Chrysler Brand Not Good Enough for Europe, Except in U.K.

April 22, 2010

As U.S. car buyers slog through their last year of shopping for the warmed-over 2010 models that Chrysler has been offering since before its bankruptcy, the great Fiat-Chrysler combination continues.

Yesterday, a surprise emerged: Contrary to published reports, the larger cars and crossovers engineered by Chrysler won't actually appear as Chryslers in Europe. Instead, they'll be branded with the historic but faded Lancia label.

2005 Lancia Ypsilon Zagato, Geneva Motor Show

2005 Lancia Ypsilon Zagato, Geneva Motor Show

Enlarge Photo

Chrysler-badged Lancia

Chrysler-badged Lancia

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Lancia Delta

Lancia Delta

Enlarge Photo

Turns out that consumer clinics showed that car buyers valued the Lancia brand more highly than that of Chrysler. [snap] Ultimately Lancia will end up with six Chrysler vehicles, including midsize and large sedans and crossovers, and a minivan.

A few U.S. buyers may still dimly remember Lancia from its last, catastrophic appearance here in the early Eighties. Its Beta sports sedan was ignominiously withdrawn from the market after just a few years; if the mechanical failures didn't get you, the rust would.

But that's old history now. And we won't see any Lancias in North America, despite the Chrysler-branded Lancia Delta that showed up at the Detroit Auto Show in January.

The two exceptions to the Lancia branding in Europe will be the United Kingdom and Ireland. The brand was withdrawn from those right-hand-drive markets in 1991 after severe--and highly publicized--issues with rust killed any viability for Lancia in consumer eyes.

There, the cars will be called Chryslers. For the U.K., perhaps the "special relationship" still holds.

The Chrysler brand in Europe has been represented mostly by the company's minivans--essentially Dodge Voyagers with European diesel engines and Chrysler badges--plus a few of the very large 300 four-door sedans, considered to be powerful but very crude.

In opting to badge larger sedans as Lancias rather than Chryslers, Fiat-Chrysler may also avoid the perception of selling "American cars," still widely viewed as overly large, unrefined, far too thirsty, and only really suitable for flashy characters with something to prove.

That's despite the fact that their future Lancias are likely to be engineered in Auburn Hills, Michigan, and many of them built in North America.

So, meshing the product plans of a struggling Italian small-car maker with a newly non-bankrupt perennial third-place U.S. truck builder means American brands are only good enough for Americans--not Europeans. Talk about the sins of the fathers.

Strange world we live in, isn't it?

[Automotive News (subscription required) ]

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