Why the final step towards becoming a car manufacturer is the hardest
Taking an ambitious look into the 2020s, Manifattura Automobili Torino is planning to launch its first independently developed model, which could bring the factory’s production rate up to 15–20 cars a year. While, following the cancelled Geneva Motor Show, MAT’s powertrain deal with General Motors may now be at risk, company president Paolo Garella’s decades of experience still suggests a strong business case. He’s been waiting for this moment long enough.
After former Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo decided in 2010 that there wasn’t a way in hell Maranello would supply Pininfarina with Ferrari F430 chassis for Michael and Maximilian Stoschek’s New Stratos project, the first prototype developed by Paolo Garella seemed doomed to remain a one-off. Ferrari just had to make sure that, while it slowly cut all business ties with the big design house that had been its partner since the 1950s, Stoschek’s team wouldn’t be able to produce a limited run of Lancia-shaped specials, cars that were clearly more exciting to drive—or even just to look at—than the Ferraris MAT intended to cut up for the specials.
Eight years, two V-8 Ferrari generations, and one replaced Luca di Montezemolo later, Paolo Garella’s Manifattura Automobili Torino announced that, with the blessing of the Stoschek family, the New Stratos had finally got the green light for a limited run of 25 cars, built by MAT near Turin.
Hitting the market roughly a decade after first shown, these still-F430-based models got significantly re-engineered under all the carbon fiber penned by Pininfarina in honor of Bertone’s original design, thus leaving the 2010 Stoschek car unique. The New Stratos cars also come after MAT developed the SCG 003 for James Glickenhaus and the Apollo IE for Hong Kong-based businessman Norman Choi, who since also revived the De Tomaso brand.
Glickenhaus’ first true series production models, the Boot and the SCG 004, are engineered by California’s Armada Engineering and Italy’s Podium Advanced Technologies instead of MAT, while the Apollo’s development and production landed at Mercedes-AMG’s favorite race car specialist HWA. Manifattura Automobili Torino moved on to get the Japanese Aspark Owl electric hypercar into shape, preparing it for limited series production next to the Stratos in Italy.
Last month, with Stratos #7 and #8 being completed next to a pair of 1984-horsepower Aspark Owl prototypes that were getting ready for some tire-smoking test runs at the Cremona Circuit, MAT chief Paolo Garella told me that while the EV’s extremely powerful drivetrain is a real challenge to perfect, the project will also leave MAT with plenty of know-how in this field. So far, MAT only sees the Owl’s competitors in the Rimac C_Two, and the Williams-powered Lotus Evija. Given the performance figures, newcomer Hispano Suiza doesn’t get to play in this field.
Detailing the Stratos, Garella also admitted that MAT still wouldn’t be able to produce the 25 cars if it weren’t for Michael Stoschek’s utmost attention to details during the original Pininfarina project, and the resources provided by his automotive supplier company Brose Fahrzeugteile. Apparently, the Stratos’ door assembly alone would have cost millions to commission, but it’s something that only took Stoschek a nod to his engineers at Brose. This level of dedication from the German billionaire racing enthusiast meant that in 2010, the Pininfarina-Brose team truly got further than the prototype stage, presenting a valid pre-production car to Ferrari.
Back in the ’90s, among plenty of other specials, Paolo Garella’s team at Pininfarina built Ferrari 456 convertibles, sedans, and wagons for the Brunei royals. Seven of each, finished to very high standards using “almost industrial” methods due to the high number of cars involved.
Yet that 21-vehicle run of Ferrari 456 Saloons, Spyders, and Venices in 1996 only gave Garella a taste of what it could be like to produce a real series car.
Many years and valuable lessons later, as MAT is turning the Stratos and a Japanese hyper-EV into reality, Paolo Garella’s mid-term goal is clearer than ever:
“We are trying to put together the necessary resources to become a real small car manufacturer. All we’ve done in the last five years has been quite challenging and very quick, but let’s say that we’ve not yet done something that is totally ours. The Stratos was a great project, but it was the project of Michael Stoschek, and the Askwark Owl is a car we develop for a third party. It was the same for Apollo [IE] or for Jim Glickenhaus [P4/5 Competizione, SCG 003]. So now, we’d really want to make our entry into this small world, because we’ve done it. We’ve done it for three or four companies now, and so I think it’s time to do it for ourselves. We think it would be between 15–20 cars per year. We are working on the business plan, on what I think is a very strong concept, but the key things are the resources. The company is doing well. With this electric car, we’ve gained a lot of competence, as we are one of the three companies in the world who’ve done an electric powertrain like this.”
MAT is planning to use GM’s Cadillac-exclusive 4.2-liter V-8 for its upcoming model, but that so-far unsigned deal is now all up in the air after GM sold its Turin-based R&D center to the Punch Group.
Either way this Italian-American negotiation ends, securing an emissions-compliant powertrain is far from the biggest question mark in a startup automaker’s business plan. If you don’t believe me, just ask the following gamblers from the last few years:
Spyker made more promises than cars since getting into financial trouble in 2014, and once CEO Victor Muller opted to go for complete radio silence, we knew these shiny concepts had nowhere to go.
I’ve talked to TVR boss Les Edgar and chassis engineer Gordon Murray, who all seemed very positive about the Griffith in 2017. Three years later and with a factory that’s not yet built, you tell me if Edgar can keep this going.
I drove the Rp1 prototype in 2015, and it was as exciting as a track special should be. Clever engineering with a carbon tub producing sufficient downforce, and Ecoboost power for reliability. Unfortunately, no news since 2018.
A prototype created under new leadership and sent to Goodwood in 2016, followed by liquidation in 2020 after 73 years on Kensington High Street.
Another British venture that seems to be purely a hobby project for Felix Eaton, who likes to re-body one series-production luxury car after the other. No shame in that.
A modular EV platform from the son of Ferdinand Piëch, and his team of experts. No Tesla just yet.