After numerous announcements, delays and financial problems, the former manufacturer of the mighty Pantera sports car is on the brink of bankruptcy (again), after running up debts of more than 20 million Euros.
The latest chapter in the De Tomaso Automobili SpA story began in 2009 when the Rossignolo family, led by industrialist Gian Mario Rossignolo, purchased De Tomaso from the bankruptcy courts and led a 116 million euro investment to produce 3 new models by 2013.
A prototype of the SLS crossover was produced for the Geneva motor show (similar in form to the BMW 5 Series GT), whilst a production target of around 3,000 units per year was talked about.
And then it all went pear-shaped.
Rossignolo failed to bring on board additional investors and soon was unable to pay the rent on the former Pininfarina factory.
Rossignolo himself has refused to take any responsibility for the problems, blaming the municipality of Grugliasco for raising the rent on the premises. Likewise the Italian Piemonte region was supposed to contribute 11 million euros to the project, but according to Rossignolo’s son, Gian Mario, this money has never materialised.
So in December last year the company announced it had licensed a Chinese company to produce the Deauville (SLS) model – a deal which would bring in 12 million euros for the Rossignolo family.
All went quiet again, until two months ago, when Chinese investment group Hotyork, announced that it had bought the Rossignolo family shares for 70 million euros, with their president, Qiu Kunjian, saying “we intend to develop the existing production plants in Italy (Livorno and Turin), ensuring the maintenance of all current jobs”, however no money has yet been received and creditors have since lost their patience.
Workers have not been paid in months, which led one man, Giacomo Ricaldone, to chain himself in protest to the gates of Gian Mario Rossignolo’s Moncalieri property, in the hills above Turin.
The Italian government has stepped in to provide emergency relief to the company’s 1,000 workers, but this amounts to little more than a compensation payment for being made unemployed. The last hope is for a buyer to be found who can actually put money on the table, rather than the string of false promises that have beset the car maker since the beginning.
Mercedes Bresso, the former governor of the Piedmont Region, who rented the former Pininfarina plant to Rossignolo in 2009, chose not to mince his words recently, saying “Rossignolo has proven to be a crook”.
A spokesperson for Italian trade union UIL said in a statement last week, “The region informed us that it has initiated contacts with several automobile manufacturers, including BMW, to discuss the sale of the factory in order to re-start production”. However a BMW spokesperson told Reuters last week, “BMW has no interest in the De Tomaso brand or in its sites”.
Bankruptcy is now an inevitable conclusion to this story, as the De Tomaso revival has become something of a poison chalice, with enough political scandal to make even former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi blush.
Perhaps it’s best we remember De Tomaso as it used to be, and there’s no better symbol of its finer days than the classic Pantera.
Photo credita: GTBlogger.com, Torino Today