MILAN -- This year marks a significant anniversary for Lancia: The storied Italian brand was bought by Fiat 50 years ago.
No celebration will take place at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, though, as Lancia has now shrunk to a single nameplate: the Ypsilon small hatchback, sold only in its home market of Italy.
Lancia has virtually disappeared from FCA’s strategy since an aborted attempt to relaunch it after the 2009 Fiat-Chrysler merger.
In 2010, FCA management decided that Lancia would be merged with Chrysler in Europe. U.S.-made Chryslers would be rebadged as Lancias to beef up the product range, while some Lancias would be sold as Chryslers in the UK where Chrysler had better brand recognition.
The Chrysler 300 sedan was renamed in Europe as the Lancia Thema and the Chrysler Voyager minivan sold as a Lancia.
The Lancia-Chrysler combination aimed at reaching 295,000 European unit sales by 2014. The plan failed. Total sales by the two brands in Europe fell to 74,313 in 2014 from 112,000 in 2010, with Lancia down to 71,765 from 99,000.
As a result, Lancia disappeared from FCA plans altogether. Neither the 2014-18 business plan nor the current five-year plan presented in June 2018 made any mention of the brand.
"We realized the Lancia brand has no appeal outside of Italy," then-FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne said in July 2014. "It has no heritage neither in Europe nor in the U.S."
But Marchionne's plan stopped short of killing Lancia altogether and the brand has showed a resilience in its home market despite offering only the 8-year-old Ypsilon.
Lancia sold more cars in Italy in the first nine months than Alfa Romeo sold in the whole of the European Union, according to industry association ACEA. Lancia's Italian sales rose 29 percent to 45,783 through September, while Alfa Romeo's EU sales fell 42 percent to 39,114.
How can Lancia still command a 0.4 percent share of the EU market with only a single aging model sold in just one country?
“The Lancia brand still enjoys a wide recognition in Italy, and the Ypsilon has always been a popular model in the country,” said Felipe Munoz, a global automotive analyst JATO Dynamics. “Moreover, the small-car segment is still popular in Italy, and the Ypsilon is the only small hatchback FCA still sells in Italy after the Punto was discontinued in 2018.”
The past popularity of the Ypsilon also represents a reservoir of potential buyers, given the huge and quite loyal customer base. The car has been on sale for nearly 25 years in Italy, first as the Y and then the Ypsilon, with similar body styles although on different platforms. The car used to be made on the Fiat Punto platform until 2011, and it currently shares one with the Panda.
Over this time span, Lancia sold 1.6 million Y and Ypsilon cars in Italy.