Forgive my somewhat obscure Biblical reference, but to my mind the Italian car industry is Bethlehem. The birthplace of speed, beauty and petrolhead mania. I will not deny the fact that I love Italian cars. I dream of them, I lust after them and I love them. I may not own an Italian car yet, but I can tell you that a day does not go by that I do not go through multiple second hand car websites looking for anything made by Italians, whether it is a classic two-door GT, or a somewhat oddball Fiat from the 90s. I love them, no matter what anyone says. Especially those owned by the Fiat Group.
Not a day goes by where I do not hear of more plans from Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari or Maserati. Their attack is clearly on the offensive. They want to show the world that it is not only Germany who makes great cars, but Italy too.However, for some time I have been closely observing their “comeback”, enjoying the glow of a new model, watching model after model dart out into public domain.However, a rather disturbing thought peered over the horizon, as I watched model after model being launched. What about Lancia? What are its plans? When will we get a great Lancia worthy of that blue badge?
Truth be told, there has not been a proper new Lancia for quite some time. Granted, we live in a world where platform sharing is the norm, and I have nothing against platform sharing. VW has a truly amazing new platform which has been introduced on the Mark VII Golf and the new Audi A3, and will also form the backbone on multiple models. The savings will be tremendous, the profits even more so. Such profits will only go on to make exciting cars like a new Veyron, or into further research and development. Used correctly, as VW has done, platform sharing will pave the way for companies to invest more money into more exciting models. However looking at Lancia’s current line up, I cannot help but sigh at their current lineup. They are lost in Fiat’s portfolio. The newest Lancia, the Ypsilon is basically a Panda. Its an upmarket Panda for sure, and a car I quite like, but it appears as though I may be the only one. Within the range there is also a Delta, which feels like it has been for sale for donkey’s years, and honestly, it does no justice to the Delta name. Mention the name “Lancia Delta” to a petrolhead and you will undoubtedly hear them finish that phrase with “Integrale.” It was and still remains a rally legend, as much as, if not more than the Audi Quattro. The current Delta does no justice to the original and is just a bloated up version of the Fiat Bravo.
The news, I am afraid, only gets worse. Recently Fiat merged Chrysler and Lancia together and use the same concept as the Vauxhall and Opel merger. Basically central Europe gets Lancia badged cars, then the UK gets the same cars, only the Lancia badges have been replaced with Chrysler badges. What has this meant for this once proud Italian marque? Well we now see Chrysler Ypsilons, and Chrysler Deltas. Blasphemous. That is not even the worst of it. Lancia have also taken the pimpmobile Chrysler 300C, given it a mild refresh, (i.e. a new grille, some new lights and a new interior) put some Lancia badges, called it the Thema and are trying to sell it as a beautifully crafted Italian saloon. There is also a four seat cabriolet called the Flavia apparently, which is also based on something American, but I cannot bear to look it up.
This news upsets me greatly. Lancia is as strong a brand as Alfa Romeo. It has heritage, a great history and a portfolio of some amazing cars. I refer you to Top Gear’s tribute on Lancia. It is one of the most beautiful pieces in automotive televisual history. They make reference to some of the most beautiful cars in the world. The Fulvia, the Gamma, the Aprilia, the Stratos, and last but not least, the Delta Integrale. All these cars are icons in their own right. Sure they are terribly unreliable, loud, noisy, uneconomical, pollute like there is no tomorrow and probably aren’t too comfortable either. And yet, I have never wanted them more. They are the undeniably gorgeous to look at and sound absolutely fantastic. As the cliche goes, these are cars you buy with your heart and not your head. It upsets me to think that despite having a truly amazing history, today Lancia has become a company of heated up left-overs. It does no justice to the brand, and Marchionne has to realise this.
If it were up to me, I would take Lancia to a totally new direction, that of the affordable sportscar with a twist. Allow me to elaborate. Within the Fiat Group there is, Fiat, which makes small affordable, utilitarian cars for the masses. Then we have Alfa Romeo, which shall be taking on BMW and Audi. Then we have Maserati, which continues to tackle the Germans at a higher level (i.e. the E-segment and above). Last but not least Ferrari, which tackles the supercar and high end GT market. What Lancia need to do is, focus on the areas Fiat and Alfa currently occupy, use their platforms, tweak them for a sportier set up, fit a sportscar body on top and take it to market. I have identified key ares where this can be done effectively, using specific platforms. Starting from the bottom I would take the Panda’s platform and make a small sportscar for young drivers. At the moment, nobody does this. Last attempt was the Renault Wind, and well, one can really see why it didn’t take off. It was a little awkward to look at, and it had a name which sounded like a fart. However, I am positive Lancia can do a better job. Use the Panda platform as a base, tweak the engine so it produces a little more horsepower, but not too much that it will cost a bomb to insure and you could have a hit on your hands. I know I would jump at the chance of owning a small, easy to insure sportscar. Next up, I would make an MX-5 rival using the Punto platfrom (possibly called the Fulvia), then a rival for the VW Scirocco/ Audi TT using the Giulietta’s platform (Maybe Delta Integrale?). Then, finally to top the range, a Boxster rival, possibly using the 4C’s underpinnings. That way Lancia is creating its own niche within the market, whilst making using of the available technology. This will keep costs down, bring in the profits and most importantly making good use of the Lancia brand.
With this plan, Lancia is distinguishing itself as making affordable sportscars, giving it a proper image. In today’s market, distinguishing yourself from the rest is very important. Nissan realised this, and have been on a role ever since they introduced the Qashqai and Juke. Lancia needs to do the same. Not just for the petrolheads, but for itself too.