Lancia and Chrysler will share the underpinnings for new flagship sedans due next year. Chrysler's current 300C model's LX platform (bottom) will provide the basis while for Lancia the new model will replace its now-discontinued Thesis (top).


The new Lancia Ypsilon (seen above from a Fiat Group presentation slide) is due in 2011 and is based on the forthcoming Fiat 500 Giardiniera platform, featuring a 240cm wheelbase.

2011 CHRYSLER 300C
2011 CHRYSLER 300C

The new 2011 Chrysler 300C (top) has recently been shown in presentational slides while its dashboard (bottom) will be one of the areas of the car to be reworked by Lancia Centro Stile before it joins the Lancia range.

Just months after it once again faced the axe, Lancia’s fortunes have abruptly turned around, and yesterday in Turin two new models were signed off that will put the famous 103-year-old marque on the pathway to becoming a full-range car company. With a new Ypsilon in the pipeline and further Chrysler-based models under consideration, Lancia's current four-model range is set to expand quickly over the next few years.

The turnaround in Lancia's status within the Fiat Group has been quite remarkable, but its latest rebirth is thanks to Fiat's failure to take control of GM’s Opel/Vauxhall division. In the early summer, Fiat's plan called for an upmarket luxury tie-up between its newly-acquired Chrysler brand and Vauxhall/Opel that would be aided by European government loans, a situation that would have delivered instant volumes in Europe. However the rebuffing of Fiat's approach to GM and the German government in favour of rival bidder Magna International left the Italian carmaker with either the option of a global roll-out of the Chrysler brand, or to slot Lancia into the markets outside North America. With the Chrysler brand having slid into niche status in the US and with its market share having collapsed below two percent, the volumes that would come with a global approach were necessary if Fiat's plans to upscale the American brand are to prove profitable. Chrysler suffers from a distinctly downmarket image in Europe, and this, coupled with Lancia’s recent relative success on its home market, was enough to give the nod to the Torinese marque.

This was in fact Lancia's second narrow escape from closure in five years: when Sergio Marchionne took over the leadership of the Fiat Group, Lancia had already been pegged for closure by the outgoing Fiat Auto CEO Herbert Demel, and it was only saved from the chop due to the need to keep volumes up at a time when Fiat's overall sales were at rock bottom.

The ‘new’ Lancia will hurriedly swap platforms with Chrysler and vice-versa. First up for Lancia will be a lightly retouched version of Chrysler's revised flagship 300 series (due out next year), which will replace the discontinued Thesis sedan in the European showrooms. The 300 rides on Chrysler’s LX platform, and upgrades to these underpinnings, which will debut on the new generation, were initiated under Chrysler's previous owners.  Although Fiat's senior management are unhappy with the project, it is now too far gone to turn back. “I won't even tell you the amount of money that the [next-generation] 300 platform costs," Marchionne said during Wednesday's marathon briefing on the future of the American carmaker. "You'd be shocked out of your pants, but it's done and life will move on." He added that if he had been offered the choice to reinvest in the LX platform, “then the answer is probably no."

Engineering changes taking place to the LX floorpan include a revised suspension, greater stiffness and crash protection, improved component quality and an overall weight reduction of around 40-50 kg, but bigger revisions are being compromised by the need to get the new 300 into the showrooms as quickly as possible and halt a rapid sales slide. Internally at Fiat, the revised architecture has been dubbed ‘E-Evo’. Launch engines will include Chrysler’s new ‘Pentastar’ V6 and a 4-litre diesel, while Fiat Powertrain Technologies' revolutionary new MultiAir technology (delivering up to 280bhp from the petrol V6) will be available after the launch, as will a range of four-cylinder turbodiesels. The new range-topping sedan will be available only with automatic transmissions, supplied by Mercedes-Benz. In the interests of speed to market the interior will remain essentially unchanged, with attention being paid only to fitting higher-quality finishing components.

With Chrysler projecting around 80,000 sales a year for the facelifted 300 series when it hits the market, considerably less than half the sales that the model managed during its best year on the market in 2005, Lancia targets weighing in with 15,000 units per year that will take combined platform volumes close to the 100,000 barrier. The new Lancia will not be positioned as a rival to the three prestige German brands, but instead will go up against cars such as the Volvo S80 and Lexus GS.

The second model to be signed off yesterday in Turin was a new C-segment compact sedan that will slot in below the Delta. Referred to as ‘C-Evo Sport’, the new model will be sold as both a Lancia and Chrysler from 2012, and ride on Fiat’s eponymous new C-segment platform, which will debut next year under the new Alfa Romeo Milano. Engines will include Fiat’s 1.4 MultiAir Turbo and 1.6 and 2.0 MultiJet diesels. The car will be cheaper than the Delta, but more expensive than Lancia’s most important new product, the next Ypsilon.

This crucial model is due in 2011 and is based on the forthcoming Fiat 500 Giardiniera platform, featuring a 240cm wheelbase. The three launch engines will be the new SGE twin-cylinder 900cc petrol, 1.4 litre MultiAir petrol and 1.3 MultiJet II diesel engine, including Start&Stop technology. Designed in-house at Centro Stile Lancia, the new Ypsilon will only come with a five-door bodystyle (unlike the current Ypsilon which is only in three-door format) featuring hidden rear doorhandles. It too will incorporate new Lancia styling motifs established on Delta, including the ‘floating roof’ design. The latest generation of a successful bloodline which can trace its roots to the 1969 Autobianchi A112, the new Y will be the first ever to go to the US, as Chrysler’s new B-segment hatchback, in 2013. Badged as a Lancia, meanwhile, it will bolster the luxury maker’s lineup alongside a rebadged, heavily revamped version of the latest Chrysler Town & Country, which will replace the Phedra in 2011.

© 2009 Interfuture Media/Italiaspeed