The replacement for the B-segment Lancia Ypsilon (above) which is due in a little over a year’s time could be shared with Chrysler, with the new co-operation continuing through the Sebring-replacing 200C (middle) and all the way to the replacement for Chrysler’s full-size 300 sedan, which would form a replacement for a flagship executive model which Lancia has lacked since the slow-selling Thesis (top) was discontinued at the beginning of the year.

Fiat’s plans for the three Chrysler Group brands are becoming clearer by the day. And while it was recently revealed that Dodge will be closely tied up with Alfa Romeo in the future, it is now emerging how the Chrysler brand will link up with Fiat’s Lancia unit. This plan took a step towards realisation with the appointment ten days ago of Lancia CEO Olivier Francois to the additional role of Chrysler CEO.

Lancia and Chrysler are set to share products in the future. Although the precise makeup of the ranges remains unclear, it could range from the replacement for the B-segment Lancia Ypsilon (due in a little over a year’s time), all the way to the replacement for Chrysler’s full-size 300 sedan, which would form a replacement for a flagship executive model which Lancia has lacked since the slow-selling Thesis was discontinued at the beginning of the year.  The plan also includes a Lancia version of the replacement for the American marque’s Sebring replacement, the 200C, and speculation has also suggested a Chrysler version of the Delta.

In Europe, Lancia and Chrysler will share supply chain, distribution and retail operations. With Chrysler’s European sales having slumped to a negligible amount over the last year it will involve a large amount of work to keep the brand viable, but it is understood that the model-sharing process is designed to help in this respect.

Fiat have gone some way towards laying out the groundwork for Chrysler’s future in recent days by splitting the truck, commercial vehicle and minivan unit away from Dodge’s car manufacturing operations into a standalone ‘Ram’ brand, while last month the now-departed Chrysler CEO Peter Fong stated that the carmaker would be positioned “a notch above Cadillac, a notch above Lincoln”, the upscale divisions of the other two members of the Detroit ‘Big Three’, GM and Ford, respectively.

Fiat’s acquisition of an initial 20 per cent stake in Chrysler Group in June, which can be raised higher once a series of targets are met, has ironically assured the medium-term survival of the 103-year-old Lancia brand. At the height of the bidding frenzy over Opel earlier this summer, leaked Fiat documents made it clear that if it was successful it would have wound down the Lancia brand, and the plan that would have unfolded under this scenario would have been an upscale collaboration involving Chrysler-Opel.

Francois is generally regarded as having done a good job at Lancia with limited resources and a compact model range, consisting of just three models, with the long-running Ypsilon and Musa being both based on the floorpan of the last-generation ‘188’ Fiat Punto, while the distinctively-styled Fiat Bravo-based Delta, which straddles C/D-segment, joined the range just over a year ago. Lancia has also ridden out the effects of the economic downturn, which have battered the car industry, remarkably effectively.

As well as becoming CEO of both Lancia and Chrysler a week and a half ago, Francois, who joined Fiat Group in 2005 from Citroën Italia where he was CEO, will also retain his marketing responsibility for all the Fiat Group Automobiles brands: Fiat, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Fiat Professional and Abarth. Francois’ background is in marketing. Added to this, the Frenchman will now oversee marketing, brand development and advertising duties for the Chrysler Group brands: Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and the new Ram truck unit.

Intriguingly, while Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has made it clear that the Bertone factory in Grugliasco, Turin – recently purchased by Fiat from the receivers – will be used to build niche models for the Chrysler Group brands’ to sell on the European markets, it will also build future cars for Lancia. Fiat has said that it will terminate the vehicle assembly contracts Chrysler has with Austrian contract manufacturer Magna International, the firm that gained control of GM’s Opel division ahead of the Italian carmaker in the summer after a bitter and protracted battle, and this leaves the way clear for the state-of-the-art Bertone plant to build the eventual replacement for the MY 2011 Chrysler 300, with the same production line also set to build a derivative of this model to slot in as a new Lancia flagship.

© 2009 Interfuture Media/Italiaspeed