If De Tomaso Automobili takes over Fiat's car plant in Sicily, the latest incarnation of the luxury brand will have control of three factories in Italy. That's a lot of capacity for a company that has yet to produce its first car.
The Italian government backs De Tomaso's plan for the Termini Imerese plant, which Fiat will close next year leaving 1,400 workers jobless in an area plagued by high unemployment.
To avoid layoffs at the plant, the Sicilian Regional government will provide 350 million euros (about $473 million) in subsidies to the new owner. The question is whether flamboyant De Tomaso boss Gianmario Rossignolo can deliver. Rossignolo, a 79-year-old former executive at Fiat and Swedish ball-bearings maker SKF, says he needs the Sicilian plant to add a small crossover and a premium city car to the De Tomaso lineup.
De Tomaso already has control of a former Delphi plant in Livorno and is renting a former Pininfarina plant in Grugliasco, near Turin. Salaries for the plants' combined 1,100 workers currently are paid by public funds. De Tomaso plans to invest 120 million euros to build 3,000 units a year each of large crossover, a sedan and a coupe at the factories.
De Tomaso says its first model will be a crossover, which will be unveiled in March at the Geneva auto show and go into production by July 2011.
Rossignolo's business plan looks very ambitious and his track record is poor. The De Tomaso project is his second attempt to revive a defunct Italian brand. About 15 years ago, he tried to restart Isotta Fraschini. An Audi-based Isotta Fraschini T8 was unveiled at the 1996 Geneva show, but it never entered production.
De Tomaso also has a checkered past. Founded by Argentine racecar driver Alejandro De Tomaso in 1959 in Modena, De Tomaso Modena S.p.A. is best known for the 1963 Vallelunga, 1966 Mangusta and 1970 Pantera. The company's financial struggles started in the late 1970s. Following several failed relaunches, De Tomaso Modena filed for bankruptcy in June 2004, a year after its founder died.
Rossignolo bought the brand from a bankruptcy sale. Let's hope Rossignolo and De Tomaso's chance at a new beginning doesn't result in another sad ending.