Fowl play at FCA.
Throughout our culture, the colour black has long been synonymous with death. In popular culture too – take for instance William S. Burroughs’ Black Rider or indeed the black swan in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. In keeping with the theme of fowl therefore, it may not be a coincidence that with the advent of the black hen, FCA are quietly softening us up for an impending demise.
Because the problem here appears to lie with the serial refusal of FCA’s Lancia-badged Ypsilon to do the decorous thing and shuffle off this mortal coil. Indeed, not being content to swerve death’s clammy embrace, the Tychy White Hen is still doing a decent number humiliating far more recent domestic contenders – most recently the troubled Biscione of Milan.
Given this somewhat paradoxical state of affairs, it seemed as good a time as any to at least attempt to understand the Ypsilon’s morbid appeal.
The current car can trace its lineage distantly back to the 1985 Y10 model, which was sold in some European markets as a Lancia and in others as an Autobianchi. The Y10 moniker stemmed from its original Lancia-based programme designation and in the UK at least, also lent it the ‘White Hen‘ nickname, which has since proved almost as resilient as the car itself.
As Lancia and Autobianchi were folded into one another, successive models adopted exclusive Lancia branding, gaining the Ypsilon name along the way, but with little history in minicars, the car has remained in many ways, (and as pointed out by others here on DTW) more Autobianchi than Lancia.
Nevertheless, it illustrated the appeal (especially in its native Italy) for a chic and luxuriously appointed compact citycar, as robust sales of both first and second generation Ypsilon models attested.
The current iteration, styled at centro stile and attributed to current head of Fiat exterior design, Alberto Dilillo, was first introduced in 2011, based on the platform and running gear for the current generation Fiat Panda and 500 ranges. But tradition must be honoured, so it also enjoyed a pointless half-life in the UK and Ireland as a Chrysler-badged product in one of the late Mr. Marchionne’s more toe-curling marketing gambits.
That one didn’t last long, before Chrysler (nee-Lancia) retreated from these shores once again, in if anything even more ignominious a fashion than of yore. 2015 saw the Ypsilon gain its second new nose treatment, this one being a more comprehensive rhinoplasty effort, replacing the tall, vertical grille (redolent of Lancia’s past) with a nondescript horizontal device, and there matters have broadly stood since.
Four years on, and the model range has been shrunken down to four designations, each in a signature colour: Black and Noir, Elefantino Blu (which looks a lot more like grey), Gold, and Platinum (the latter being much closer to green). Two engine choices are offered – FCA’s 1.2 litre FIRE-derived petrol unit or a dual-fuel version of the 0.9 litre Twin Air, running on compressed natural gas. And that’s pretty much one’s lot.
Marketing for the car is pretty specific as to the target customer, fasionable ladies (and men who are confident about their masculinity one imagines) being very much the leitmotif here. Pricing appears to have been a key component to the White Hen’s continued success – FCA offering generous rebates and incentives to purchase/finance. In addition, a lack of realistic four-door domestic rivals and maybe (just maybe?) some tiny residual affection for the threadworn Shield and Flag.
But as Fiat now moves to ready its forthcoming-generation 500 (and Centoventi-derived Panda) models for production, the Ypsilon’s miraculous survival must be drawing to a close. If reports are accurate, a five-door 500 will remove a lot of the Ypsilon’s raison d’être and while it’s likely that FCA will squeeze every last drop from the model line, it’s very difficult to see it maintaining viability beyond 2020 at the latest.
With it will go the last vestiges of brand-Lancia – or at least would do if it hadn’t truly passed on years ago. Frankly, the official death notice is well overdue. As indeed is the black hen.