According to Automotive News, Lancia has seen its last days outside of Italy. Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne will reduce the brand to just the Ypsilon that will be sold only in Italy. “Marchionne is performing Lancia’s final requiem,” said Gianluca Spina, dean of Milan Polytechnic’s business school. “It’s a rational decision for a global carmaker. The brand has no appeal outside Italy.” To end losses in Europe and boost profit globally, Marchionne is expanding the range of upscale Alfa Romeo and Maserati models and rolling out Jeep vehicles worldwide. Even with 55 billion euros ($75 billion) budgeted for investments in the five-year plan, there wasn’t money available to overhaul Lancia, which lacks name recognition outside Europe.
Lancia was founded in 1906 by Fiat racecar driver Vincenzo Lancia and once produced curvy roadsters such as the Aurelia Spider that appeared with Bardot in the 1956 film “And God Created Woman.” In the fifties and sixties, its luxurious coupés such as the Flaminia (picture above) and Flavia went head-to-head with Jaguar and Maserati, no less! However, after being acquired by Fiat in 1969, Lancia models veered between sporty hatchbacks like the Delta and big-box sedans such as the Thema. An attempt to renew with its glamourous past by hiring actor Richard Gere and singer Carla Bruni to promote the brand in recent years has fallen on deaf ears.
From 1985 to 1995, Fiat sold the small Y10 under the Autobianchi brand in Italy, France and Japan but under the Lancia brand elsewhere, contributing to a increasingly diluted brand image. Autobianchi was killed in 1989 but survived until 1995 in Italy after a 40 year history, at which point the Y10 became the Lancia Ypsilon, arguably bringing the brand down market.
The linkup with Chrysler provided Lancia with a (slim?) chance to widen its appeal. The merger of the two brands began in 2011, when Marchionne pulled the U.S. nameplate from continental Europe in favor of Lancia, which sold re-badged versions of the Chrysler 300 sedan, 200 convertible and Voyager minivan, respectively called Thema, Flavia and Voyager. Chrysler only survived in the UK where the Delta and Ypsilon were sold under that brand. Confusing? Indeed.
All in all, Lancia’s decline is the result of an inconsistent strategy that hesitated between upscale and mass-market segments over the years. Lancia sales in Europe dropped 20% in 2013 to just 75,000 units, 76% of which in Italy alone, and sales outside Europe are non-existent. By 2016, Lancia will consist of just the 12,650 euro Ypsilon subcompact as sales of the Delta will end this year and all re-badges next year. The Italian carmaker intends to invest in restyling the Ypsilon next year as the model has been one of the top sellers in Italy over the past decade.
Lancia’s demise has angered fans. More than 3,000 of the so-called Lancisti signed an online petition to save the brand, a Facebook page titled “Yes to Lancia, No to Marchionne” received almost 9,000 likes, while on Twitter “Occupy Lancia” sends messages to Fiat such as “Lancia will end Delta production: shame on you.”
Reducing a carmaker to a single vehicle line in a single country is a veiled death sentence, as even ultra-luxury brands such as Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce have multiple models. But putting Lancia on life support rather than shutting it down outright helps Fiat keep its options open until other models hit the market to fill the gap, according to Ian Fletcher, an analyst with IHS in London. “It looks like a tactical short-term move, Marchionne may wait for Alfa Romeo’s strategy to yield its first results before killing the Lancia brand.”