MILAN Andrea Pininfarina, head of the company which designs Ferraris, Fiats and the Ford Focus, died in a road crash in the early hours of Thursday near the Italian city of Turin, riding his Vespa scooter.
Pininfarina, 51, was chairman and chief executive of the company founded in 1930. He was the grandson of founder Battista "Pinin" Farina and his death prompted speculation that the entrance of new investors will speed up, sending its shares sharply higher.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said in a statement Pininfarina was "the representative of a dynasty that helped bring the story of 'made in Italy' to the world".
Fiat and Ferrari Chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo praised his business acumen.
"Italy, Turin and the Fiat group have lost a business figure who knew how to follow and develop the work of his grandfather Pinin and his father Sergio," Montezemolo said in a statement.
The driver of the car, 78-year-old Giuliano Salmi, was taken to hospital suffering from shock.
"I didn't see him, I was going slowly and I really didn't see him," Salmi said, according to local news agency Ansa.
Andrea Pininfarina was born in Turin, the centre of Italy's car industry, on June 26, 1957 and joined the family business in 1983 after gaining a degree in mechanical engineering.
He was married to Italian aristocrat Cristina Maddalena Pellion di Persano and they had three children.
ART AND DESIGN
Pininfarina SpA, which designed Ferraris such as the Dino and Testarossa, boasts of "Experience, Creativity, Innovation" on its Website www.pininfarina.com, where it says it is a company of "art, design, innovation. The cars of kings."
News of the chief executive's death prompted market speculation that its ownership -- currently in the hands of the family with a 55 percent stake -- could quickly change.
The shares jumped so high they had to be suspended in Milan for excessive gains and were indicated up over 13 percent pending a resumption of trade.
"The market thinks that ownership change will speed up," said one trader.
The family had already planned to cut its stake to around 30 percent through a sale of shares, which the company hopes will raise 100 million euros ($155 million) to be used to develop a new electric car to be launched in 2009.
French financier Vincent Bollore could take part, investing up to 30 million euros.
Other potential investors include the son of Ferrari's founder and Indian industrialist Ratan Tata.
Pininfarina agreed a deal with its creditor banks last week which temporarily exempted it from repayments on 600 million euros of debt while it restructures its finances.
It has tried to cut costs as the economic downturn hits car makers and narrowed its loss to 9.7 million euros in the first quarter, from 9.9 million in the same period a year ago.
(Additional reporting by Francesca Piscioneri in Rome and Alessandra Farina in Milan; Editing by Greg Mahlich and David Holmes)