Turin's famed independent styling studios are designing Fiats, Lancias and Alfa Romeos once again after a decade in which almost all new Fiat Auto cars were designed in-house.
So far the big winner is Italdesign-Giugiaro, the Turin studio headed by legendary designer Giorgetto Giugiaro.
"In the past years, we had been a little bit too arrogant, thinking that we were able to do everything by ourselves," said Nevio di Giusto, head of product development for the Fiat/Lancia/Light Commercial Vehicles business unit.
"Recently, we have been more open to proposals from the design houses," he said, "not only in terms of styling new products, but also for new vehicle concept ideas."
Many of the cars from Fiat's Centro Stile studio in recent years have sold poorly. Disappointing sales of the Stilo, which was designed in-house, is one reason Fiat faces deep financial troubles. The company's new top management team, led by managing director Giancarlo Boschetti, is now putting much more faith in external designers.
"We never stopped working with Fiat Auto, but the new management is much more open to our proposals," said Giugiaro. "The last time I had real creative freedom from Fiat was for the first Punto, launched in 1993. After that they asked me to design what was already in their mind.
"I didn't feel any trust from them. We were doing proposals, but not getting any response. When we made our styling model for the Alfa Romeo 156, we discovered what they took and changed only when the car was publicly introduced."
Fiat Auto has always included external designers in styling competitions. But in-house proposals usually prevailed during the 1990s. Former Fiat Auto Managing Director Paolo Cantarella was convinced that only the internal styling centers could deliver a clear brand image. That has now changed.
"We were discussing a new model for Alfa Romeo and Giancarlo Boschetti really liked the car, but he felt it was probably too aggressive," said Giugiaro, who besides the first Punto, also did the Panda, Uno and Croma. "But at the end he said, 'If you are convinced you're right go ahead.'"
Ultimately the car, the new 156 due in early 2005, received the best score in clinics in the entire history of Fiat Auto, according to Giugiaro.
The arrival of Boschetti was also good news for Carrozzeria Bertone, which worked with him during his years as head of Fiat SpA's Iveco commercial vehicles unit. Bertone's studio designed the new generation of Iveco's EuroCargo heavy trucks that will debut next year.
Bertone had been virtually cut off from Fiat Auto for several years before former I.DE.A Institute executive Roberto Piatti was hired by the late Nuccio Bertone in September 1996 to run the Stile Bertone design center.
"He asked me to try to rebuild a relationship with Fiat Auto on the design side," said Piatti. "At that time we were producing the Punto cabriolet, but for a number of years we had not been involved in any design project."