STRESA, Italy - Lancia's long-delayed flagship sedan, the Thesis, is scheduled to debut next spring.
The replacement for the Lancia Kappa was originally planned for introduction this month. But the launch has been gradually pushed back over the last two years and the Thesis is now set to debut in Italy in April 2002. Export markets will follow shortly after.
The delay was caused by the need to solve electronics and reliability problems.
Lancia invested E405 million in the Thesis, of which E184 million was for research and development and E221 million for tooling.
The sales goals are modest: 13,200 units in 2002 and 25,000 in 2003.
'We know we cannot compete in terms of numbers with the segment leaders [Audi A6, BMW 5 series and Mercedes-Benz E class], but we think our targets are reasonable and achievable,' said Fiat Auto Managing Director Roberto Testore.
He said the Thesis would help define the future of Fiat Auto's struggling premium brand.
'The Thesis is our view of the future of the Lancia brand,' said Testore. 'We began work on the car in late 1995, researching what the typical Lancia customer - the enlightened bourgeois of the 1950s and 1960s - would have liked today.'
The result of these studies was the Dialogos concept car seen at the Turin auto show in April 2000.
'We understood we were on the right path after the very positive reaction to the Dialogos,' said Testore. 'At the same time, we didn't decide a strict time frame for the launch. It would be launched only when perfect.'
The Thesis has a 2800mm wheelbase and is 4890mm long and 1490mm high. It will debut with three gasoline engines - 2.0- and 2.4-liter five-cylinder units and a 3.0-liter V-6. A five-cylinder common-rail turbodiesel will also be available.
A gasoline V-8 engine, possibly the Cadillac North Star from alliance partner General Motors, may be added later, said Nevio di Giusto, Fiat Auto executive vice president for product engineering.
Prices will be announced near the launch date, but the Thesis range is expected to begin at around E30,000 to E35,000.
'Compared with its direct competitors, the Thesis will offer 15 percent more value,' said Juan Jose Diaz Ruiz, Fiat Auto head of sales and marketing.
Lancia has begun to promote the new car. It plans to show the Thesis to 1,100 European fleet buyers and has activated a toll-free number in Italy for information and to book a test-drive - 800-THESIS. Similar numbers will be activated across Europe as the car nears the market.
Following the Thesis, Lancia's range renewal will continue with the Phedra, the successor to the Zeta full-size minivan that will debut in March or April 2002. In 2003, a new Ypsilon supermini will be launched.
Fiat Auto's medium-term target is to double its Lancia production from almost 150,000 units this year to 300,000 by 2008.
Launch: April 2002 in Italy; other markets soon after. Won't be sold in UK and Ireland
Segment: Medium luxury
Competitors: Audi A6, BMW 5 series, Mercedes-Benz E class
Sales target: 13,200 units in 2002; 25,000 in 2003.
Investment: E405 million, including E184 million for research and development and E221 million for tooling
Engines: Gasoline - 2.0-liter, five-cylinder, 185hp turbo; normally aspirated 2.4-liter, 170hp; 3.0-liter V-6, 215hp;
V-8 may be added. Diesel - five-cylinder, 150hp turbodiesel will be followed by a version of Isuzu's 3.0-liter V-6
Price: Not announced, but expected to begin at around E30,000-E35,000
Dimensions: 4890mm long; 1830mm wide; 1490mm high; 2800mm wheelbase