Stile Bertone, the Italian design consultancy, is to split from its defunct production arm and embark on an independent future with a new management board and business plan, rubber-stamped this week.

Former Aprilia CEO Teresio Gaudio is heading up the revitalised business, which has been caught up in the collapse of its sister-company Carrozzeria Bertone and been dogged by internal feuding amongst the Bertone family.

The family has set aside its differences and agreed a new ownership structure that also vests all day-to-day decision-making into the hands of Gaudio as the new managing director.

"We will now start to re-establish and market Bertone to the world's carmakers as one of the premium design and engineering centres in the world," Gaudio told just-auto.

The vital meeting took place last Monday. Under the new structure, Nuccio Bertone's widow Lilly retains her 49.5%, but a second family holding company, LIMBE, which owns the remaining 50.5%, is now under the control of the Italian courts.

"For at least two to three years and maybe more," said Gaudio.

LIMBE was jointly owned by Lilly and her two daughters and disagreement with one of the daughters meant that a new strategy couldn't be voted through the board.

Gaudio, a 70-year old auto industry veteran who once ran horn supplier Fiam, has a new business plan with two obvious prongs - to cut overheads and increase revenue.

Stile Bertone's workforce has already been reduced from 130 in July 2007 to 95 today. It will go down to 80 by the year's end.

All of these jobs will go in the fabrication departments, as part of a plan to win more high-value design and engineering work rather than prototype-building and one-offs.

"We will still do this type of work, but the global car industry needs less of it," said Gaudio.

A key aim will be to find a carmaker in emerging markets to fill the gap left by China's Chery.

Gaudio said some of Stile Bertone's current troubles can be traced back to 2006 with the loss of Chery contracts. When former boss Roberto Piatti left to set-up Torino Design, Chery went with him.

Stile Bertone has been unprofitable since 2005 and it won't be in the black until 2010, according to Gaudio, despite the new business plan.

"We will have to work hard to win new contracts and it's a tough business. Western carmakers are only using consultants to add temporary capacity. The real need for creative thinking is in Asia — China and India — where our expertise is really valued."

Stile Bertone is in the midst of two Chinese contracts together worth EUR3.3m. One is with Chang'An for exterior and interior design of a small sedan and another a new truck for CAMC. Another new project is on the go for a Turkish truckmaker.

It recently finished a truck for Tata of India, and built the Saab 9-4X concept for the Detroit show.

The future of Carrozzeria still hangs in the balance while the Italian courts auction off the site with the aim of finding a buyer who will also re-employ its 1300-strong workforce. In the meantime all the staff are being paid by the Italian social security system.

Seven bidders are said to be vying for the business, including Chinese company First Auto Works and Italdesign.

The factory last built a car when the final Mini Cooper JCW GP rolled-off the line in 2007. It has theoretical capacity for 70,000 units.

Julian Rendell