Chinese Beijing Automotive Industry Company (BAIC) is the latest foreign auto group to be linked to a takeover of Italy's Pininfarina.

News of renewed activity around the majority stake put up for sale by the Italian design group sent shares to a 17-month high.

Pininfarina released a statement saying that it is still gathering "possible offers from potential buyers," adding it would release more information when it was appropriate.

With a history dating back to 1930, Pininfarina is now one of the major suppliers of design, product and process engineering and manufacturing of niche vehicles on the automotive scene. The company has facilities in Italy, Germany, Sweden, Morocco and China.

In November, three other Chinese automakers were among ten bidders reported to be interested in Pininfarina. Beijing Automobile Works and Mahindra Group topped the list followed by Brilliance Auto, Jianghuai Automobile (JAW), Bajaj and Magna International.

The sale of a majority stake in the design company was announced in August last year, when the family owners hired Italy's Banca Leonardo to sell their majority stake. A 50.7% stake held by Pincar, the Pininfarina family company, is on the block as part of a debt agreement made with banks at the end of 2008.

Company sources said the family will not sell its entire stake but that Pincar would no longer be a majority shareholder.