What do I know about animal husbandry anyway?
There surely comes a point in proceedings where one simply has to bow to certain ineffable truths and admit to the error of one’s ways. For some years now I have been calling (futilely I might add) upon its maker to do the decent thing and euthanise the Lancia Ypsilon, in the earnest, if mistaken belief that it would be better for all concerned if the hapless Shield and Flag was allowed to expire with at least a shred of decency.
But there are other forms of dignity in life, amongst which is sheer stubborn refusal in the face of seemingly insuperable odds. Because dear reader, anno 2021, the Tychy White Hen is not only marking its first decade as currently constituted, but also and frankly, nobody is more surprised than I, it has this week become the beneficiary of another quite unexpected lease of life.
Lancia’s new masters, the impenetrably named Stellantis is in the midst of rolling out its strategy for a brand portfolio, the size of which that would boggle the mind of many a lesser CEO. What is becoming apparent however, is that the team which Chief Executive, Carlos Tavares has drawn together has been working on execution for some time – the sudden abundance of product coming on stream since the merger has been formalised being illustrative of that.
What, if any longer-term plans for brand-Lancia there might be amid all of this activity continues to be shrouded in mist – the only relative clarity being the statement that new carmaking giant allegedly has no current plans to kill off any of its nameplates.
Certainly in the case of the Ypsilon, one can see why that might be the case. Tracking sales since its 2011 introduction, what one sees is an almost metronomic consistency of purpose; the Lancia-branded model selling steadily year-on-year with only minor variations in volume. Even last year, in Covid-ravaged Italy, (its sole territory) total 2020 sales came to 43,076, which given the state of the Italian car market could be characterised as practically miraculous.
Why kill off a car which sells in worthwhile numbers, and maintains a retinue of customers who would perhaps struggle to obtain an equally attractive alternative? Because despite attempts to reposition the Fiat 500 to expand into this section of the market, there appears to remain a cohort which not only is impervious to the Fiat’s retro appeal, but remains doggedly attached to the lure of the henhouse.
So has C. Tavares realised that there is life in the old bird yet? This week’s announcement of the Ypsilon’s latest facelift suggests that indeed he might. Not that it amounts to a great deal more than a new front facia, incorporating a redesigned (and slightly smaller) grille and revised headlamp units, while inside a 7″ infotainment screen now sits somewhat incongruously, seemingly in the sightline of the (central) instrument binnacle.
Technically, there is little change to the two combustion engine choices – a 1.2-litre unit that produces 68 bhp and 75 lb/ft of torque, or a 0.9-litre engine with 84 bhp and 107 lb/ft. A hybrid incorporating a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine, an electric motor and a lithium-ion battery was also added to the range last year, producing 69 hp (51 kW / 70 PS) and 68 lb-ft (92 Nm) of torque, which remains on offer.
Having prophesised the demise of the Ypsilon so many times over the past six years or so, not only has it become gnawingly repetitive, but I must concede, utterly wrong. I simply hadn’t considered how resilient the little Lancia would prove to be. Furthermore, in the intervening time, its charm, its lack of visual aggression and its defiant refusal to bow to the inevitable has precipitated a fundamental shift in sentiment.
But having recanted, I am no longer prepared to make any prophesies about brand-Lancia’s fortunes. Because quite frankly on this (and most other subjects), I am clearly quite clueless.
But to return to the point about bowing to certain ineffable truths and admitting the error of one’s ways, maybe it’s time to drop the somewhat tiresome poultry metaphors? Perhaps – because the one thing we can categorically state when it comes to the Ypsilon is that the last Lancia standing is no Spent Hen.
 The latest intelligence from Automotive News Europe suggests that Stellantis is preparing a shared strategy of “specific premium modules, powertrains and features” across its upmarket brands, which is said to encompass Alfa Romeo, DS Auto and Lancia. Make of that what you will…
 It is said that within the Roman Catholic faith three miracles are considered a prerequisite for sainthood. Well, I suppose it’s a start.
73 thoughts on “Hope Is the Thing With Feathers”
“…a shared strategy of “specific premium modules, powertrains and features” across its upmarket brands, which is said to encompass Alfa Romeo, DS Auto and Lancia.
That had me running straight to carsalesbase for comparative 2020 sales in Europe.
Alfa Romeo: 35,718
DS Auto: 43,597
Evidence enough that there’s reason in holding on to Lancia:
Could the new DS4 emerge, with a few superficial changes, as the New Delta?
They do seem to have made an effort this time round, but it looks to me like the ghost of the phenomenally unsuccessful 2016-2019 Infiniti Q30.
As I said here before, it´s only if you insist on every brand having a full model range that Lancia´s single model looks odd. If we cast our minds back to the 70s, there were brands with three cars (Jaguar), brands with two (Porsche) and brands with maybe one (Rolls Royce). Maybe Lancia can get by with an Ypsilon and one other car (I think a HPE or Fulvia). That´d be just fine as long as they make sure the cars are more than just badges plus some styling. Someone inside the company has to argue for a few noticeable refinements to keep the Lancia customer proud of her or his car. I was talking about coelecanth cars like the 240 that just sell and sell with few changes. Maybe Lancia could have a steady selling saloon with a 12 year production run. Lancia buyers aren´t bothered by the arms race – they want quality and consistency and decent fit and finish rather than needless advances driven by marketing.
Stellantis, if you´re reading, I am available for moderate weekly fees.
Perhaps a three car range for Lancia would be sufficient. There would have to be the requisite CUV, a compact with styling cues and name cribbed from the original Delta. Then a supermini replacement for the Ypsilon. Finally a compact four door notchback, narrow for Italian roads, a spiritual successor to the Trevi and Prisma. If they could replicate the success of the current model, they’d have sufficient volume to justify the investment, and the would be before expanding beyond the Italian market.
Robertas’ sales figures above are a terrible indictment of poor old Alfa Romeo, which has been the beneficiary of substantial investment in new models. That Lancia can outperform it with a decade-old supermini is just extraordinary.
While I would love to see a Lancia revival, plastering its name on a badge-engineered DS crossover would be a travesty. Let’s hope Stellantis can be more imaginative than that.
I know what you mean about Alfa´s sales figures. I wouldn´t call it an indictment of Alfa so much as the narrow outlook of the average car buyer. I ´m aware the Alfas aren´t perfect but they are not so deficient as to explain the wholesale avoidance of the brand. The performance could be an indictment of the way FCA and Fiat before them were so rubbish at customer service. There´s no point in investing billions in car and investing a pittance in customer service.
It would not be nice to see any DS cars rebadged or reheated as Lancias; ditto the 500 five door. It would be best to take out some underperforming models and replace them with new Lancias using the saved money and even then keep it small. How about a small Lancia saloon to hoover up sales currently going to half-assed saloons from other brands? Lancia doesn´t need big investment so much as smart investment.
Richard, I’ve browsed the internet for used Giulias.
They don’t make an estate version, so I would need some persuasion to buy one, and I dislike SUVs so I’m not so tempted by the Stelvio (albeit it is lower and more ‘car-like’ than most), but I am an interested observer. However, finding a Giulia in a nice spec is a near impossible quest… hardly any have both a rear seat armrest (your obsession) and rear seat air vents (mine). As both features are available on the Giulia if you tick the right options boxes on your new order, why would Alfa shoot themselves in the foot like this?
Unappealing used examples means less demand, which means poorer residuals, which means less competitive finance deals on new ones. Alfa remind me of late-stage Rover: decent cars designed by talented people, but the marketing is letting them down.
The sales numbers have me wondering. Are all Lancias patriotic purchases? The Ypsilon sold in very small numbers over here when it was still available and I don’t think it did much better in other countries outside of Italy.
I would love a Lancia revival too, but wonder if this is possible. Lancia’s best cars were a happy marriage between mechanical engineering and style. How much interesting tech is there within Stellantis and in case it’s absent will it be likely they will bet the farm on developing new tech? Style is of course personal, but it’s a rare thing these days in car design, so their might be an opportunity. However, I’m not so sure the brand has much equity left with potential buyers outside Italy.
Drive through any Italian town of your choice and you see where all those MiTos and White Hens are sold. Italian roads are full of them.
To sell Alfas they would have to crack the fleet lease business. That’s something Alfa already screwed once with the 156 and something at which PSA never was good. All those brands are known for dismal customer service, something fleet managers hate.
The grouping of Alfa/DS/Lancia does not look good for Alfa. There’s not a single car in the PSA lineup that would make a base for a proper Alfa and their lineup of crap engines isn’t any better. A 308 with an Alfa badge would be the modern day equivalent of the Arna .
Why can’t they let Alfa die with dignity?
Ben: your three-car range is not far off the mark. In truth, it´d be easier to put that into effect than my proposal with a coupe/sportscar (though you have to admit it´s an attractive range). The medium sized saloon is pretty much a continuation of the Trevi/Prisma/Lybra line and those cars sold quite nicely. What makes Lancia different from other brands is that its customers don´t need really want short model cycles. It works for Rolls Royce. In the US Buick customers kept buying the Century years after it was deemed old hat. It was old hat but it was old hat Buick customers liked. If someone in Stellantis can grasp this, there´s a path forward to steady sales over a longer term than would work if the model cycles are shorter. The other thing is that they´d have to ensure some of the money freed up from short model cycles would go into properly convincing interior trim and also good suspension (luckily the suspension knowledge is there and does not demand large investment). So, does Lancia go electric?
Richard: Lancia going electric would fit with the marque’s progressive engineering heritage. But does FCA + PSA = Stellantis have the tools to make a competitive all electric car? Maybe they could buy in an electric platform, from Mazda perhaps, or a supplier like Magna, both of whom have a history with FCA.
Or should they could stick to their knitting and just make the best conventionally powered range they possibly could. Imagine the impact of a next gen Ypsilon that did for superminis what the Golf IV did for compacts.
As for the desire for a Lancia sports car, outside the readers of sites like this, the brand is known for the Integrale and the Stratos, so maybe a halo car IS needed. Could they repurpose the AR 4c platform to create a Stratos? Isn’t that what the Maserati MC20 is?
Ben: donning my killjoy hat, I have to declare a performance car fully ruled out. I know Lancia had the Beta Montecarlo and the Delta Integrale. These distracted from Lancia´s main mission of discrete good taste. I´d leave high-speed tomfoolishness to Alfa Romeo. So, I will repeat my suggestion for a three car range of long-lived products: Ypsilon, medium-sized saloon and CUV thingy. They could perhaps twist the CUV and make it a three door which could address that kind of customer. I think the hunger that sportscars used to satisfy is satisfied by CUVs now or SUVs. And since they are more useful than little two-door things, the market has burgeoned. I am not saying that a sports car is the same as an SUV/CUV. It is that fashion-led customers like them they way they liked sports cars once upon a time. Toyota gave us the GT86 and despite its brilliance not many really wanted it. Lancia needs three cars in three formats people want. We know the Y sells; we know there´s a market for medium saloons and we know people want CUVs. I´d wait a good long time before expanding beyond that. Key to this is not messing up, to avoid badly-conceived products that irritate Lancia´s fussy clientele.
I would make the point that were I in product planning for a large carmaker, I would probably not champion the production of a three volume saloon – of any size. Because, while the aspirational German makes still sell such vehicles in viable numbers, they are about the only ones who do. I believe the saloon as we (here at DTW) define it is not long for this world – even here in the Republic of Ireland, where traditionally constituted saloons were (until comparatively recently) strong sellers, there has been a notable drop off – and my contacts in the motor business here seem to bear that out. For now, it seems the colours being nailed to various masts are varying forms of shooting brake/coupé-esque/raised hatchback/estates – this side of conventional crossover CUVs at least. I’d expect that line to blur even further over the coming years as carmakers struggle to find a recipe that resonates with customers – beyond which everyone will pile in – as usual.
Here’s a slightly off-the-wall suggestion: commercial vehicles.
Lancia do have quite a strong history in vans and trucks, and it’s not incompatible with premium branding (Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, etc). The market for electric / hybrid delivery vehicles is one where I’d put my money.
Daniel: In my view, Alfa Romeo’s abysmal sales figures are an indictment of the Fiat Group and FCA’s (mis)management of their brand portfolio. I’m 1500% with Richard on customer service. For the most part, dealers and official repair-service centers for Alfa Romeo, Fiat, and Lancia are an experience less attractive than a date with early-TBBT Sheldon Cooper. But there’s more than that, and it’s called internal politics – and has been well-discussed on this site. As a dyed-in-the-wool (but seriously pissed off in recent years) lancista, I could see some things no amount of automotive Press brouhaha could disguise:
1. From its acquisition in 1969, Lancia was not considered a brand that could cover market segments where Fiat’s propositions were not exactly convincing (like the 130), but as an “oddball”.
2. The brand Fiat always wanted to acquire and have as its most precious jewel in the crown was Alfa.
3. Just like US diplomacy has an “Israel first” doctrine, so did Fiat and so does FCA have an “Alfa first” doctrine, which proved to be catastrophic, especially for Lancia. Yet, they are completely unwilling, after decades of consecutive failures, to face the facts and change course.
4. For years, Fiat has been trying to steer Lancia customers to Alfa. They failed. Miserably. They tried again. And failed again. Miserably. And they tried yet again. And failed yet again. Even more miserably. Do you want to know where Lancia buyers went, at least those who were not swayed by the current Ypsilon and the 3rd-generation Delta? Audi. There. I said it.
5. Fiat’s “strategy” when it comes to Lancia has been, for the most part, “let’s develop a car no one wants or needs, and then try to compete with the Germans on price“. Cases in point:
5.a The Lybra, with its frontal treatment, which has grown on people years after it was discontinued, but when it was launched, it made the public go “oh, here’s Noddy’s car”; yes, I’ve heard this comment when the Lybra was in producion and I don’t think that’s exactly the kind of response you want a “prestige” car to elicit. I’m terribly sorry to break such unpleasant news to everyone, but, when you launch a car, you don’t launch it to sit in the showroom and become somewhat appreciated decades later; you want it to move now, now, NOW.
5.b The Thesis, which had external styling issues, drove the wrong set of wheels, had engines that were too small to compete with the range-topping versions of its German peers, was hamstrung by the fact it never got a 4WD version, and to add insult to injury, attempted to compete on price. When you’re buying a car like that, you’re buying a status symbol: you don’t care if it’ll cost you €500 or €2000 more or less than the other propositions; you want something to rub in the faces of your colleagues, something that signifies your successful career etc. I know such “mine is bigger than yours” attitudes are whacked out, but that’s how E-segment buyers choose cars and that’s precisely the attitude the German car makers’ marketing has fostered and made into the prevailing one. To stand a chance against such competition, you have to either outperform your opponents at their own game, or you must undermine their game like the admittedly mediocre Greek national football squad had to do (and did quite successfully) in the UEFA European Football Championship of 2004. But no one at Fiat has ever had the nous of an Otto Rehhagel.
5.c The 3rd-generation Delta. Its shortcomings have been addressed both in the 2017 article and in the comments section; in fact, I think I should sit down and write a diatribe on my 12 years of owning this car. Stink has it, from the days when I was a moderator for the now-defunct Greek “lancisti.gr” forum, that even Fiat’s own people had no idea who they were trying to attract with this car.
Richard: I’m not so sure an HF Integrale version of a future Lancia model would be totally out of place. First of all, the “HF” tradition began – even in unofficial form – with the much-loved Fulvia Coupé and Sport Zagato. Second, in rallying Lancia refined an extremely good 4WD set-up that could really boost the image of its cars. For instance, I know that, if I were old enough at the time and had the wherewithal, I’d immediately buy a Thema Integrale with a turbocharged Arese V6, an Integrale transmission set-up, and an interior taken from the 8.32. Just think about the potential that was missed. Or the Dedra Integrale; in my eyes, the money and effort spent on the digital dashboard that never caught on would have been better spent marketing that particular version as a credible halo model to compete with the likes of the Ford Sierra RS Cosworth 4×4. Finally, an HF Integrale version of a future model would hopefully put paid to all those ghastly renderings of Deltona revivals that keep popping up every now and then. But of course, Lancia first needs to have a range of solid, well-conceived, well-wrought cars that people want.
I fully agree on the point that Lancia buyers don’t need or want short model cycles. Truth be told, I never saw the point in them. A car is not a pair of socks that you can buy for a song at your local Costco. It’s a complex piece of machinery that, despite all the disguising with leasing and loaning that goes on, can cost more than your annual income to buy and then saddles you with its cost of ownership (road tax, income tax, fuel costs, maintenance and repairs) for as long as you own it. I’m a huge proponent of the idea that, instead of badge engineering and/or restyling, emphasis must be given to palpable refinements that will run through the entire range, regardless of trim level or power plant: Richard very correctly points out that these refinements are what makes an owner proud of his/her car. It should be a no-brainer, really.
So yes, the next generation of Lancias – if there is one – will need to offer, besides good looks and a sense of opulence, refinement (mechanical, ergonomical, and otherwise), reliability, and care must be taken w.r.t. its engines and whatnot so that it’ll remain relevant for a long time.
But what cars does Lancia need to produce? Obviously, it needs a good supermini to replace the Ypsilon. The way I see it, the Peugeot 208 and Opel Corsa are good candidate platforms for this. The Delta’s replacement, maligned as the old model (rightly) is for its build and ride quality, it did pave the path for the current crop of C-segment cars that have longer wheelbases than before, and its electronics suite was very comprehensive for the time. Plus, its styling is still relevant; I don’t see why it shouldn’t be considered as a valid source of cues for its replacement. What was wrong wasn’t the styling, but the execution. However, the new Delta – regardless of whether it’ll be a CUV or a typical hatchback – will need to not only address the old one’s well-documented shortcomings, but also inspire the buyers to want. And this is tricky, because, even if a 4WD version is ever launched, chances of a “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” scenario are extremely slim.
As for a small saloon (in the vein of the Trevi and the Prisma), if it emerges, I’d be most interested in seeing which car it’ll try to compete with. Would it perhaps try to best the Audi A3 sedan? I don’t know. Do I see room for a coupé or a 3-door shooting brake like the Beta HPE of old? I’m not really sure. The Fiat Group threw away one hell of a chance when they decided not to give the “go ahead” for the Fulvietta. The timing then was right. Now? I’m not at all sure the current CUV/SUV-obsessed market wants a car like this. As for an HPE… Honestly, now that I’ve seen the practical benefits of the five-door configuration, I’m a bit of a cynic regarding 3-door hatchbacks and shooting brakes. I’d rather see an estate version of a properly-developed Delta, complete with five doors and a decent luggage room. That way, its appeal would be wider, as it wouldn’t only cater to a small group of enthusiasts who hanker for the Beta HPE they wished they could have (or had when they were much, much younger), but also to current families.
What will Stellantis do, though? Anyone’s guess is as good or bad as mine.
Hi Konstantinos. Thank you for an interesting and well argued exposition of the circumstances that have led Lancia (and Alfa Romeo) into their current predicament. I cannot disagree with anything you say, except perhaps for the viability of a small Lancia saloon (much as I would like to see one). Without checking out the data, I suspect that sales of the A3 saloon in Europe are a small fraction of those of the hatchback. In the U.S. and China, saloons are certainly more popular, but Lancia would need to re-establish itself properly in Europe before looking further afield.
I would love to see a new Delta C-segment hatchback, with a range-topping HF version, that takes its styling inspiration from the original ItalDesign model. As you rightly state, Lancia dealers would need serious ‘re-education’ regarding service standards before being let loose on it.
Regarding the “small saloon”, I honestly don’t know if it makes sense for Lancia to launch one. In fact, I’m not entirely sure it makes sense in the first place, given the advantages a two-box design gives when it comes to rear headroom. Totally agree on the need for the company to properly educate its dealers. Honestly, I’d put them all through a one-month seminar on Lancia history (with tough exams at the end) and then I’d train them in manners. As for the garages, I’d hire actual mechanics, electricians and electronics technicians, trained in the ways of actually repairing stuff rather than just replacing parts even if they don’t need to be replaced. But that’s another story…
Incidentally, my 2009-registered Delta III is my second Lancia; my first one was a 1991 Y10 1.1 i.e. (a cool-looking restyle of the Fiat Panda with lousy build quality and mediocre handling and grip) passed down to me by my mother for my transportation needs when I was an undergrad student .
Hope springs eternal. Let’s be thankful for small mercies.
I never understood why FIAT went to the trouble of creating a five door version of the 500, then lumbering it with inauthentic Chrysler branding outside Italy, then abandoning that idea.
Perhaps they could make a proper five door version of the new 500e with a slightly longer wheelbase and maybe a larger battery, and create a new Lancia – the Ypsilone?
They could even feasibly make a soft top version because so much of the roof structure remains in place… and there are very few 4-door convertibles in the world.
Fiat’s recent history with LWB 500s doesn’t exactly inspire confidence:
I think it succeeds as it’s small, Italian and quite attractive – all three factors are crucial to success in the Italian market. Also, from the Italian Lancia website, if I’m reading it correctly, these cars seem to start from €15,000, or about £13,000, which really is, er, cheep (sorry). I guess there are promotions on offer too.
Still, I’m glad that they’ve decided not to pullet from the market. I’ll get my coat.
J’étais certain moi aussi que Lancia allait passer à la trappe … et puis je me rend compte qu’il y a une pépite en sommeil : un design neo-retro de la Delta serait formidable, la voiture s’y prête facilement (avec des clins d’oeil à la Delta integrale).
Et puis aussi un coupé asssez haut de gamme (du style de l’Audi A5) serait pertinent.
I was sure too that Lancia was going to go by the wayside … and then I realize that there is a sleeping nugget: a neo-retro design of the Delta would be great, the car lends itself easily to it. (with nods to the Integral Delta).
And then also a high-end coupe (in the style of the Audi A5) would be relevant.
Well, it may be that they’re thinking along those lines, assuming these speculative reports from before the merger still hold some water:
And there’s speculation about a new Ypsilon, which looks good, to me:
One positive thing about Stellantis is that they have some good platforms to use. I just hope that they don’t ‘do a VWG’ and launch endless SUV derivatives of essentially the same car.
D’accord, Alain. La grande coupé et un bon suggestion en accord avec mes idées.
With apologies to the French language).
That Motor Box visualisation – I’m thinking Wolseley or Singer:
Tavares was a Ghosn protege at Renault. Marchionne’s sins with the United Auto Workers Union leadership in the US (which are now being met with prison sentences and fines probably generally unreported in Europe and for which GM is determinedly suing FCA for unfairly raising their labour costs), his four year string of RAM untruths about sales rates that somehow magically rose every month, his grand idea of regarding himself able to supervise over 30 direct reports, all make me wonder. Tavares apparently regards himself as capable of supervising 38 direct reports at Stellantis. The common theme joining these three overweening egos is a grand overconfidence in their abilities, and perhaps a not entirely ethical outlook on the part of two. What’s the feeling in Europe about Tavares? Is his Opel integration success all that observers reflect on? Is it to be a case of third time lucky? Because upon that lies the future of Lancia and Alfa, and a huge number of jobs. I’d say he had better get a move on with pure EVs and ensure a solid dealer network for the smaller brands in his empire. But what do I know?
As with the USA itself, we can hope for better things for Chrysler now that it has a non-lunatic at the controls.
The late Sergio Marchionne was adept at certain aspects, he was woefully poor in others. And while one could perhaps ascribe his somewhat scattergun approach to carmaking to the cards he was dealt and the resources at this disposal, where he fell down most notably was in terms of product – not only in conceptual terms, but also and perhaps most egregiously, in execution terms. Success in North America was arguably as much good fortune as astute management, but in Europe, his decisions saw the FIAT group decline from being one of the continent’s top players into what is essentially, a cameo role. And while this may have addressed some of Europe’s chronic overcapacity issues, it certainly doesn’t leave his successors much to rebuild upon.
Marchionne doesn’t sound like someone you’d ever want to have to work for – in any discipline. Tavares might have reported to Ghosn at Billancourt, but that doesn’t entail that he saw eye to eye with his namesake – nor necessarily agreed with his approach – and it would appear that Ghosn made some rather poor decisions along the way. If I was to choose a CEO for a carmaking business from the trio above (notwithstanding that one is deceased and another is a fugitive, thereby eliminating either), my choice would unequivocally be that of Tavares – which by no means underestimates the task he faces. Because it is daunting.
Regarding Lancia, I would caution people from getting over-excited. There appears to have been a stay of execution for the present time, but much will depend on what happens on the ground. At best, I might predict a replacement to the Ypsilon being developed (which on paper at least, makes sense), which would remain, most likely, an Italy-only offering; the costs of reintroducing the brand elsewhere being probably prohibitive. Beyond that, I have my doubts. As to a broader range of cars, I’d say no chance.*
My understanding is that Stellantis are proposing to target certain brands towards specific markets, rather than a free-for-all scenario, where brands overlap and compete with one another. If so, it’s an unusual approach, and not without pitfalls.
It will all undoubtedly become apparent in the fullness of time.
*(Notwithstanding the fact that I’ve been spectacularly wrong in the past).
At least the targeted approach makes sense.
You’re right, though, to say one ought to be cautious. I suspect the Ypsilon benefits from the weakness of Fiat’s range (no Punto). Also, the Ypsilon not only has a restricted geographical market, but a demographic one, too – three quarters of buyers are women.
Carlos Tavares was hardly Carlos Ghosn’s protégé. If Tavares was anyone’s protégé, it would’ve been Louis Schweitzer, under whose management both Carlosses rose through the ranks. Tavares eventually left Renault after having lost a very public power struggle for the post of Ghosn’s No2 man with Patrick Pélata – the latter being favoured by Ghosn on the basis of being the more loyal of the two, which would prove to be of great value to Ghosn during the Spygate affair.
Tavares is under fire for being too demanding and hence leading some members of staff to exhaustion. But even those who take a critical view of him give him credit for being a product man, quite unlike either Ghosn of Marchionne. The much-loved Alpine A110, for example, can be traced back to Tavares, who’d been the brand’s biggest advocate for more than a decade, only for the car to become a production reality after he’d left Renault.
It’ll be most interesting to see how Tavares gets along with certain FCA executives, who went to The Marchionne School of management. Tavares isn’t of the hire-and-fire mentality, but he certainly doesn’t suffer any fools either.
Here in France, Opel is always the cheap option, after Peugeot, Renault and Citroën.
And Fiat’s customer service is execrable.
Related to the Ypsilon, I always had a sneaking regard for its big sister, the 2008 Delta.
It was interestingly different but needed to be better developed: the ride and driving position were both unsatisfactory, according to Autocar. Of course, its prospects were hardly helped by the attempt to pass it off as a Chrysler in the UK. I didn’t much like the upright shield grille, but one like that on the latest Ypsilon would suit it nicely.
The strong sales are probably being buoyed by Government and manufacturer incentives:
NEW YPSILON HYBRID ECOCHIC
Take advantage of the new state incentives:
with LANCIA you have up to € 6,000 in bonus and pay in January 2022.
New Ypsilon Hybrid from € 9,500 plus financial charges, instead of € 12,500.
With funding and State Ecobonus * in case of scrapping.
The White Hen engine story is more complicated than appears. The sole petrol-only option is the Firefly mild hybrid, a 1.0 litre naturally aspirated triple. The petrol / LPG engine is a 1.2 FIRE, while the CNG engine is an 875cc TwinAir.
It was reported in 2017 that the end of TwinAir production was imminent owing to low demand and the arrival of the Firefly (SGE) engine, but it seems to have found its niches, including the Panda 4×4, where it’s the TwinAir or nothing.
Daniel: I´ve test driven a Delta and it looks good from afar but is far from good. It´s not a patch on the Lybra which was a simply excellent machine (solid, comfortable, smooth riding and well made). The Deltat disappointed me hugely. The overwhelming impression was of painted-on quality. It was made to Fiat standards. The Lybra on the other hand exuded quality apart from its glove box lid which was made of sticky plastic.
Hi Richard. That’s disappointing to hear, but probably explains its failure. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in the metal, so to speak, never mind driven one.
I presume you´ve read this excellent test (above). Here it is if you haven´t. And perhaps newer readers haven´t perused it so here is their chance.
From a distance the Delta is okay – when you look up close the details are poor. The Lybra doesn´t look like much from a distance but up close it’s well nailed together. The boot, for example, is impeccably trimmed. The leather seating is superb and Lancia spent big on suspension which was fancy in some way that in 1982 would have merited 2 pages in Autocar on that and that alone. In contrast, the Delta is tat made with a Lancia badge. It´s not dreadful but everyone used to Ford, Toyota and Opel and Mazda quality would be disappointed (that´s not meant as a form of sarcasm, those firms all provide good stuff for reasonable money and Lancia´s Delta was not that).
Do you know, I had read your review a couple of the Delta a couple of years ago, but my aged brain had forgotten it. All those poorly resolved bits of trim would really irritate me. Instead, I must pay proper attention to the Lybra. If it passes your gimlet-eyed scrutiny, it must be good!
I’d like to confirm Richard’s observations that the Delta’s dasboard was classic plastic Fiat, even though parts of the seats and materials felt genuinely luxurious, so the interior left a bit of mixed impression, while ride was average at the best. I believe the main issue was that higher trim levels were only available with needlessly powerful engines that implied a very unfavourable taxation class in many countries – with the lately introduced 1.75 TBI engine it was of course great, but not something buyers necessarily wanted. The Ypsilon reassures that the “premium = power” theory in car sales may be outdated.
I actually have a 2009-registered (built in November 2008) Lancia Delta 1.4 Platino. To be honest, even today there’s practically nothing wrong or outdated with its styling. It holds its own very well compared to everything that’s currently on offer. Back then, it seemed like extremely good value: oodles of electronics to make an already safe car even safer, great performance from the 150HP turbocharged engine, an Opel-derived M32 6-speed ‘box that was correctly geared and had positive action like I’d never seen in other Italian cars, and an equipment level that left very little to be desired. Oddly enough, my father’s middle-of-the-road 2007 Citroën C5 1.8 has mirrors that fold automatically when you lock the car (the Delta doesn’t), and the only way you could get a Delta with front parking sensors was with the automatic parking system, which didn’t become available until well after I’d bought mine.
Sadly, the Delta’s development was rushed, it used the wrong floorpan (Fiat Bravo/Stilo), and Marchionne allocated about 50% less money than should have been spent on its development. And it shows, especially now that my car is 12 years old and has covered 101,000 km. Let me elaborate:
As has been written here before (the “Swimming in the Bight” article), the fit and finish are downright atrocious. Yes, the Poltrona Frau leather is excellent, and the “Benova” polyurethane on the dash feels great to the touch, but that’s little consolation when the door cards’ armrests have el cheapo foam in them that collapses within a year and the rest of the plastics (especially the silver-colored ones on the steering wheel, the Sat-Nav, the console, and the HVAC panel) are crap. And I mean it.
I never had much trouble with the driving position, but the seat’s base should have been longer. And it does seem that the passenger seat is higher than the driver’s.
The Sat-Nav is a disgrace. Prone to all sorts of failures, and it’s a pain to use because it lacks a touch screen. Plus, it’s utterly unacceptable that the muppets at the Fiat Group couldn’t be bothered to use a Unicode font that supported all sorts of languages (including Greek) in 2009. And no, I won’t take the “oh, but they’d have to buy a license” excuse. At worst, they’d have to spend like €3,000 to have a font designer grab two of those nifty open source sans serif font that are bundled with LibreOffice and restyle them. That way, every customer would be able to take advantage of the built-in bluetooth system.
There’s lots of legroom, headroom – especially at the back with the forward-sliding (and uncomfortable) seat and the sunroof – is at a premium, and the luggage compartment’s capacity is middle-of-the road. The car needed an extra 5-10 cm behind the rear axle.
The engine is reliable, eager, and I’ve done some serious highway motoring at speeds well above what a family car has any right to claim for itself. But it’s thirsty. Even if you drive conservatively, its fuel efficiency is mediocre at best, and I’m being very lenient here.
And now, I’ll get to the set-up. The Delta has Lancia styling, Lancia equipment levels, but handling-wise, it’s no Lancia. Yes, it handles better if you keep your foot on the throttle. Yes, it’s astoundingly agile in narrow alleys. But it’s nose-heavy, on fast sweepers it rolls first and then turns, and the rear suspension is just wrong – because the car was built on the wrong floorpan. Had it been built on an enlarged and strengthened Lybra floorpan, I bet it’d have been much better. Oh, and the half-shafts, engine mounts and wishbones are NOT up to the job. I had to replace mine last summer at significant cost, and I’ve always been very careful around potholes and bumps.
One last thing: The 17″ wheel designs should have been available in 16″ diameter too. That way, you’d get both style and a small improvement in ride quality.
That said, I do believe the third generation of the Delta would make a pretty good styling base for a new car that would compete with the likes of the Audi Q3. But only if issues like the ones I mentioned are addressed properly.
The sales figures quoted are just for Europe. If you include U.S. (A.R.) and Chinese (DS) market sales these are the results:
Alfa Romeo 54,304
DS Auto 44,024
Although still nothing for Alfa lovers to cheer about, it does seem to be just another indication of how badly DS seems to be faring in the marketplace at the moment, given it’s more mainstream offering.
Hi Stefano. Yes, in our recent piece on DS, we highlighted how its sales in China have completely imploded in the last couple of years. Given that China was being touted as the marque’s big opportunity a few years ago. It really looks grim: there’s almost nothing to build on in that market.
There are a few factors contributing to the commercial failure of the DS brand, and they stick out like a sore thumb.
1. Too much emphasis on design; so much so, that the developers lost focus of “mundane” things like ergonomics and practicality. Or perhaps they didn’t really care.
2. Reviews report that the DS range offers inferior handling and comfort when compared to run-of-the-mill Peugeots and Citroëns, with the latter going for far lower prices.
3. A DS is the official ride for Monsieur Emmanuel Micron (yes, Micron). His name is a blight to all graduates of France’s famous ENA, and his pompously vacuous speech at Pnyx, Athens, in 2017 only made national Public Administration schools (like the aforementioned ENA and Greece’s NSPA) look worse. There’s only a handful of people in the world whose endorsement of a car brand could kill its image more effectively than him: Viktor Orbán, Vangelis Marinakis, Kim Jong-un…
4. DS is a brand that sprang from a model name, so it’s perceived as an invented brand that has no pedigree or history to back up its pricing policy. If Lancia, with its rich history, has been reduced to being a maker of slightly more expensive, chintzy Fiats that try to compete with the “Big Boys” on sticker price (an attribute that no self-respecting prestige car buyer really cares about), imagine the difficulty for DS.
5. The defining feature of the Citroën DS – and all the great Citroëns since – is absent. Yes, I’m talking about the hydropneumatic suspension. And no, I’m not buying the “we ditched it, because it contributes to fuel consumption” argument. My father-in-law has a 2005 Citroën C5 2.0, which is bigger and heavier than my 3rd-gen Delta 1.4 150HP, and its fuel consumption is better, even when driven in the same conditions and at the same speeds etc.
For one car, in one country, that’s quite a feat. Are they really all for Italian customers, or do they migrate across Europe?
By comparison, that one car outsold Subaru in Europe (carsalesbase: 19244) by more than double. (in both cases, they are “niche manufacturers” (10k-300k units) in the eyes of the EU, giving them CO2 targets of 45% reduction against 2007, which should be easier to achieve without electricification. Possibly the documentation reveals how they define ‘manufacturer’, as opposed to ‘brand’. Surely a Lancia based off the new electric Fiat 500 would be feasible, anyway?
(Subaru worldwide, for comparison: total 2020 production 884874. Subaru report)
I occasionally see grey-import Ypsilons pop up in Switzerland, Austria and France, but only in the neighbouring territories, so I think it’s safe to say that the majority of those sales occur in Italy and re-exportation is not a significant factor. At least not for new cars.
Haven´t Subaru really shrunk in Europe. One seldom sees them and I don´t recall noticing any ads. Then again, their Euro range is small. That´s not bad in itself. The problem is few know they even exist.
This is TopClarkson on the Impreza:
“And the chassis is a gem. Changes have been made to the rear suspension mounting points, the torsional rigidity of the body and the stiffness of the underpinnings in order to transform the Impreza. There’s minimal understeer, little body roll to report and a firm but fair ride quality on the 18-inch alloys (17s will be standard in the UK), the car feeling beautifully controlled in all situations. The steering, too, is a real highlight, clean, accurate and direct, with actual feel filtering back to the driver through a perfectly-sized wheel. Refinement levels are also high, because below 4,500rpm, when the drivetrain becomes suitably hushed, the only thing you’ll hear in the cabin is a bit of road roar.”
The Impreza has a rear centre arm-rest, by the way.
Subaru UK are awful. I assume the importers in other European countries are as bad.
Like Lancia, they seem ashamed of the motorsport heritage and have been determined to avoid importing anything that might attract enthusiasts. They seem almost gleeful that they won’t have the problem of marketing the next BRZ, as they’ve decided not to sell it in Europe.
Meanwhile, an enthusiastic fan base still exists and used Subarus are imported into the UK every month from Japan to cater for them.
Why would you deliberately exclude a portion of your customer base, especially the ones prepared to pay for the high end versions with the highest prices?
I know that the sceptical voices are 99.999% certain to be right… but this article inevitably has me dreaming of a Lancia renaissance with a new Fulvia and coupé model.
It is, in any case, interesting to note that there is a really solid market for a somewhat plusher, comfort-oriented small car.
Which makes me ask, how is the current king of comfort-orientated small cars doing (Vignale Fiesta)? Is there even a runner-up in that category apart from the Ypsilon?
I agree with Eóin’s statement that there are mainly varying forms of shooting brake/coupé-esque/raised hatchback/estates.
And any “_UV” (any letter can be used for _), if only to have space to accommodate the batteries preferred by governments.
For the Lancia brand, however, the job of a product planner looks pretty easy, it could also be done by a trainee:
– Nobody outside Italy knows Lancia any more anyway. It would take a huge buget to make the brand marketable again.
– For those who still know Lancia, it won’t be possible to do it right anyway: for some, the Aurelia is the only right thing, for others the Fulvia Coupe, the rest want a new edition of the Delta Evo, and what they all have in common is a negligible size of buyer group. The three box saloon is dead, so no new Lybra either.
– There is no distribution outside Italy and building a new up would be beyond any budget.
So only the Italian home market remains.
There, the Ypsilon has been marketed as a low-priced special offer in recent years. It came off the production line in Tychy fully configured and was usually sold to the masses at Italian dealers for around 10,000 euros.
So if something new were to come from Lancia, it would be a vehicle based on a PSA small car with more or less independent bodywork roughly the same size and equipment as what is available now – with some “Avantgarde”-PR, of course.
“The all-new white hen, now from Stellantis.”
Where´s your sense of adventure, Fred?
I have on my desk a sketch proposal copied verbatim from my imagination. It concerns a strategy for relaunching Lancia.
All former Lancia dealers will be invited to re-join the network.
A training programme for salesmen will be set up with salesstaff assigned only to Lancia for a period of 24 months with salary support in place of commissions.
Ad campaigns in Germany, France, Holland and Belgium to promote each of three models, rolled out in 2023, 2024 and 2025.
Constant review of dealer performance with customer satisfaction the first priority.
Lancia Connect: Lancia´s car sharing programme launched in 2024 in all major European cities as a promotion of Lancia generally.
2023 New E-psilon city car. Annual colour and trim launches as per current car. Three door only.
2024 New HPE with petrol, hybrid and e-versions. Annual colour and trim launches.
2025 New Prisma saloon and estate. Aimed at Lancia traditionalists and anyone who wants more comfort and quality from a medium saloon. Annual colour and trim launches.
Design will be a mix of work from Lancia Centro Stile and outside carrozeria. Experience designers preferred.
Very nice. Keep these documents safe. From time to time we can take a look at it when we need something to laugh about.
Richard, I’ll try my hand at a near- to medium- term business plan for Lancia, too.
I absolutely agree that an improved dealer and service network is key. I’d do my best to recruit execs from Lexus and Porsche; here in the US, they’re head and shoulders above anyone else.
I’m skeptical about car sharing programs, so I’d go slow on that, launching in a handful of test markets.
In terms of product, I’ll stick to my initial three car range which is very similar to yours. I’d probably centralize production at Gruliasco, which has benefitted from lots of investment but is underutilized. For designers, let’s stick with someone we know can really deliver, like Okuyama.
2023 Ypsilon, a five door supermini, tall roofed for space and to allow for a higher hip point, giving a command driving position. That would also allow it to mop up any residual Musa fans out there. Hybrid or all electric, but with a low powered combustion option for the price sensitive.
2024 Delta, a C-segment CUV featuring obvious styling cues from the original. An Integrale version could be developed to appeal to the go faster crowd.
2025 Trevi, a C-segment four door notchback. The USP for this would be that it would have the refinement and fit and finish of a premium car one or two classes up: a compact that feels like an executive.
All three would be on an eight year product cycle, which is long in this day and age. There would be annual specials(Zegna edition, etc) to keep dealers happy, but only one major freshening in the fifth year. Stay Italy-only until 2026 and any kinks are ironed out.
Statistically, annual Lancia sales of about 43,000 units seems entirely unrealistic, especially considering the the steady rise of Korean automakers. But, I’m reminded of old saying—there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. The Ypsilon tooling is paid off and it has a following in its home country. Similarly, here in the states we have the Dodge Challenger, and Charger. Both on ancient platforms, and still selling consistently. In 2019, FCA moved 60,000 Challengers, and 96,000 Chargers. The demographics for Lancia must be telling. If three quarters of buyers are women, what I wonder is the age break down? That could mean a lot for the brands future.
The Ypsilon is popular with a specific demographic, and why not? Many models are designed with a target market in mind. With some tweaking one can increase the size of of the target market without alienating the current buyers. I bet a large number of plush Mercedes coupes go to the 40-65 female cohort just as most Harley-Davidsons are sold to men aged 45+. About the Korean brands, I think there are Italians who prefer an Italian car, regardless of the merits of Kia and Hyundai. Neither of them make a car like the Ypsilon. At the moment only Ford comes close with the Vignale Fiesta which, I think, costs a lot more. So, Lancia has the field to itself and with some creativity could expand it a bit. If I have learned something or been reminded of something, is that not all cars sit in hot sectors like the Golf/Astra/Focus. There are cooler, more slowly moving areas served by the likes of the Jimny and Rolls Royce and Morgan. There are also, if you look at the customers, pools of buyers who seem to want to keep buying Chargers just as there was a pool of people who kept buying Volvo 240s long after its first replacement came and went.
This discussion brings the issues with public perception of Lancia to the fore.
Richard makes a well argued case for a future Lancia focusing on comfort, and the kind of quietly impressive cars that might attract customers who are repelled by more flashy or gauche vehicles.
However, I consider the Lancia Integrale to be a high point, and if pressed on the first Lancia that comes to mind after that, would probably say ‘Stratos’.
So, to me, rallying is an intrinsic part of the Lancia story, but I get the impression that many remaining Lancia fans would rather forget all about it.
When trying to reinvent a brand, this is a problem.
There isn´t necessarily a conflict. It would be great fun to market a car along sober lines (a modern Dedra or Thema) and then surprise everyone with a rally-winning version. Volvo did it with the S70, as I recall.
Of all the car brands, Lancia is the one that poses the most interesting challenges and I find it endlessly fascinating. The solution demands not merely nice shapes and usable packages, it demands the whole development team get the idea of low-key excellence and slow-burn delights. Lancia need not be a brand with rapid model cycles – it´s much more like Rolls Royce and Suzuki in that regard. Their customers aren´t fashion conscious though they are aware of design.
Great, maybe it would be ok after all.
I suppose Subaru successfully catered for its sensible customers and its rally nutter customers for a while.
I worry that there are enough people left in the world who are design literate but immune to the whims of fashion. Saab targeted this niche but couldn’t survive.
Nowadays I think these people are buying BMW i3s… that model is now 7 years old but still selling strongly and looking better and more relevant now than it did at launch (and not just because the other BMWs it shares showroom space with are looking worse and worse…)
We like to kick BMW here; the i3 is where we approach and hand over a bouquet of roses. The i3 could lay a reasonable claim to the most Modern car on sale. Is there a runner up?
The Honda e is the obvious candidate, but although it looks gorgeous it does seem fundamentally flawed as a product.
For relentless and optimistic modernity, therefore, I am going to put forward the Lexus LC500. Lightly used examples (with either V8 or hybrid power train) are now approaching the £50k mark in the UK, and I find them more appealing than any current Aston Martin.
The Alcantara door panels are designed to brush the back of your hand in a pleasingly tactile way when you operate the metal interior door latch. This is surely a delightful example of the modernist design ethos.
Speaking of Suzuki, they need to make a hot version of the Celerio. The car is very cheap to begin with so there´s margin to add anothe two grand of modifications to make it a cheap and playful loud hatch.
The DTW effect strikes again: Today, in an opinion piece, journalist, Richard Bremner cites the sales resilience of the Ypsilon on the (online) pages of AutoCropley, and posits a case for Lancia’s revival under Stellantis; one remarkably similar to that put forward below the line here.
If you’re reading Richard, love your work – it’s awfully nice of you to have stopped by…
Forgive the simplistic approach, but from across the pond, a Lancia resuscitation seems more likely if someone in the Fiat empire were to realize they needed an Italian version of “Audi”, that is, tech savvy, well detailed, slightly understated, and more to quality than performance. At least, that’s what would be welcome in the US (methinks, but doesn’t know…). And it would seem that there is room in the market for an Italian version of this.
How they get there is another matter. I’m personally intrigued by the Stratos example – a down-and-out Lancia drew on some imagination, and outside desire (Bertone and Gandini) to craft something that had inside tech help (suspension, chassis and engine) and outside spirit (body, small scale manufacturing) to pull a rabbit out of a hat. It was what Mike Robinson alluded to in his early years at Alfa – how to rebuild brand identity when the cupboard is bare.
One other thought – Alfa is doing poorly in the US not only due to poor marketing (really guys, do you never learn from mistakes?), but also a truly ham-fisted approach to parts and service – I mean, no one in the US is going to wait 2 weeks for brake parts…. ever.
“The Fiat empire were to realize they needed an Italian version of “Audi”, that is, tech savvy, well detailed, slightly understated, and more to quality than performance.” Yes, I´d agree to that as long as it means elegant modernism and not Alfa´s sporty vernacular styling. Plus, some attention paid to steering and other driver controls. Lancias ought to be delightful and satisfying in the long term run of use.
Despite his Wikipedia page being the most detailed of any automotive designer (there must be a Jed to Robinson’s Alan Partridge, somewhere), I wasn’t aware Mr Michael Vernon Robinson Esq ever worked at Alfa. Are you certain his statements weren’t made in connection with either Lancia or Bertone?
You are right, forgive the mistake – it was Walter de’SIlva at Alfa Romeo, telling the story in Car Men, about how to reinvigorate a brand. He outlined how he made a small group of believers (like 5-6 people) and then got onto a single new project, as a launching point for turning around the internal self-image at Alfa Romeo. It really stuck as a method for renewal.
Here’s the latest on Lancia’s future plans.
Thanks for that. I see they have been inspired by DTW´s free consultancy work and want a small range covering 50% of the market with three cars. That´s right out of the DTW playbook. Can we have a cheque, please, Mr Napolitino?
Question: will the three models be three different bodies or three versions of one body? Answer: 4.0, 4.4 and 4.6 metres. That´s encouraging. Much over 4.6 metres is a bit of a chore to wield.
Does this mean we’ll have to find a new strapline?
“We’ve got notions”.
“Almost the world´s least influential motoring commentary and discussion forum for subjects of interest to those concerned with automotive issues”. How does that work?
Snappy. To the point: I like it. Now try to work ‘notions‘ in there, and I think we have something…
Charles has absolutely nailed it with “We’ve got notions.” 👍😁