Lancia and Saab: Branded as failures?

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Thread: Lancia and Saab: Branded as failures?

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    Lancia and Saab: Branded as failures?

    Branded as failures?
    Commentary by Hilton Holloway
    Wed, May 06 2009

    The ability of ailing car marques to hang on, despite years of falling sales and rising losses is one of the peculiarities of the automotive industry.

    But the swirl of rumours around Fiat’s audacious bid for GM’s European division have suggested that Lancia and Saab will finally be killed off.

    (Although Saab is currently set to be sold off a separate entity, Fiat’s bid seems to be based on the idea of taking the whole thing off GM’s hands as a job lot).

    Both Lancia and Saab have traded on past glories and both have failed to achieve either true blue-chip individuality or to command premium prices within a larger corporate group.

    Perhaps Saab and Lancia were fatally damaged when forced to build premium-priced cars based on the mass-market components of the time.

    I owned a Cavalier-based 1993 Saab 900 and it was a really poor car (though it was subsequently rapidly improved) and least said about the Fiat Tipo-based Lancia Dedra, the better.

    In any case, for the last decade, neither Saab nor Lancia have managed to shift much beyond 130,000 cars each year. Profits were sunk not only by low sales but also by the need to develop individual styling and engineering to maintain ‘brand values’ as well as paying for unique marketing campaigns.

    The car industry theory seems to be that it is easier to ‘revive’ a once-great brand, rather than take a risk on developing a new badge.

    Even so, legendary engineer Ferdinand Piech was supposed to have said that if he’d know it would have taken 20 years to turn Audi into a blue-chip brand, he wouldn’t have bothered.

    The Anglophile BMW board learned a similar lesson when they bought Rover Group in 1994. £800m looked like a bargain when it included a raft of brand names including Rover, Land and Range Rover, Mini, Triumph and Riley.

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    Re: Lancia and Saab: Branded as failures?

    As someone who is a Lancisti and a bit of a Saabphile, I think that losing either marque in the short- or long-term would be a mistake.

    I know that neither will sell 1 million units a year, but there is nothing that says a small brand cannot survive in this market if it is nurtured and has a good product strategy.

    And what's more, there is great potential left in both brands if costs are controlled and markets exploited.

    For example, Saab exists worldwide, yet sells only 130,000 or so units a year.

    Lancia sells 140,000 or so units a year as well -- but their market presence is limited to Southern Europe and other key European markets. So they don't have the extensive exposure they need.

    In both cases, they "suffer" from a limited number of lineups. I think that there is something to salvage here. And I hope that regardless of who ends up in charge, both brands survive.
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    Re: Lancia and Saab: Branded as failures?

    The problem with Lancia is that it gradually slipped from being the "Cadillac of Italy" to the barely-better-than-a-Fiat status it enjoys today.

    Its large cars have been nothing but a flotilla of garbage scows for years. The goofy Gamma (though the coupé looked sharp), the crappy Kappa, which aped the goofy Gamma, and finally the distinctive, but perhaps too distinctive, Thesis today. The Thema was the only decent large sedan Lancia's offered in the past three decades, and it certainly wasn't in Audi/Mercedes territory.

    For Lancia to survive outside Italy, it will need an A6 type luxury sedan, with a smaller companion, and for G-d's sake, bring rallying back to Lancia. The old Delta's rally record singlehandedly kept that model alive well past its sell-by date.

    Lancia should offer a midsize luxury crossover, and put that lovely little Fulvia coupé concept into production. And I'm imagining a revived Stratos...!

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    Re: Lancia and Saab: Branded as failures?

    Somehow, I doubt the Saab 900 was Cavalier based.

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    Re: Lancia and Saab: Branded as failures?

    It was based on the VAUXHALL Cavalier, aka Opel Vectra A at that time. It was related to the J-body Cavalier, but only distantly.

    As concerns Lancia, it proved viable as a way of moving glorified Fiat cars. In many markets, the Ulysse and Idea were pulled, but Musa and Phedra continue to sell. There was even talk of not building successors for either of th Fiat models and keeping them Lancias (though Brazil would probably have to get an Idea anyway).

    Lancia's death threat is in being mostly an excuse for maintaining the Sicilian Termini Imerese plant, which by now builds only the Lancia Ypsilon, which in turn accounts for over 50% of Lancia sales. The Ypsilon is quite old now, and the Fiat 500 is largely competing in the same niche, though apparently a five-door version of the 500 is to appear as the new Ypsilon...

    I would still hate to have Lancia go. I think even despite not building large sedans now it fills it role nicely - and it actually enjoys constant sales increases thanks to the Delta (even though it did even with the old lineup).

    The goofy Gamma (though the coupé looked sharp), the crappy Kappa, which aped the goofy Gamma, and finally the distinctive, but perhaps too distinctive, Thesis today. The Thema was the only decent large sedan Lancia's offered in the past three decades, and it certainly wasn't in Audi/Mercedes territory.
    Goofy Gamma? Pardon me? And the Kappa by no means aped the Gamma (you would hardly know they came from the same brand), and I would hardly call it crappy. Perhaps a bit small for an executive car, but a rather decent model. The Thema OTOH was merely a glorified Fiat Croma, and generally the non-Alfa Type Four cars are hardly anything to write home about. Only the second generation (Kappa, 166) was the Type Four done right, even if a decade too late.

    For Lancia to survive outside Italy, it will need an A6 type luxury sedan, with a smaller companion, and for G-d's sake, bring rallying back to Lancia. The old Delta's rally record singlehandedly kept that model alive well past its sell-by date.

    Lancia should offer a midsize luxury crossover, and put that lovely little Fulvia coupé concept into production. And I'm imagining a revived Stratos...!
    Lancia is alive today because they didn't listen to you. The last time they did the A6 type luxury sedan, they've lost a lot of money. Rallying would also cost a lot of money (anything but WRC would be a sad joke, and nowadays even big-volume brands can hardly afford WRC, besides there is little chance of beating team Citroen in near future), and does not quite connect to the image Lancia has evolved to have. I miss the nifty integrale Deltas too, though.

    A midsize luxury crossover might be in the making if Marchionne bangs himself on the head and realizes there should be NO Alfa crossover. To me, the Alfa = sedans/coupes Lancia = MPVs/SUVs division seems to be the perfect balance. There was talk that the upcoming Phedra would be more of a crossover than van (think smaller Pacifica).

    Anyhow - Lancia might not live up to the memories of its illustrous past, but it certainly does what it takes to be a commercially viable entity.

    Last edited by Bravada; 05-18-2009 at 12:35 AM.

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    Re: Lancia and Saab: Branded as failures?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bravada View Post
    Goofy Gamma? Pardon me?
    It was cheaply-finished, poorly-built, grossly underpowered for a "prestige" product, and had atrocious styling (yet the coupé was stunning). It was a rebodied Flavia... isn't "Flavia" italian for "flawed"?

    The Fiat 130 was a vastly better, and more prestigious, car.

    The Kappa very closely resembled (in theme, not exectuion) the 3-box sedan Gamma Scala prototypes that were shown, but never put into production. Make no mistake, I absolutely loved the Kappa. But a prestige product, it was NOT. Lancia used to mean "opulent luxury with Italian style". All the Kappa got right was the "Italian style" part. The Kappa was an interesting car, but hardly a prestige product. Lancia used to be in Mercedes, not Renault, territory.

    The Thema wasn't a tarted-up Croma... the Croma was a cheapened-down Thema! Okay the Tipo 4's weren't much to write home about, but relative to the time period it was introduced (where an obsession with low body mass resulted in some rather tinny-feeling cars), the Thema was a very nice car; not in Benz territory but closer to Lancia's roots than the Gamma was.

    The last time they did the A6 type luxury sedan, they've lost a lot of money.
    . Lancia have NEVER produced anything worthy of competing with the A6.

    Rallying would also cost a lot of money (anything but WRC would be a sad joke, and nowadays even big-volume brands can hardly afford WRC, besides there is little chance of beating team Citroen in near future), and does not quite connect to the image Lancia has evolved to have. I miss the nifty integrale Deltas too, though.
    This suggestion was purely for sentimental, not practical reasons! Maybe because of my age, I vividly remember the Delta setting the new benchmark in rallying! Until the Peugeot 205 superceded it...

    To me, the Alfa = sedans/coupes Lancia = MPVs/SUVs division seems to be the perfect balance. There was talk that the upcoming Phedra would be more of a crossover than van (think smaller Pacifica).
    I agree 100%. Although I think the Kamal concept would have made an excellent addition to the Alfa lineup... even more so if Alfa were taking the US market seriously.

    I would just like Lancia to return to the glory days of the Aurelia (which Mercedes itself emulated with its "Pontoon" model), the absolutely lovely little Appia (with MG's Magnette, the precursor to every "premium compact" sedan out there), and the unforgettable Fulvia. All well-finished, well-designed cars bristling with highly-sophisticated engineering features and unmistakably Italian style.

    Lancia's made a good fist of it, but, like Cadillac, the brand deserves a position, and products more befitting its prestigious past.
    Last edited by t-rex; 05-18-2009 at 01:22 AM.

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    Re: Lancia and Saab: Branded as failures?

    Make no mistake, I absolutely loved the Kappa. But a prestige product, it was NOT. Lancia used to mean "opulent luxury with Italian style".
    After Lancia Flavia and Fulvia, I don't think "opulent" is the word. Lancia has not been an exclusive supplier of handbuilt chassis to coachbuilders for decades. Kappa matches this new role of Lancia very well.

    It was cheaply-finished, poorly-built, grossly underpowered for a "prestige" product, and had atrocious styling (yet the coupé was stunning).
    I dare you to get into a Gamma and Thema side by side and tell me which one is cheaply finished.

    . Lancia have NEVER produced anything worthy of competing with the A6.
    I wouldn't deem the Thesis unworthy. Apart from the unusual styling and complete lack of market success, it wasn't lacking in any other territory.

    Although I think the Kamal concept would have made an excellent addition to the Alfa lineup... even more so if Alfa were taking the US market seriously.
    I sure hope you bang into Marchionne head-on - maybe that'll help you both Is Jaguar not taking the US market seriously by not fielding a CUV?

    I would just like Lancia to return to the glory days of the Aurelia (which Mercedes itself emulated with its "Pontoon" model), the absolutely lovely little Appia (with MG's Magnette, the precursor to every "premium compact" sedan out there), and the unforgettable Fulvia. All well-finished, well-designed cars bristling with highly-sophisticated engineering features and unmistakably Italian style.
    They are closer to it now than you think. The Musa and Delta are more of a modern day Appia than anything else.

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    Re: Lancia and Saab: Branded as failures?

    Wow, I got back to this conversation rather late.

    So a few quick thoughts:

    I agree that Lancia has been a beaten brand over the last few decades, but don't think that the brand should disappear. If anything, I think it has a great deal of potential. Unlike Saab, which exists worldwide and barely cracks 130,000 units a year, Lancia is sold in few markets and sells roughly the same amount of cars.

    I honestly believe that they could grow into a decent brand pushing 300,000 units a year if they were just given some good attention.

    As for the "A6 type product" comments, I agree that they do need a 3-Series/A4 and 5-Series/A6 type products if they are to succeed in other world markes (if they were to eventually be sold in Russia, China, India, and the US, etc). However, they could do this without a proper RWD platform and reutilizing existing Fiat hardware.

    However, I don't think using the Thesis as a good "test" of this segment is the right thing to do. The Thesis had a lot going for it, but was oddly styled (Mike Robinson's work), never really marketed properly, and dynamically never stood up to its competitors.

    Had Fiat given it a more 'accepting' look and pushed it a bit, I'm sure it would have sold better.

    And to be quite honest, with Fiat's desire to "update the look of exists products" a few years back (GTV, 166, 156, Multipla, Stilo, Punto, Ypsilon, Barchetta, etc), I'm really surprised the Thesis never got that kind of treatment.

    I can imagine an updated Thesis with a revised front and rear fascia, a few more advertising dollars, and a updated interior getting SOME attention.

    Just a shame.
    Last edited by nadepalma; 05-19-2009 at 10:38 AM.
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    Re: Lancia and Saab: Branded as failures?

    The Thesis' odd conk is what potentially puts off many buyers. I'd like to see a facelift, harking back of course to my favourite Lancia of all time... the Aurelia. Or better yet, replace it, move it up into XF/5er/E-klasse territory by putting it on a "simplified" Maserati GranTurismo platform. FWD isn't an absolute for the brand. I'd rather see a big RWD Lancia than a big RWD Alfa...

    The Ypsilon and Musa do well in Italy (and France also, if I remember correctly) and are crucial to the brand's portfolio. Plus I find the Ypsilon classy-looking. Maybe its replacement will hark back to my favourite Italian cittadine of all time... the Autobianchi A112!

    The new Delta is a stunner, and while it won't attract volume buyers, if the quality is there, Fiat can charge a healthy premium for it. An A4esque sedan/estate would be a welcome addition to the Lancia family.

    I'm wondering if a B-segment sedan, with perhaps a wagon variant, would find waiting buyers in Europe. I know the old continent is very hatch-centric, but three-box cars do well in the markets where Lancia were tradionally strong, such as Portugal and Greece. Heck, maybe it would draw the Irish and Scandinavians into finally warming to Italian cars! Perhaps it could mop up the old Skoda Fabia sedan's market segment!

    A crossover would only be necessary if Fiat planned to push Lancia in volume markets like North America, Australia, or the ASEAN region, where upscale SUV's sell well.

    Sigh. The lovely little nuova Fulvia (Fulvietta?) concept will sadly never see the light of day.

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    Re: Lancia and Saab: Branded as failures?

    Are they still even building the Thesis? It's not on their website anymore.

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    Re: Lancia and Saab: Branded as failures?

    As for the "A6 type product" comments, I agree that they do need a 3-Series/A4 and 5-Series/A6 type products if they are to succeed in other world markes (if they were to eventually be sold in Russia, China, India, and the US, etc).
    Really, what's with that "they need a 3er/5er/S-Klasse etc." crap. Those cars sell well indeed, but this niche is already occupied by them, and it would take a stunning Lancia to even make a dent, plus craploads of marketing. Lancia does very well with their current lineup. I could imagine the Musa or Phedra being rather popular in markets such as China, where luxurious people movers do not carry the soccer m om stigma. It is much easier to break through in a market segment where there is less competition, or even to create one.

    The new Delta is a stunner, and while it won't attract volume buyers, if the quality is there, Fiat can charge a healthy premium for it
    Why not? People in Europe love the versatility of hatchbacks, wagons and MPVs, and the Delta gives them a practical family car and a good-looking unique prestige car in one. The A-Klasse, despite being 100 times crappier, was a runaway success.

    And to be quite honest, with Fiat's desire to "update the look of exists products" a few years back (GTV, 166, 156, Multipla, Stilo, Punto, Ypsilon, Barchetta, etc), I'm really surprised the Thesis never got that kind of treatment.
    1. It would look even goofier with a different nose grated on

    2. It wouldn't change the sales anyway, so it just didn't pay off to do it

    I'm wondering if a B-segment sedan, with perhaps a wagon variant, would find waiting buyers in Europe. I know the old continent is very hatch-centric, but three-box cars do well in the markets where Lancia were tradionally strong, such as Portugal and Greece. Heck, maybe it would draw the Irish and Scandinavians into finally warming to Italian cars! Perhaps it could mop up the old Skoda Fabia sedan's market segment!
    I thought the Linea should have been a Lancia, but now I see how important it is for the Fiat brand. But a Linea-based Lancia Beta could make a lot of sense (and sales)!

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    Re: Lancia and Saab: Branded as failures?

    Lancia is good, Saab= bad, end of story.
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    Re: Lancia and Saab: Branded as failures?

    The new Delta offers a couple of state of the art engines and unusual but attractive styling, combined with good space. Some people are looking for these attributes, and given that its based so heavily on a Bravo it can't cost much to build. I mean, the chassis is a stretched Bravo and the windscreen and dash architecture are identical.

    Lancia fills a gap in the market, and it isn't German, which helps The clever bit will be finding space for Fiat, Alfa AND Lancia, but VW can do it with their brands, so why not?

    Lots of makers lost the plot in the seventies and eighties, but those that survive under the umbrella of a dynamic corporation should continue if their niche product is genuinely interesting and different. Its amazing how many punters refuse to believe that an Audi is basically a Skoda, but with a bit of wood and leather, and possibly a slightly more modern engine. They cover their ears and scream if you even hint at it

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    Re: Lancia and Saab: Branded as failures?

    Its amazing how many punters refuse to believe that an Audi is basically a Skoda
    Only holds true for the A3, and is quite of a stretch.

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    Re: Lancia and Saab: Branded as failures?

    - seems I've got a fixation on partnering brands
    Quote Originally Posted by nadepalma View Post
    ...Saab exists worldwide, yet sells only 130,000 or so units a year.

    Lancia sells 140,000 or so units a year as well -- but their market presence is limited to Southern Europe and other key European markets. So they don't have the extensive exposure they need...
    ^ so, could
    lightly (but not insignificantly to the consumer) distinguished styling/packaging/trims
    with Lancia (mainly) for Mediterranean markets
    & Saab (mostly) everywhere else
    Lead to an almost immediate doubling of overall volume?

    - where they share some models but primarily
    Quote Originally Posted by t-rex View Post
    ...Lancia should offer a midsize luxury crossover, and put that lovely little Fulvia coupé concept into production. And I'm imagining a revived Stratos...!
    Quote Originally Posted by Bravada View Post
    ...A midsize luxury crossover might be in the making if Marchionne bangs himself on the head and realizes there should be NO Alfa crossover. To me, the Alfa = sedans/coupes Lancia = MPVs/SUVs division seems to be the perfect balance. There was talk that the upcoming Phedra would be more of a crossover than van (think smaller Pacifica)...
    Quote Originally Posted by t-rex View Post
    ...I agree 100%. Although I think the Kamal concept would have made an excellent addition to the Alfa lineup... even more so if Alfa were taking the US market seriously...
    Could Lancia specialize in ^those^? maybe plus (formal) sedans
    & Saab perhaps (re)claim (sports-practical) hatchback-leadership?
    ...with some badge-flexibility for various markets?
    then
    interiors would be differenced by 'voluptuous' materials & surfacing for Lancia
    while Saab emphasizes 'born-from-jets'/'good-for-your-back', sleek ergonomics?

    Just seems to me they could complement eachother quite nicely.



    (disclaimer: I know practically nothing about Lancia and only recently (Aero-X, 9-X-Air) became enamoured of Saab)
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