CEO Lancia: ‘We must avoid the pitfall of nostalgia’

Today, the resurrected Italian car brand Lancia launches the first car in its new product portfolio, the successor to the current Ypsilon. We presented the car in another article and talked to Lancia’s brand CEO, Luca Napolitano.

Napolitano studied Business Administration in Rome and began his automotive career at Ford. In 2000, he started working for the Fiat Group, ultimately becoming responsible for the EMEA markets for Fiat and Abarth. When Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares decided to put Lancia on the market again, he appointed Napolitano brand CEO of Lancia and a member of his Stellantis top executive team.

“Lancia is still a credible and respected brand with a rather premium image, despite being absent on the European markets for a long time, except in Italy,” says Napolitano. For the relaunch, we work on two fronts: Italy and the rest of Europe. We must restructure our network in Italy; in Europe, we must put ourselves on the market again.”

How do you want to do this? Also, inside the Stellantis Group, there are already several premium brands…

“It won’t be easy. At first, we will go to hunt in the premium B-segment. Quality is important here, but I think we can be credible. You can still meet many people who were or are proud to be seen in a Lancia. Lancia is the Italian epitome of elegance.”

“We started planning in 2021 and knew diversification would be very important. As a brand, we have a double heritage: we made extremely beautiful cars in the sixties, and we have our rally history. What we must avoid is the pitfall of nostalgia. We don’t want retro looks; we want to offer really modern cars, futuristic in design and drive, but with the atmosphere and flair of a true Lancia.”

“We have our heritage and our sports history, but we have to avoid the pitfall of nostalgia.”

How do you define your USP for Lancia?

“Talking about USP, I see four of them. First, we aim for a timeless design inspired by the past but not at all retro. Second, we will try to give the Lancia owner a sense of homecoming, like in earlier years. Third, there is the technical expertise. A Lancia must drive effortlessly and intuitively. We don’t have real sporty aspirations. Last but not least, there’s durability. That’s the center of our effort.”

If we are well informed, there are three new models to come in the near future.

“You’re right. We’re planning three models at the moment. The first will be the Ypsilon, presented today, which can be ordered as a BEV or a hybrid. From 2026 onward, Lancias will be fully electric because the client wants it. A Lancia must be elegant and comfortable in the first place, and an electric drive is a perfect match for this. We don’t need ostentatious noise to make our point.”

Putting Lancia on the market again won’t be an easy task.

“We worked out a strategic plan for the next ten years. Of course, there’s a difference between the Italian home market and the rest. In Italy, we had a corner in the showroom of some 170 Fiat dealers. This will change: we will have our own tiny but cozy showrooms with dedicated staff. Abroad, we have to be careful and don’t rush things. Quality, I say it again, is our first aim in all circumstances. This needs stepping-stone tactics.”

You no longer have a dealer network in Europe. Will you focus on an online approach, or are you considering collaborating with Fiat or even Alfa Romeo?

“Online will be important surely. Clients are now purchasing a car in a very different way. They do it on the couch at home and go only once, at the end, to the dealer with very specific questions and demands. The dealer has to be prepared for this. In Belgium, for example, we will start with 10 showrooms and 13 service points. They will be specifically Lancia and have this cozy home atmosphere.”

You mention Belgium. In fact, Benelux seems to be a priority in this relaunch, even surpassing bigger countries like France, Spain, or Germany.

“We see Belgium as a very special, untraditional car country. And there’s still a very positive attitude toward Italian products. The fact that the professional market (company cars) is so dominant here is also important for us. We want to score in the B segment of this professional market.”

“The Lancia heritage is still strong in Belgium and the Netherlands. That’s what we want to build on. We start production of the Ypsilon in April and want to make the first deliveries in May in Italy. By then, we want to have a fleet of test cars ready in the Benelux for our earliest customers.”

A last remark: last year, the Lancia Ypsilon booked record sales, and a few years ago, the Ypsilon sold more units in Italy than Alfa Romeo achieved worldwide. Wasn’t it a weird decision to halt the brand, then?

“Allow me to avoid commenting on the past. We want to look forward. We want to re-establish Lancia’s core values with excellent products and qualitative service. That’s also one of the reasons we’ll start in a smaller market like the Benelux outside Italy. The rest will come.”

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