15.08.2005 With Lancia's long-term future now assured, and with a bold - yet realistic - business plan in place, the news Lancisti have dreamed of is ready to happen: the 'Fulvietta' proposal is back on the table

Lancia is diverting on a fresh new course in terms of promotion and brand identity under Fiat Auto. Ever since the 1990's, Lancia has played the lesser role within Fiat Auto's marketing strategy - hit hard by the parent company's financial troubles. The fact that development of new Fiat, Alfa Romeo and light commercial (LCV) models has taken precedence over expanding Lancia's (rather narrow) lineup has also marred Lancia's situation. Although the current model range is relatively youthful (the eldest model being the Thesis, displayed for the first time at the 2001 Geneva Motor Show and going on sale in mid-2002), this does not tell the full story, for when Sergio Marchionne took personal charge of Fiat Auto in February this year, Lancia had no new projects officially signed-off for production. Given the extensive lead times involved in developing new cars, this was not a promising sign for the 99-year-old marque. It is this fact which makes the recent industrial plan such a pleasant surprise, as it displays a clear recognition of the fundamental value of the Lancia brand to Fiat's future.

Lancia's neglect had started under Fiat CEO Paolo Canterella stewardship - the Italian always having little interest in the brand - while matters in fact got worse under Herbert Demel's brief tenure as the Austrian planned to kill off Lancia completely, a decision which was overruled at the time by the Fiat Group CEO, Sergio Marchionne. The runaway success of the latest Ypsilon model - which arrived two years ago - helped the brand to survive and 'tick over' during its wilderness years, while against the odds, sales starting to grind upwards. Marchionne let it be known that he valued the Lancia brand name, and once the dynamic Italian-Canadian assumed responsibility for the Auto Division, its importance seemed to be slightly more assured.

Marchionne's  plan, presented in early August to the government and unions, includes 23 new models and 20 facelifts, which have either been confirmed or are yet to be announced for production between now and 2008. Three of these are surprising brand-new additions to the Lancia range and three are facelifts of existing Lancia models. This means that by the end of 2007 the entire Lancia product range (with the exception of the Thesis flagship) will have been newly launched or facelifted within a two-year period.


Although Fiat has been fighting back, slashing losses and launching an array of new models, it is fair to say that the amount of resources allocated to the development of these new Lancias is still quite limited. As a result, Marchionne’s plan revolves around revitalising Lancia with a minimum of extra investment by deriving the new products from mainstream Fiats. It is believed that Marchionne has multiple goals with this new-model offensive – not only to boost Lancia’s performance across Europe (more than 80% of Lancias are currently sold in Italy), but to try to make use of underused capacity and avoid plant closures.

One of the highlights for Fiat Auto over the past couple of years has been Lancia’s revival in the sales charts. Spearheaded by the Ypsilon 'supermini' and Musa 'mini-MPV', Lancia’s sales have consistently improved year-on-year, proving that despite the lack of investment the brand itself is still strong and a worthwhile asset for Fiat to nurture and develop in coming years. Although developed on a shoestring budget of just 60 million euros, the Musa is a good example of the way in which the low-cost, high-return revival plan has been successfully implemented. Taking the Fiat Idea as a starting point, the design team found centrally-mounted instruments (as on the Ypsilon) already in place, while the exterior (especially in profile) offered, in the words of Marco Tencone (chief exterior designer on the Musa), “a lot that lent itself to ‘Lanciarisation’”. Whilst Idea sales are lagging slightly below expectations, the Musa has outperformed sales targets, selling nearly 20,000 units in the first six months of this year against a goal of 30,000 for the full year.


Following this success, the next product to undergo such ‘Lanciarisation’ is the forthcoming Fiat Sedici ‘crossover’. This announcement came as a particular surprise, as there had been no inkling of such a project prior to the presentation. The Fiat Sedici is expected to use 1.5 (99bhp) and 1.6 (107bhp) petrol engines developed by Suzuki, along with the new 120bhp 1.9 8V and 150bhp 16V Multijet diesels (already found in the Alfa 147, 159 and Fiat Croma) coupled to a six-speed manual or automatic gearbox. In a similar fashion to the Musa, the Lancia variant is expected to forego the smallest-capacity option, in this case the 1.5 petrol, in keeping with the brand’s more upmarket positioning.

This crossover is expected to debut in 2006, while also on the cards for the marque’s centenary next year is a facelift for the Ypsilon.

Lancia Ypsilon
Lancia Phedra

Sergio Marchionne's new blueprint for Lancia's long-term future calls for a facelift of the Ypsilon (top) next year, with the Phedra MPV (above) receiving similar  treatment  in  2007

Lancia Pangea

Lancia will re-engineer the imminent Fiat-Suzuki 'crossover' 4x4, to create a distinct brand vehicle, building on the success of the Musa, which itself is based  on  the  Fiat  Idea

Lancia "Fulvietta" concept car

The 'Fulvietta' concept car stunned onlookers on its debut at the Frankfurt IAA two years ago - and caused widespread dismay when the project was shelved - now the project is being reconsidered to give Lancia a prestige 'niche'  product

Although few details are known at this stage, it can be expected that it will share styling cues with the Musa facelift, at this stage pencilled in for 2007, given that the two share many basic design details (including identical headlamps) and the fact that this family likeness has been key in building Lancia’s brand image and equity. At the same time, a facelift for the full-size Phedra MPV will allow it to remain competitive in the face of forthcoming strong opposition, not only from Renault’s existing Grand Espace, but new market entrants including Mercedes-Benz (with its R-Class) and BMW (V5). Despite this, the Phedra V6 is soon to be discontinued in December.


The big news for Lancia in 2007, however, will be the launch of the third-generation Delta, a car eagerly awaited by fans of the marque ever since the passing of the last generation in 1999. To share the platform and basic suspension layout of the 2006 Fiat Stilo (itself a development of the current Stilo’s CDH spaceframe chassis), it looks set to be built alongside it at the highly-automated Cassino plant under the supervision of Austrian engineering giant Magna Steyr, increasing viability and spreading risk. In-line with market trends, diesels are expected to figure prominently in the new car’s engine range, with the 1.9 Multijet in newly-launched 120bhp and 150bhp Euro 4 versions expected to account for a significant chunk of sales. The car is rumoured to overlap C- and D-segments (in the process creating a de facto replacement for the Lybra), and its design will combine elegant and stylish design cues with a sporting brief, in similar fashion to the widely-acclaimed 2003 Granturismo Stilnovo concept car. This return to sporting values reiterates a point outlined in no uncertain terms by the aggressively-detailed Ypsilon Sport concept car unveiled at Geneva this year.


Fortunately for fans of Lancia’s proud competition heritage, this change in focus does not end there. Speculation has surrounded the image-building ‘niche’ product outlined in Marchionne’s plan, with many observers believing it to be a resurrection of the ‘Fulvietta’ concept which was first displayed at the Frankfurt IAA in September 2003. That particular car was based on a Fiat Barchetta platform and although major efforts were made to put the car into production, the plan ultimately fell through as a result of financial issues, coupled to problems being faced at the time by coachbuilder Maggiora (who were slated to build the car alongside the Barchetta).

It is known that some time after the pin was officially pulled on the Fulvia, Lancia submitted a modified proposal which saw the Fulvia going into production on either a modified Stilo spaceframe chassis, or alternatively, that of the new Grande Punto.  Although these plans, too, fell through, it is plausible to expect that any future resurrection of the Fulvia project would be on the all-new 199 platform, as this should offer a greater ability to provide the levels of ride and handling demanded in today’s marketplace than the ageing (albeit still capable) Barchetta chassis. Whatever happens, it is certain that the principles which guided the original concept will remain – light weight, a focus on the driver, and above all, a pure relationship between driver and car uncorrupted by so-called ‘driver aids’.

It might have been a tough few years for the famous Turin carmaker, but as it approaches its centenary, the prospects for Lancia are looking up. In a world where styling is playing an increasing role in car buying trends, Lancia’s traditional blend of beauty, elegance, modernity and distinctiveness – evidenced by both the current range, as well as concepts such as the Stilnovo and Fulvia – is a priceless asset which offers much scope for development of the marque. With a rediscovery of its sporting genes as well, the future seems bright for one of motoring’s most noble names.

by Shant Fabricatorian

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