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Italian automotive design house Pininfarina will continue to expand its team in China despite the market slowdown, CEO Silvio Pietro Angori said.

Pininfarina has about 700 employees globally, including 50 in China. It plans to increase its China head count to 80 this year.

“Although it is declining, the market is so large and there are still a lot of new cars being developed. So I don’t expect any decline in our business,” Angori told  Automotive News China  last week at the Shanghai auto show.

Local carmakers are driving the firm’s business growth in China. In the past two years, Pininfarina has doubled its total of auto design clients in China.

The clients include traditional Chinese carmakers such as Chery Automobile Co., Changan Automobile Co., GAC Motor Co., Jianghuai Automobile Co. and Southeast Motor Co., as well as electric vehicle startups such as Hybrid Kinetic Group.

At the auto show, Pininfarina presented two new concept cars –- an electric luxury sedan prototype for Chinese-backed California EV maker Karma Automotive, and a concept car for Chinese fuel cell vehicle startup Grove Hydrogen Automotive Co.

Pininfarina opened a studio in Shanghai in 2010. “We design eight to 14 new cars for Chinese clients per year, with half of them designed in China and the other half in Italy,” Angori said. 

In contrast to the slumping sales of gasoline-powered vehicles, electrified vehicle deliveries have stayed robust in China. Sales of EVs, plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles across the country soared 110 percent year on year to approach 300,000 in the first quarter of this year. 

As a result, the new vehicles Pininfarina has designed for Chinese customers lately are almost all electrified, Angori said.

Pininfarina started designing vehicles for Chinese automakers in the 1990s. Over the years, he said, Chinese car manufacturers’ understanding of car design has matured.

He added, “Ten years ago, they would like us to design an Audi [look-alike] or a BWM [look-alike], but now they want designs that express their identity or character.”

Pininfarina to expand China team despite market downturn