TURIN - Most teenagers are vague about what they want to do in life. A few make their crucial career decision early. At 16, Mike Robinson knew what he wanted to do and where he wanted to work.
'I was going to be an architect,' says Robinson, Lancia's chief designer. 'Then one day in high school in LA a boy brought in poster of a car.
'It was the Lancia Stratos Prototype Zero. The windshield lifted to become the door, and I was transfixed by the design. I had no idea where Lancia came from, but something went off in my head and I just knew I wanted to be a part of the world that produced that car.'
Robinson is a husky man, physical, a basketball player who plays in the snow and on the water. And like many top designers, Robinson thinks in great leaps.
At Lancia, he's not as interested in creating the next Kappa as he is in creating 'a new school of thought, to find something that has not been done before: a new interface, a new dialogue between the automobile and the occupant that produces a higher quality of life.'
He believes the Dialogos, the concept car Lancia presented at the Turin auto show earlier this year, will bring to Lancia what the Alfa Romeo 156 has brought that brand - new life in the marketplace and to the company.
'People were all over the Dialogos at the Turin show,' said Robinson.
'It reflects my own enthusiasms - Italian culture, Renaissance sculpture and especially Bernini, 1930s interiors - but it is our reference point for the future.'
The new Kappa, coming in 2000, is the child of the Dialogos. 'We shall be doing everything possible to put what is in Dialogos into production Lancias,' he said. 'The similarities will be apparent.'
The Dialogos is sleek, open, full of future technology.
'I create the concept, and my team of 15 turns the concept into reality,' says Robinson. His team is young, enthusiastic 'and it includes two women,' a rarity in Europe.
The school of thought he is trying to create is, 'psychological comfort, no needles pointing in your eyes, as little physical value as possible. We have integrated radios into the facia design, for example. The next generation of controls will be 100 percent vocal. There will be no visible radios.
'In fact we are looking for invisible design, and I want to be part of the team that designs this invisible interaction that allows us to enjoy more of what we have around us - design that concentrates on the needs of the occupant, not on the needs of the factory or even the needs of the designer.
'We are looking for design that redefines luxury and says to the owner: You got what you wanted because you are important.'
Robinson believes that psychological comfort 'will be the objective of the third millennium.'
The carmakers in northern Europe 'are top of the world in mechanical perfection,' he says, but the industry is moving from the mechanical approach towards the humanistic.
'We, in southern Europe, want to be the first to work on psychological perfection, and Lancia is going to help people to understand it.'
Robinson started his design ambition with the Lancia Stratos Prototype Zero in front of his eyes. He came to Italy and found himself in a design office in Orbano, working for Lancia.
One day he told Nuccio Bertone about his early experience with the poster. Bertone ordered a delivery to Robinson's office.
'It was that car from the poster,' says Robinson, cherishing the moment. 'The very car.'
Robinson drove the Stratos on a test track and put it in a glass case in the office where he could look at it constantly.
'It was a dream come true,' he says. 'I would stroke it to feel the soul of the marque. For me Lancia has always represented something very special in car design. I am just one of a lot of people who want Lancia to regain the style and status it once had.'