Published on July 15th, 2014 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez0
Bertone Bankrupt, Has This 102 Year Old Car Design Company Gone
News finally emerged last week that the Italian design house Bertone was declared officially bankrupt. The decision came after the company failed to present a credible plan or a buyer that would justify keeping Stile Bertone alive in the interest of its many debtors, despite a more than 6-month effort to do so. Stile Bertone, the last enclave of the heritage left here by Nuccio Bertone, son of founder Giovanni Bertone. Designing iconic cars that you might still see on the road from Alfa, Audi, Fiat, Lamborghini and even Volvo this is indeed a sad way for this design house to come to an end.
Italian automobile, transport and industrial design house Bertone was founded in 1912 as a carriage construction and repair shop but has been responsible for some of the most cutting-edge car designs seen over the last century.
According to well-placed sources, Stile Bertone has accumulated some USD42 million in debt in less than five years, despite an increasing workload that generated sales of some USD19.7 million in 2010, according to the last official financial statement made public.
The reaction to the Court decision has been nearly universal, with industry insiders still expressing hope a white knight will emerge to keep the storied operation alive.
The price to pay would not be high, because there isn’t much left to sell. Bertone’s car collection can be sold only as a complete collection and must stay that way because it is classified as an “historic national heritage” in Italy. Other than that there’s the land and buildings and what is left of the business, itself, if anything.
Even the Bertone brand is not among the company’s assets, because Stile Bertone’s rights to the famous name and logo expires at the end of the year and any desire to continue its use would have to be renegotiated with owner Bertone Cento, controlled equally by Ermelinda Cortese (Lilli Bertone) and Bertone CEO Marco Fillippa.
Bertone Cento recently licensed all rights to the Bertone name and logo for use on anything other than automobiles to a newly established company, Bertone Design, based in Milan.
The ideal Stile Bertone buyer would be another company already involved in automotive design and engineering or a global automaker that could funnel an adequate amount of development work to the Turin-based design firm.
Volkswagen’s successful experience in acquiring Italdesign could serve as encouragement to another German or Chinese automaker, although that appears to be an extreme long shot. Under VW, Italdesign has experienced growth and taken on even more ambitious design programs.
Among automakers that have commissioned Stile Bertone more recently are BMW and China-based BAIC, FAW, JMC and Chery Cars. Some of those clients already have moved over to Bertone Design in Milano, however.Audi has a rich history with Bertone. Cars like the C1 Audi Coupe S, the Audi 50, the NSU Sport Prinz and NSU Wankel Spyder can be credited to the styling house, while Lamborghini enjoys an even more storied Bertone-penned portfolio including the Miura, the Countach, the Espada, the Jarama and the Diablo.
Early this year, there were at least a dozen companies associated with Bertone (or with Bertone stakeholders or executives involved) registered in Italy, Switzerland, Luxembourg, China and the U.S. The maze is so complex and confusing it makes it nearly impossible to sort out what went wrong at the design house during the past few years. Off the record, many employees tell of horror stories and business-related disasters during their time with the firm.
Can Bertone be saved? It depends on the business model and also who purchases the company. No buyer has yet been announced, though there is a rumour that points to a Turkish firm and a price of USD2.7 million which we can say is a price that seems quite reasonable given all of the heritage and the assets on hand.