Lancia Should Be FCA’s Fashion and Technology Leader

This was a period in which I found myself as an intern at Lancia Centro Stile. I had recently completed an internship at I.De.A Institute and my degree thesis car, a provocative three-seat Lancia GT, had piqued the interest of Mike Robinson, Lancia’s design chief at the time.

Drew's official photo from Lancia—during one of his many awkward periods. The car, named "Semeion", was meant to be a premium F-segment flagship to take on the S-Class.
Drew’s official photo from Lancia—during one of his many awkward periods. The car, named “Semeion”, was meant to be a premium F-segment flagship to take on the S-Class.

What I found there was a studio full of talented designers, including Ferrari’s current chief, Flavio Manzoni, but a management that didn’t know where the brand should go.

They were concerned that anything too sporting would step on the toes of sister brand Alfa Romeo, while a true luxury car to combat Mercedes was realistically a bit out of reach considering the production cost restrictions of Fiat’s platforms.

In order to maximize profits, Fiat instead decided that Lancia would share both Fiat and Alfa Romeo platforms, while attempting to differentiate through unusual styling and trim alone.

While Alfa Romeo started to find its footing again in the 2000s with the striking 156, 159, Brera and GTV, Lancia slowly faded into the background after trying and failing to capture car buyers’ imagination with the interesting Thesis, the unusual Delta, and the downright ugly Lybra.

With the Chrysler acquisition in 2009, Lancia’s demise was almost guaranteed when badge engineering reared its ugly head as Chrysler products with oversized Lancia grilles slowly replaced all of the bespoke products but the Ypsilon in the Lancia lineup.

So, by that reasoning, it seems that Lancia’s death makes perfect sense. A brand without a clear direction in a group with an already large number of marques to manage should be put out of its misery. Except for one thing — FCA desperately needs a premium showcase brand, for both technology and design, and Lancia is the perfect fit.

Citroën has spun off DS as a standalone brand because of its strength in the market and design leadership; BMW set the premium stage with the return of Mini and recently created the i brand to showcase its future vision of vehicles both technically and design-wise, and Nissan are doubling down on the Infiniti brand in Europe as a way of penetrating the ever-growing premium market.

1955 Lancia Aurelia B24S Spider
1955 Lancia Aurelia B24S Spider

Lancia has a history of innovation dating back over 100 years. It has a sporting reputation that interestingly sits right on Citroën and DS’s current playground, the WRC. It also has a unique reputation as the only true fashion-oriented Italian mainstream brand.

Lancia should be FCA’s DS. At a time when everyone else is pouring resources into the sector, FCA is pulling its best shot at a prime market segment.

Here’s what I think needs to happen at Lancia

Lancia should aim for a comeback in two key areas:

  1. A B/C-segment hatch with Italian style and advanced technology to combat the C4 Cactus, DS3 and Golf
  2. A brand-leading D-segment sedan and coupé with a hybrid/electric powertrain aimed squarely at the emerging premium electric segment, which Tesla plans to invade in 2018.

The Ypsilon could be refreshed with a properly premium interior and a unique exterior design that clearly sets it apart in the market and accents the two new products. All of the products in the Lancia lineup, including or especially the large coupé, should be unapologetically designed with hints from the Italian fashion brands and offer exceptional color and trim options — something that shouldn’t be difficult with Fiat’s current leadership with the 500 in this area.

The Lancia brand would also be a perfect fit for FCA to experiment with autonomous driving and future-tech, which doesn’t fit with the performance-oriented brands like Alfa Romeo or Maserati.

Any sign of retro design should be banished from Lancia. Ignore the screams from the Twitterati for a retro-modern Delta HF and do what Lancia has always done best: innovate. Do unexpected things and stand out. Remember the spirit of the Stratos Zero concept, but don’t try to replicate it. The market is begging for individuality, so give it to them in spades. Be bold. And most of all, don’t rebadge anything.

A small lineup has been proven effective for Mini and DS, so keep it that way. A D-segment product will help the profit margin and the underlying technology and innovation will get shared by Chrysler in the US, where the bold styling may be too much for buyers. In China, the Italian nameplate and fashion orientation should be hugely popular.

Drew's reimagining of his degree thesis, the Lancia Fera. Positioned as a provocative fashion-first C-segment sports hatch
Drew’s reimagining of his degree thesis, the Lancia Fera. Positioned as a provocative fashion-first C-segment sports hatch

This is, of course, just a theory right now. The proper research should be done and a full strategy created. Instead, consider this a provocative suggestion from a long-time Lancia enthusiast and designer.

The sketch above is my quick re-imagining of the car I created nearly 20-years ago while at I.De.A Insitute. It’s design and unusual proportions are meant to reference Lancia’s history of innovation while looking forward to something completely new and different. It’s meant to provoke thought and discussion, not roll off an assembly line anytime soon.

So what do you think? Would this be a fitting rebirth for the Lancia brand, or is there a better way? Let us know on Twitter (@CDR_Insights or @drewdraws2) or Facebook.

This article first appeared on Car Design Research and was republished with permission


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