Jim Blades, then Fiat Auto UK managing director, told AM in 2001 that the brand he axed in this country would return as part of a plan to reach 4.2m annual group sales by 2008.
Fiat is selling 80% of Lancias in Italy and believes the current and future model range is strong enough to spearhead more exports. By 2010, annual Lancia production is forecast to reach 300,000, with 120,000 sold outside Italy. It means re-starting right-hand drive production, with the associated costs – something that has delayed the return to the UK. However, Japan, also rhd, will be a key market.
Garel Rhys, automotive professor at Cardiff University business school, believes the axing of Lancia was unwise and that its return to Britain could be a success.
“Lancia could be what Rover might have become,” says Rhys. “It’s not a rival to BMW, but to the British it relates to something like the old Wolseley.
“Fiat has Alfa Romeo as its sporty brand, but it’s too brittle for many British tastes. Lancia is different, but Fiat needs to limit volumes, rather as Toyota did when introducing Lexus.
“The product must be right before it enters showrooms. It could do well sold alongside Alfas, and its residuals are likely to be better.”
Lancia’s comeback will be spearheaded by the Delta HPE, which debuts at the Paris show this month. The C-sector car was first seen as a concept at the Venice International Film Festival during the summer as part of Lancia’s brand marketing.
The model was inspired by the Lancia Beta HPE of the Seventies. The last Lancias sold in the UK were the high-performance Delta integrale and Thema executive car.