After DS and Alfa collapsed, Stellantis’ crazy bet for Lancia

Alfa Romeo? A brand with a glorious but moribund past for many years. The Visconti-branded firm sold just 56,000 Giulias and Stelvios last year, although it hopes to do better this year with the new Tonale compact SUV. DS? The label artificially created in 2009 and made Citroën independent by Carlos Tavares upon his arrival at PSA in 2014, is less efficient than Alfa Romeo with almost 48,850 units worldwide in 2021. And it is in this sad context that Stellantis is preparing to relaunch another “premium” brand, Lancia, which sold over 43,800 units last year. But “what will Stellantis do with this new galley?” Asked by an automotive expert.

This Monday, the Franco-Italian-American group actually confirmed the plan to revive this 116-year-old brand. In a completely surreal Design Day, the Lancia brand unveiled a concept intended to be a manifesto of the brand’s future. The problem is that this concept without wheels is more like an abstract sculpture in the living room than a car. A true booby trap, which will only disappoint all who expect more than an unknown caricature object, christens Purazero. Accompanied by a stereotypical discourse on beauty, character, beauty, emotion, supposedly linked to the brand. Blabla, completely above ground. The Stellantis team should refrain from such ridiculous practices.

Three new models

In November 2021, brand director Luca Napolitano announced a clear roadmap that provided for three new models, between 2024 and 2026. Last May, the strategic plan postponed the launch of the third model to 2028. The first planned is an all-new Ypsilon city car. On the Peugeot 208 platform, a priori. This model will replace the current Ypsilon which is about 11 years old and is only sold in Italy. Specialists expect Lancia to lift the veil on this future vehicle on Monday. But no! A big Aurelia (code name) will arrive two years later, around 2026, possibly taking the name of the iconic 1950s Lancia, available as a sedan, coupe and convertible. Finally, an intermediate model called Delta, in reference to the popular compact of the 1980s and 1990s that became world rally champions, will arrive at the end of the era. Two of these three models should be purely electric.

The Lancia recreation was planned under the leadership of Jean-Pierre Ploué, who oversees the styling of the French brands (PSA) of Stellantis, but also of Opel, Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Lancia. At the age of 59, this former Renault, Volkswagen, Ford, joined PSA in 1999, is “Chief Design Officer” of the European brands of the new Stellantis group. “I feel like a passionate young designer facing the new challenge of legendary Italian brands”, he enthuses in an interview with Challenges at the beginning of summer . Moreover, Jean-Pierre Ploué was, in addition to his managerial duties, directly in charge of Lancia’s design, and then released a list of models that was slightly different than the announced roadmap. For Lancia, “our references are the Aurelia (1950s), the Fulvia coupé (1965-1976), the Delta (1979-1993)”, he assured. Models that haunt the dreams of collectors. Jean-Pierre Ploué assured: “don’t worry! We found (a visual identity). We can recognize the future Lancia from afar”. But to find out, we have to wait.

The shadow of self

The problem is that this fictional brand has long been a shadow of what it was. Forgotten and almost unknown apart from a few European enthusiasts or Italian Ypsilon buyers who got it mainly for its low price. A series of brand relaunches by the Fiat group, then FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles), failed. The last Delta, launched in 2008, was particularly responsible for halting the inevitable decline. Alas, this last-ditch Delta… didn’t live up to its contract. To make a profit, it needs to find 70,000 buyers every year. Wow, less than half of these were made in its best year. Since the beautiful, sporty and elegant Kappa saloon in the mid-1990s, Lancia hasn’t released any truly remarkable models. As for the current Ypsilon, which is still made in Poland today, it was meant to be a chic Fiat. But, poorly designed, not refined with a mediocre finish, it broke its teeth against its cousin… Fiat 500, which was released in 2007 and filled the niche of the stylish city car. No chance. In other words, a broken car faced a cousin who showed all his charm.

Founded in Turin in 1906 by Vincenzo Lancia, together with Claudio Fogolin and Davide Aupicci, the company has always stood out for the technical originality of its vehicles. In 1937, Vincenzo Lancia died of a heart attack, at the age of 56. Therefore, he did not attend the presentation of the last car that he personally developed, and which would constitute a great commercial success, at least for in such an elitist brand: the Aprilia. This will introduce the label to the whole world. His wife and son, an engineer, took over the management of the company. Lancia won its credentials as a major manufacturer in 1950 with the presentation of the beautiful Aurelia, equipped with technical refinements unheard of at the time, such as four-wheel independent suspension and a gearbox-clutch-differential unit at the rear . The Aurelia would do much for the popularity of Italian car building after the war. In 1956, the management of the company became critical and it was bought by the Italcementi cement group. Lancia will launch the magnificent high-end Flaminia (1957), its mid-range Flavia (1960) and Fulvia (1963) sedans. With almost 350,000 copies, this compact will be distributed in particular in a very good version of the coupé sold in 1965, which will become the world rally champion.

The company It also holds the record for the most number of victories and titles won thanks to the Fulvia coupé, then the Stratos and the Delta Integrale, crowned six times in a row between 1987 and 1992. But, in the meantime, in those financial difficulties, Lancia joined the Fiat group in 1969. The slow descent into hell began in 1986 when Fiat also acquired Alfa Romeo. The Italian group doesn’t know what to do with its two brands stepping on each other. Lancia would eventually be sacrificed in favor of Alfa, which however would also be mismanaged by the transalpine consortium. The height of decay, when it took over Chrysler in 2010, Fiat decorated Lancia with obsolete American models, which ended up exploding what was left of Lancia’s image of nobility and class. A management there also disaster. We look forward to the revival of Lancia at the height of its brilliant history. A very difficult challenge.

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