The upcoming 2011 Geneva Salon will probably be the most important motor show in Lancia’s recent history, as the Italian brand is trying to start off its revitalization plan with a push of new models. However, the recently unveiled Flavia and Thema sedans and Grand Voyager MPV didn’t quite catch the public’s eye due to the fact that they’re all rebadged Chryslers, while the Delta hatchback hasn't even come close in repeating the first generation model's success.
This leaves the new Ypsilon to fend for the 105-year old company’s honor. The Italian firm's new small car is considered to be a “pocket flagship” and has been given a key role in Lancia's turnaround strategy, thoroughly emphasized during a press event that Carscoop was invited to attend at the Fiat Group’s Centro Stile design center in Turin, Italy.
Sales growth is critical to Lancia and in order to achieve this the automaker has repositioned the new Ypsilon, which for the first time in its 25 year-long history, is offered in a 5-door body style. According to Lancia Product Manager Claudio Nervi, this will help the new model to cover a much larger percentage of the B-segment than current 3-door only model.
Choosing the platform on which to build the Ypsilon was very important because Lancia wanted to accommodate up to five people, while keeping the overall length below 4 meters to avoid competition with larger B-segment cars. “Going to a Grande Punto platform also would have meant more competition”, said Nervi.
The Fiat 500’s platform came up as an obvious choice but it was stretched by 90 mm in length to improve passenger space. Nevertheless, Lancia considers that the main strength of the 3.84-meter-long model will be its stylish and not its practical side. “The Ypsilon emphasizes style. It’s not the rational customer’s choice”, said Lancia Communications Director Rino Drogo.
As for the Ypsilon's rivals, Nervi pointed out that “the main competitors are the Citroën C3, Ford Fiesta and Toyota Yaris”. He said that compared to the C3, the Ypsilon has “more innovative styling”, while he also claimed that it trumps the Fiesta thanks to “more personalization options and better quality”. Nervi added that Lancia’s new small car is also “more expressive than the Yaris and has more upscale optional equipment”.
Lancia aims to widen the customer base by targeting male customers as well. “The typical Ypsilon buyer is between 30 and 45 years old, technologically up to date, with a high social-cultural status and strong fashion sense”, Lancia officials said during the presentation.
The design will play a major part in attracting the aforementioned customers. The new Ypsilon has “evolved the styling language introduced by the Delta achieving better results due to the smaller size”, Claudio Nervi commented. Although it’s a 5-door model, Lancia wanted to keep the coupe character of the previous generation. To achieve this, the designers used hidden rear door handles and a sloping roof, along with a rising beltline. The choice of exterior colors will be the “wildest” in the segment, according to Color and Material Director Rosella Guasco, while the cabin will use high quality materials and various trim pieces that can be matched to the exterior finish.
To underline its “pocket flagship” status, Lancia said the new model will come with several exclusive features such as a large glass panoramic roof, the Magic Parking 2 semi-automatic parking system and a cap-less refueling system. These will be exclusive to the Ypsilon for at least one year.
Lancia expects to sell 122,000 examples of the Ypsilon annually from 2012, including the right-hand drive Chrysler version that will go on sale in the UK and Ireland in September. For this year, the Italians expect to shift up to 40,000 units with sales set to start in June, while the firm will also continue to offer the previous generation model as well.
By Csaba Daradics