Bereft in Deathly Bloom: Not Bloody Likely

As Lancia posts another respectable sales performance, where’s an automotive van Helsing when you need one?

 Image via southernwinesblog
Image via southernwinesblog

I don’t know about you people but I’ve had just about enough of Lancia. I’m worn out from the serial indignities foisted upon this proud marque, sick to the eyeteeth of Sergio Marchionne’s platitudes and inaction. I just want the pain to end. But for those of us who’d prefer to see Lancia’s drooling remains smothered with its own pillow, the past two years have offered little by way of consolation.

Despite the abject failure of the Marchionne nuclear option and the withdrawal of everything apart from the entry-level Ypsilon, the junior Lancia flatly refuses to climb into its coffin. FCA sold a respectable 62,807 Ypsilon’s in 2014, and last year came close to matching that number with 59,374 finding homes; keeping the sole remaining Lancia within the minicar top-ten, ahead of Opel’s Adam and the Kia Picanto. These are remarkably resilient numbers for a marque in terminal decline and a model now five years into its (most likely) final foray. Especially given its well publicised December EuroNCAP score.

FCA's orphan child. Image via teintes.fr
Get into that coffin and take your limp facelift with you. Image via teintes.fr

The Ypsilon’s sales performance suggests there remains a market for a small well-specified, stylish city-Lancia; not a huge shock when rivals do good business selling similar models themselves. Despite Fiat’s repeated assaults on the marque over past decades, Lancia still appears to stand for something and with PSA and Renault increasingly offering upmarket variants of their bread and butter models, might FCA be missing out on potentially decent margins by allowing the Ypsilon to wither on the vine? Margins I might add they’re unlikely to make selling 500’s and Panda’s.

The Horror. Image via autodatabase.
Kill them. Kill them all. Image via autodatabase.

Fiat, largely due to their own stubborn intransigence have trapped themselves in a market where it’s impossible to make money. Obviously its too late for Lancia to be revived as a cohesive range of cars. Fiat utterly failed to redefine what it stood for anyway – instead producing a series of poorly targeted, undercooked flops. But could the Ypsilon mark a way forward for the marque? Surely a competently developed and styled replacement, on an up-to-date if slightly larger platform could prove a consistent seller and a credible rival to PSA’s DS3 at a price that would make FCA a few euros.

Of course, this presupposes the money, the will or the vision exists within FCA, which as we all know is categorically not the case. More likely they’ll wring out what half-life remains, leaving it on the market long after it’s outclassed, before closing the lid on Lancia forever, amidst weak promises of a revival once Fiat’s finances improve. Frankly, I wish they’d just put a stake through its heart and put us all out of our misery, but it seems that at FCA, even death takes place at glacial speed.

Sales data sourced from Left-lane.com 

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

45 thoughts on “Bereft in Deathly Bloom: Not Bloody Likely”

  1. Evidently there’s a case for pleasingly trimmed city car if the cost of separate branding is not too high. I don’t suppose it is.
    Fiat probably couldn’t be bothered and if they wanted a brougham-style variant they’d most likely find ways to tart up an existing Fiat in future.

    1. I had forgotten about the Ypsilon. Surely they could just do a 5 door 500 instead? Maybe introduce a luxury trim line. Or maybe that’s what Lancia has become already?

    1. I think that Lancia is the new Autobianchi.

      This is a classical tale of jilted romance. Once Lancia had been acquired by Fiat, poor Autobianchi was sidelined in favour of the more classy sounding brand. And now Lancia is being treated just the same, being represented by a sole run-out model, still selling well but probably leaving no loyal punters behind

  2. At the Frankfurt IAA in September, Lancia had a small but impressively well fitted stand, and a facelifted Ypsilon (I still want to call it the White Hen). The Lancia shield has gone, to be replaced by a rather anonymous front end with an unfortunate resemblance to the Proton Savvy’s.

    No doubt Sergio knows what he’s doing…

  3. I think the only thing that has saved it thus far is the fact that it still sells OK … in Italy, I guess? It’s hard to see the badge (it’s not a marque any more is it?) surviving this car. I am sad about that, but, like others, sick of witnessing the ignoble treatment of a marque – a company – that really had style and engineering integrity in its day. I fear others that are held with fondness on these pages will follow similar ignominy (actually, it seems that they already are …)

    1. I can imagine the kind of person who might choose such a hearse. A load of Lancia brochures can be symbolically taken to a hole in the ground and interred. Sergio can lead the service.

  4. I’d really love to see Lancia rescued the way Tata did with Jaguar. instead of launching the Genesis brand, maybe Hyundai should’ve bought Lancia and gave them a double approach: large RWD sedans and a crossover to the U.S. market, credible DS3 and 1-series contenders to Europe.

    and, of course, a new Delta Integrale and a grand tourer (Flaminia anyone?) with Italian flair.

    1. Fiat would not sell Lancia, I am sure. And at the same time I doubt they´ll ever do anything with the brand except stifle it to death.
      Do you think Lancia needs RWD though? The way I saw it (and Eoin as well) was that Lancias could have had models intermediate in price to anything Alfa offered and on different bodystyles so that there was clear differentiation but using common components where it didn´t affect brand character. I think it went something like this: HPE successor (paired with a Giulietta) small estate (paired with an Alfa saloon) and a big coupe. Alfa would look classical and sporty while Lancia would look very modern inside and out.

    2. I seem to recall reading somewhere that Marchionne told Uncle Ferdi he’d only contemplate selling Alfa Romeo if Lancia was included in the deal. Which of course may just have been his way of saying no.

  5. I have a rather less palatable vision whereby Sergio sells off the European Fiat portfolio (500 and vans excepted) to Tofas, with the use of the Lancia brand included in the package to avoid a repeat of the Polski-Fiat dichotomy.

    Turkish MG Rover, anybody?

  6. Richard,

    I like your thoughts about different bodystyles between Alfa and Lancia, even though I see Lancia as a more classical brand than Alfa is.

    as Alfa is switching to RWD platforms, it would be interesting to use FWD platforms to base new Lancias – the smaller platform could still be sourced from Fiat while a larger one would be shared with Chrysler/Dodge, or a further cooperation with Mazda could be achieved. I think Lancia only needs RWD for a flagship saloon/estate and a GT (priced below the Maserati offers, of course). other than that, I’m fine with FWD.

    in my Hyundai-takeover daydreaming, as the Hyundai Group has a modern, full-size RWD platform already available, it would fit nicely a Korean Lancia flagship. anyway, I have some bizarre ideas for Lancia, such as allowing independent coachbuilding, in limited numbers, for the high-end, RWD offers I thought of.

    I agree with you on the fact that Fiat would not sell Lancia. this, along with Lancia’s 2015 sales performance, Chrysler’s lacklustre sales of the 200 and the 300, and Alfa postponing their car releases, confirms me that Sergio Machionne has no clue about how to sell mid-sized / mid-priced cars. the Fiat 500 and the Pands are still going well, the Punto has its market in Italy, Fiat sells lots of cheap cars in Brazil; on the flipside, Ferrari doesn’t know what a crisis. inbetween these points, no FCA product seems to be doing well.

  7. It’s no surprise that Hyundai have followed the Japanese pattern of creating a synthetic upmarket nameplate on Lexus, Infiniti, Acura, or Amati lines. They’ve gone from nowhere to world no.5 in forty years, and don’t need a defunct or surplus brand to front their high end ambitions.

    After all, if a brand is defunct or surplus, by definition it is a failure.

    Still, I wonder what Sergio’s price would be if, say, a Chinese or Indian carmaker came along with a big enough cash offer.

    Ford paid BMW £6 million for the Rover brand in 2006, to protect the Land Rover trademark. Current owner Tata shows no interest in using it. Beiqi Foton, according to one report, have put 700 million Euros into Ghoul Borgward, though probably not much of that went to the wine merchant from Wolfsburg for the trademark he possibly doesn’t even own.

    And there’s even a Ghoul Jowett out there:

    http://www.jowett.cc/index.asp

    1. To be fair to Lancia, the brand isn´t a failure. The suits at Fiat are failures for not recognising how to handle it. There´s clearly a space for a bijoux line of cars in between the overalls from Fiat and the sports clothes from Alfa Romeo. There are at least ten ways to better spend the one billion it would require to get it up and running again but if I was Bill Gates I might feel it acceptable to blow this on four new models which would mostly be body style variants on existing cars with appropriate fronts and ends.

  8. It could be said that there are (were?) two Lancias – the one bookended by Vincenzo Lancia and Antonio Fessia, which Fiat found dying on its doorstep in 1969. The second one, embodied by Sergio Camuffo, started shakily with the Beta and Gamma, astonished us with the Stratos, and went on to exceed any reasonable expectations, both in sales and creativity for the remainder of the twentieth century.

    Sergio Camuffo left us on 28 June 2014, Perhaps Lancia’s soul also departed on that day.

    1. Camuffo was an engineer and therefore couldn’t have been expected to single-handedly redefine Lancia’s positioning and creative direction. That was successive Fiat senior management’s failure and theirs alone. He did the best he could given the mess he inherited, the limited resources he was provided with and his superior’s staggering lack of vision. Expecting him to be some form of Transalpine Bob Knight was in retrospect probably asking a lot.

      Flawed as it was, on balance I preferred his earlier work.

  9. Even Dante Giacosa didn’t seem to get a shiff at product planning. He hated the way the 130 grew from a proper 2300 replacement, to an Italian S Class, but was at least generous about what Camuffo, Lampredi, Cornaccia and Boano had achieved.

    At least in the post-Gamma era there was an evolutionary process, with cyclical model replacements. This never really happened in Fessia’s time – having a big diversified parent company helps a lot, but selling a lot of cars and making a profit is even better.

  10. You may find the January 2016 car sales figures for Italy interesting:

    1. Panda – 13,367 (8.6%)
    2. Ypsilon – 5,558 (3.6%)
    3. 500 – 4,596 (2.9%)

    Top Alfa is the Giulietta – 2,413 (1.5%). Other Alfa sales (MiTo and 4C) amount to a grim 348.

    So the White Hen and 500 seem able to co-exist sucessfully, and there’s no sign yet of a “Giulia effect”.

  11. With numbers like these, only a capricious, deluded megalomaniac would abandon the Lancia marque.

    Oh, hold on…

  12. FCA sold 59,374 Ypsilon’s across Europe last year, marginally down on the previous year, but as we can all agree, not bad at all. Admittedly it’s a bigger car, but Alfa Romeo’s MiTo scraped 13,839 sales last year, and yet it’s being facelifted for 2016 – apparently. Bearing in mind its best year was 2009 when 62,122 found homes, and these are the sort of numbers Lancia is achieving now in managed decline, it suggests two things.

    Firstly, Fiat should never have sanctioned the crosseyed Punto in the first place – the development cash being better spent on an equivalent Lancia model and secondly, given the Ypsion’s resilience, there’s surely a financial case to be made to fund a more up to date model.

    Perhaps Dr. Marchionne is reanimating the wrong corpse.

    1. I’m not sure about your last statement, Eóin. Alfa still lives on in people’s minds in terms of sportiness and unreliability. Sure it’s a mixed image, but something you can build on. Lancia mostly is a blank canvas, und not known anymore to most people outside italy. Only some petrolheads may have a faint memory of a Delta Integrale. And they won’t go for a Gucci-ed Punto.

    2. I know Simon, it’s pathetic. Even I can see reality staring me in the face and yet I still hang grimly on – all hope lost. On the Kubler-Ross scale of grief, I’m obviously still at ‘bargaining’.

      But we can agree the MiTo is a dog, no?

    3. I even can agree on two things:
      a) that I’d rather like to see Lancia revived in a decent manner than Alfa and
      b) on whatever derogatory statement you make on the Alfa MeToo.

    4. What’s so bad about the Mito? It looks a bit dumpy but is there anything else that warrants calling it ‘a dog’?

    5. Aesthetically, I’m OK with the MiTo from the rear. The nose is horrid, but then I found that the case with Alfas from the 8C Competizione onwards.

    6. I haven’t driven one, so I’ll refer you to a number of people who have;

      “Much as we love Alfa Romeos, and appreciate the Mito’s distinctive looks and game engine, its all-round ability simply isn’t convincing enough against newer, sharper opposition”. Car Magazine
      “…a classic case of style over substance” – What Car
      “Numb handling, firm suspension, poor-quality interior” – Carbuyer
      “…a classic example of a car you can be vaguely happy exists on the strict proviso that you don’t have to own one”. Top Gear

      Now, I’m quite sure you’re thinking, aha, but that doesn’t justify the canine reference now, does it? Maybe not, but the consensus of opinion is that the MiTo is a very unconvincing proposition – something the buying public appear to have cottoned onto as well.

      Any sane mind would consign it to an early grave but that would leave Alfa with only one model and that would place them in the same lifeboat as Lancia. Probably without a paddle.

    7. That’s opinion from journos though. Whatcar also has a fair few reviews from (reasonably) satisfied users. Not that one can rely on either mind you, but still.

  13. Going by the conscience and judgement of the Italian people, the MiTo has outstayed its welcome.

    Yet the last few years have seen several good Fiat products which died too soon, or went without heirs:

    Alfa 159 (2004-11)
    Alfa Spider (2006-11)
    Lancia Musa (2004-12)
    Lancia Delta Type 844 (2008-14)
    Fiat Croma (2005-11)

    A very personal list. I couldn’t abide the Brera, but am captivated by the Musa to the point that I once considered importing one from foreign and converting it to RHD with Idea and Punto bits. Perhaps I’m ill. I also hate the 4C.

    1. Well you’re a troubled kid, that’s for sure. Still – interesting thought but surely all you need is a donor Idea… What would you need the Punto for?

  14. Robertas: there’s no real need to convert the Musa to Brit-hand drive, is there?
    Some of your list make sense. Did you forget the Alfa Romeo GT? That was a really nice looking car. And if it drove as well as a Golf, Astra or even an Almera it ought to have sold like cakes.
    Why is the Croma on your list? Is that irony? Its package outshone its looks. The Opel Signum did it miles better.

  15. Converting the Musa? It’s the temptation presented by that ambidextrous dashboard and the Idea already being available in RHD.

    To Alfas. The GT is a favourite, but it’s a taxonomic oddity, being a 156 based latecomer which carried on in production almost as long as the 159, so couldn’t be said to have died too soon.

    1. Wasn’t then a rather better handling car than the 159?
      That it was overlooked says a lot about Alfa and indeed their fans. If you asked them if they wanted a cute coupe of the 156 they’d all raise their hands. Yet when delivered to showrooms there were fewer takers than one might expect.

  16. No doubt, i am not so clever in forecasting car sales than FCA.
    But would it not be better and more profitable to make a Lancia Fulvia out of the Mazda MX-5 ?
    I mean the Fulvia-concept-car is a beauty and the new 124 Spider is rather ugly. And a Fiat 124 Spider will only find a buyer if the price is seductively lower than the japanese price tag – or am i wrong?

    Perhaps FCA should offer both cars with a lot of identic parts to save money.

    1. That´s rather a good idea which I wish I had thought of. The Fulvia concept of a few years back succesfully captured the essence of the original. It had a fabulous interior as well, as I recall. Do you wonder what is in this for Mazda? So, they sell a few more bits to people who would not pay full price for the Mazda – is that it?

    2. Does it really make sense for Mazda to build thr Fiat 124 Spider? A good question – but i can´t find a really good answer.
      Maybe the answer for Mazda simply is: Why not? Maybe in some european markets there are not enough Mazda dealers to reach all potential buyers and the Fiat 124 won´t be offered for the US market.
      So it is nearly no risk for Mazda.

      Other question: Is Mazda happy that Fiat decided to offer their version not as an Alfa Spider ? Maybe the answer isthe same: Why not?

  17. Is it really twelve and a half years since the Fulvietta appeared? And twelve since we saw the Fiat Trepiùno (that one went ok). It was the heyday of MINI-fuelled retro madness.

    Given the strong following the Ypsilon maintains, Sergio ought to keep Lancia simmering. No silly ambitions required, but perhaps a three model line up using existing platforms; Ypsilon, a crossover on the 500X / Renegade platform, and something else. An electric Nuova Musa? A luxury version of the Toro pick-up?

    I’ll reserve judgement on the Japanese 124 Spider until a fortnight tomorrow. I hate the MX-5, so the auguries are not good.

    1. Indeed, how hard could it be to renew the Ypsilon? People seem to really go for the car. I would dearly love to know the demographic breakdown of the customer base: elderly farmers, bricklayers and Modenese tycoons I expect.
      Does a Lancia cross-over make sense? I presume you mean a small, bijou little vehicle with a raised height, like a Ford Fusion with very comfy trim options? You know that would be a gold mine: the slightly older clientele of Lancia would love a vehicle with a raised H-point and trim that provided lots of velour cosiness. It would be criminal not to make that car.
      What is wrong with the MX-5? Do you mean the car in general or the current iteration?

  18. The current one, which looks like a stunted BMW Z4. The three previous iterations do nothing for me either, although I’ve only tried the third generation, Dynamically unimpressive, and barely more practical than an Elise or final series MR-2.

    On the matter of Lancia crosssovers, was it a missed opportunity not to create the Tipo 844 Delta as a crossover? I’m not thinking of a ‘Rover Streetwise’ re-work, but a tall, practical, but luxurious vehicle from the start. The Nissan Cashcow had been around for a couple of years before the Delta’s launch, so the pointer to success was there. Instead we got something like the offspring of an ill-advised union between an Opel Signum and a Rover 75. That said, I liked the Delta in 2008, and still do. I just wouldn’t have one.

    Another entry on the Lancia roster of regret is the Pangea, the lost third part of the Suzuki SX4 / Fiat Sedici project. If the Lancia-isation had been done as well as the Musa, it could have been the best seller of the three.

    1. The last Delta is about the same size as my XM. Apart from lacking HP suspension it would make a credible replacement for me in about five years. I wonder why anyone wanted one from new.
      Good point about the Lancia version of the Sedici.

    2. Have you already seen the new MX-5 in metal? It looks pretty good to my eyes – maybe with a touch of the Z4, but that is not bad.

      And the Lancia Delta just was a realisation of a five year old concept car.
      Maybe after the Fiat Croma, they just want to built a beautiful roomy car….

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