Rome - Andrea Pininfarina, head of the family 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 officer of the company founded in 1930. He was the grandson of the founder, Battista "Pinin" Farina. His death prompted speculation on the market ownership could change control quickly.
"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," said Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, chairman of Fiat and Ferrari in a statement.
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 with three children.
The Pininfarina SpA company has designed iconic Ferraris such as the Dino and Testarossa, Alfa Romeo cars for Fiat and the Focus marque for Ford.
It boasts of "Experience, Creativity, Innovation" on its website, 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 ownership - currently in the hands of the family with a 55% stake - could quickly change.
The price of shares in the company jumped so high they had to be suspended in Milan for excessive gains and were indicated up over 13% pending a resumption of trade.
"The market thinks that ownership change will speed up," said one trader.
The family already plans to cut its stake to around 30% through a sale of shares which the company hopes will raise 100 million euros ($155 million) which will 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 losses to 9.7 million euros in the first quarter from 9.9 million in the same period a year ago.