ANOTHER Italian brand is being groomed for migration to Australia.
This time it is Lancia. The semi-luxury brand has been missing from local roads for more than 20 years but a renewed emphasis on right-hand-drive cars will benefit Australian buyers within three years.
Lancia will be the 54th brand in local showrooms, though the total will be even higher before 2011 because at least two Chinese carmakers are aiming for a local launch next year.
Lancia is sheltered beneath the Fiat Group umbrella, which means it is much easier to make a business case by sharing existing resources with the Ferrari-Maserati-Fiat importer, Ateco Automotive in Sydney.
There are likely to be at least three models in the line-up, from a baby car to a people-mover. Ateco Automotive is being coy about details — and even shows some hesitation at the prospect of adding Lancia to its line-up — but indicates it will need at least three car models to make the brand a starter in Australia.
Ateco spokesman Ed Butler says Fiat is keen to see Lancia spread potential growth once it starts producing its new generation of right-hand-drive models — firstly aimed at British buyers — later this year.
“It's early days. We have to see what models are available and how they can work in Australia,” he says.
The most-likely first Lancia is the Delta five-door hatch, which is based heavily on the Fiat Ritmo.
The Thesis, a sedan version of the Delta, may also be added to the Australian list.
And there is also the multi-seat Phedra wagon. Small-bore Lancias such as the three-door Ypsilon and five-door Musa may be physically too small and a bit costly for Australia, though they have not been ruled out.
Both have the choice of 1.3-litre turbodiesel and 1.4-litre petrol engines in various levels of tuning. The powerplants are the same as those fitted to the Fiat 500 and Punto.
Lancia may share mechanical components with Fiat but the nameplate is more up-spec — dare we say, luxurious — and is intended to be classier.
That luxury includes attractive leather upholstery but that is at odds with the current Lancia styling that includes an ugly “cat's bum” corporate grille.
The Italian brand is being promoted heavily in Europe and particularly in the UK, as the Fiat Group starts to claw back market share from French and German rivals.
IT'S EARLY DAYS. WE HAVE TO SEE WHAT MODELS ARE AVAILABLE AND HOW THEY CAN WORK IN AUSTRALIA