If there is one brand that does the best job of no longer resembling its roots, it is Lancia. Since the death of the Delta Integrale in the early Nineties, Lancia hasn’t really had a halo car, and has not been much more than a Fiat offshoot. Since Chrysler has come under the Fiat banner, Sergio Marchionne has announced a partnership between Chrysler and Lancia.
The announcement will allow for Chrysler products to proliferate Europe, through the Lancia brand. Lancia’s products will be reintroduced to the UK through the Chrysler name, and Chrysler will use Lancia’s brand to sell their own projects. The Chrysler 300 will be sold as the Thema, the Town and Country as the Voyager, and the 200 as the Flavia, in both sedan and convertible variants. It doesn’t take long to realize that there are multiple problems with this strategy. Firstly, Fiat is directly turning Lancia into a victim of badge-engineering, a tactic which only serves to dilute the brand’s image. When it happened at GM in the Seventies and Eighties, Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac became so closely related that only a grille part or an interior badge separated the three. With the Flavia/200 and Thema/300, this also seems to be the case, where Fiat is only changing out the grille. Unless other measures ar etaken, then Lancia will become just a bunch of Chryslers, which simply doesn’t work within the brand’s history.
Lancia has always been associated with a certain amount of offbeat designs. The original Fulvia, Stratos, and Montecarlo were all different from their competitors. Even though they weren’t that successful on the market, they all showed a technology of some sort that differed greatly from the norm at the time. Through the Chrysler partnership, that aspect of the comapny will cease to be. Unless Fiat truly cares about reviving Lancia’s tarnished image in the EU, it looks to me like Lancia may not survive the next decade. Lancia has not necessarily been a brand of its own in the European market for quite a while–Fiat has been using them as a sort of luxury brand since the middle of the 2000s, as most of its product is simply Fiats with different bodywork installed. In other words, Fiat hasn’t really stuck to Lancia’s past so well, and the brand has been diluted to the point of near-irrelevance. The Chrysler tie-up will only serve to seal Lancia’s fate.
There has to be a way to fix the problem. Because Lancia is under the Fiat banner, they have access to Maserati and Ferrari’s parts bins. In fact, a private investor was going to bring back the Stratos, but the project was killed before it really got off the ground. If Lancia could figure out a way to do it in-house and get a halo model back in their showrooms, European customers might notice them more often. By using parts from Maserati and Alfa Romeo, Lancia could become a premium brand again, like they were in the Sixties. Fiat could also allow Lancia to use components from other brands on top of Chrysler designs, which could make Lancia a testbed for future technology (something they tried with the FWD Fulvia in the 1960s and with the Stratos in the Seventies). Lancia has a history of innovation in the industry, and it would be shameful to see that get replaced by badge-engineering. Fiat has the resources to avoid this, but they need to implement them or Lancia will die.