even handle low-volume production. We’ve done 200-per-year runs in recent years and we have capacity for up to 500 cars.”
Perini is a fascinating character. A former client of Italdesign’s during his nine years at Lamborghini and 13 years at Alfa Romeo, he was the main man on the Alfa 8C Competizione but describes himself as “an odd kind of designer” because he trained as an engineer first.
When I arrive, there are two weeks to run until Geneva. All attention centres on the first Zerouno. Four cars are sold, but “maybe one” is still available to the squillionaire with slow reactions, says Bay.