By Wolfgang Philipp
Published in August 2021
Lancia is the sleeping beauty in Stellantis’ extensive brand portfolio. A brand that shaped the automobile – with inventions like the self-supporting body and design icons such as the Aurelia B20 GT, the Aurelia B24 Spider, and the Stratos – is being awakened by a kiss in a new era of mobility.
In this article, we take a closer look at the fame and glory of Lancia and why its best days are possibly yet to come.
While Lancia’s glorious moments are starting to fade in low-res quality, other, wide-awake brands have occupied its domain for a long time. And even they have to continually pull out all the stops to assert their place in a new era of mobility. How can a sleeping petrol-head brand of the past be of any relevance in an emission-free future?
In the 14-brand universe of Stellantis, Lancia seems to have its back up against the wall, with nothing left except the ten-year old Ypsilon, but its true power lies in the brand itself. While the conglomerate’s core brands are direct competitors with symmetrical product portfolios, the elegant, classy Lancia does not come into conflict with its modest stepsisters. In fact, its grandeur might open the door for Stellantis to enter a premium segment, in which neither Citroën nor Peugeot nor Opel could stir any desire for decades.
In a rational, numbers-driven family, the emotional stepchild might become the black sheep if it does not match up to the prevailing standards. If profit is the main focus, a brand is merely an asset to deliver a premium. While profit is essential in the long term, it makes a difference whether it is the main purpose or the result of a greater ambition. The fate of Lancia’s sister, Alfa Romeo, demonstrates the downsides of a strong rational influence – in this case that of former owner FCA – on an emotional brand. In the first half of 2019, it sold even fewer cars in Europe than Lancia did of the aforementioned Ypsilon in its sole remaining market of Italy6. And the upcoming SUV models, the compact Tonale and the sub-compact Brennero7, might also be the wrong response to the fervent expectations of the long-suffering Alfisti.
Alfa Romeo is hot-blooded, Italian passion, not value-for-money-driven rationality. And that’s the family problem here: the blueprint that works for Peugeot or Opel does not work for Alfa Romeo or Lancia. Alfa Romeo’s DNA is in highly emotional products like the Spider, not emotionalized products like the Tonale or Brennero. People who are waiting for a new Alfa Romeo are not waiting for an SUV – and they would probably even prefer other brands in this segment.
Will Lancia be given the freedom to thrive in segments other than the booming SUV and small electrified vehicle categories? The Ypsilon is already living off the fading remains of the brand’s heritage, which desperately needs replenishment – a new proud chapter, a new halo that brings the brand back to life and that can shine on more rational, highly profitable models later on. This requires a holistic approach that favors long-term brand value and customer experience over short-term success in unrelated segments.
Stellantis has just begun, and the new constellation represents the greatest chance for Lancia for decades, as well as for the other brands. The group has combined its efforts to face their challenges, and there are plenty of them.
Apart from its crown jewel, Jeep, none of its brands are really international. The globally most promising names, Alfa Romeo and Lancia, need true devotion to shine again. The group’s powerhouses, Peugeot, Citroën, Fiat, and Opel, are only strong in their local markets and would be direct competitors on an international level. The premium offer DS Automobiles has the least heritage of all brands, in a segment where it makes all the difference. Dodge’s and Chrysler’s US market demands are largely incompatible to the European brands’ models. And French and Italian national pride could keep the family from growing together or even hold back each of the brands, as sooner or later the question will arise of whether Peugeot and Citroën are the right entrants in racing from a family that could also continue motorsport’s brightest legacy with Alfa Romeo, Maserati or with iconic partnerships like Martini Lancia.
The potential of Stellantis is promising. The rather rationally driven brands of the PSA group and the more emotionally driven brands of FCA could perfectly complement each other in a powerful, international family that lets each brand contribute its strengths and accommodates its weaknesses – a clearly differentiated portfolio with distinctive brands and brand-exclusive products that create true excitement and original customer experiences. It requires Stellantis to take on the role of a caring parent that provides all the financial and technological support necessary but also trusts in its children’s true potential rather than dictating this potential to them. Shared technological platforms across all segments should remove the pressure of scale manufacturing and allow for more heterogeneous variants and design. This would finally restore the glorious names once again instead of exploiting them – and pay for itself many times over in the long term with thriving brands, loyal customers, and sustainable profits.
The sleeping beauty Lancia is being awakened with a kiss from a French prince who is raising all his financial and technological power to renovate the derelict fairy-tale castle. He is also bringing with him the detailed blueprint of the great residential complex he recently rebuilt in Rüsselsheim. Unfortunately, this blueprint will not work without demolishing the fairy-tale castle. A holistic approach is required to preserve the priceless historic foundation walls and to tap Lancia’s unique potential. Will he find the time, the strategy, and the dedication to do this, so they can all live happily ever after?
1/ “With its thrilling lines and uncompromising design for rally use, the Stratos not only single-handedly rewrote the history of rallying, …”, www.new-stratos.com, July 2021
2/ “Stellantis Gives Its Alfa Romeo, Lancia And DS Brands One Last Chance,” forbes.com, July 2021
3/ HISCOX, Classic Cars Pocket Price Guide 2021, powered by classic-analytics, P. 35
4/ HISCOX, Classic Cars Pocket Price Guide 2021, powered by classic-analytics, P. 35
5/ HISCOX, Classic Cars Pocket Price Guide 2021, powered by classic-analytics, P. 36
6/ “Lancia übertrumpft Alfa Romeo völlig,“ www.auto-motor-und-sport.de, July 2021
7/ “Alfa Romeo Tonale Coming To US, But Smaller Brennero Might Not“, www.motor1.com, July 2021
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