Posts tagged ‘Lancia’


How will things play out at Fiat?

02.04.2016


Above: The current Fiat 500. A year shy of its 10th anniversary, is it still cool in 2016?

The Detroit News reports that Fiat has been having trouble Stateside, with dealers now permitted to sell the cars alongside Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Ram instead of at stand-alone showrooms.
   It’s been worrying seeing Fiat’s plans unfold since it decided to take control of Chrysler, a firm that was once the darling of the US car industry, with its industry-leading R&D times, to one that was starved of investment in the 2000s.
   Those initial plans, sold as a long-term strategy, turned out to be a short-term Band-Aid. With hindsight, maybe it wasn’t too much of a surprise, since Fiat was still grappling with understanding just what it was taking on.
   Fiat needed to do something given that things at home weren’t looking too good, with a model range that wasn’t very cohesive, and with its entries into the Chinese market having faltered a few times. To the casual observer, Fiat saved Chrysler, but there’s some truth in saying that having the company that controls the Jeep brand was a lifeline to Fiat itself.
   What we’ve seen since those days was the failure of the strategy of twinning Chrysler and Lancia. While this was a marriage of convenience, I could see this having some long-term gains with Lancia focusing on smaller cars and Chrysler on larger ones, but the result in 2016 is that Lancia has been reduced to an Italy-only marque, the equivalent of what Autobianchi was a few decades ago. Once the Ypsilon is deleted, then Lancia is consigned to the history books.
   The winner has been Alfa Romeo. It has only just returned to the junior executive segment with the new Giulia, after an absence of several years, and its 4C is a cracking sports car. Things are looking up, and rumours that Alfa and Dodge would be paired up in the same way Lancia and Chrysler were mercifully haven’t come true. The Giulia platform could be used for future models. Jeep has benefited from Fiat platforms, and Ram has gained some Fiat vans.
   But the parent brand, Fiat, has looked very uncertain for a while.
   For a start, there’s little uniformity globally. Fiat has the opportunity to offer the Viaggio and Ottimo in more places than China, slotting above the Ægea, for example. While having unique models for South America makes some sense, because of Fiat’s strength there, there’s an opportunity to globalize, with the Toro pick-up truck looking very appealing.
   Without having more of its self-developed products, the Fiat range in Europe doesn’t inspire too much confidence. While most manufacturers have one or two joint-venture models, Fiat’s range is almost exclusively made up of vehicles that have shared tech. The famous 500 and Panda are on a Fiat platform which has Chrysler input (before the takeover), and is shared with Ford for its B420 Ka. The Punto, 500X and 500L are on another platform shared with GM. The Doblò is also offered to GM. The Qubo is the product of a joint venture with Peugeot. The Freemont is a rebadged Dodge Journey from México, which Fiat gained after the takeover. The 124 Spider is based on the Mazda MX-5, and built in Japan by that firm. The Fullback pick-up is a Mitsubishi Triton twin and made in Thailand by that Japanese firm.
   Fiat, in other words, is holding down more relationships than Casanova.
   As a casual observer, there’s an opportunity for a massive streamlining of platforms, and offer more in-house models. That may well be happening, and let’s hope its current strategy is more long-term than its last.
   Secondly, as mentioned earlier, Fiat hasn’t had a great reputation of being able to carry out long-term sales’ strategies in many of its markets. Take New Zealand, for example, where Fiat was offering its (Grande) Punto and Bravo models, before it decided to pull everything and offer only the 500.
   The Punto has returned after a hiatus, this time as a budget model, along with the Tipo 139 Panda, but those who bought Puntos in the 2000s might think twice about returning to a company that abandoned them and offered no direct replacement for their car when it came to trading up.
   That lack of continuity could have some buyers worried, and Fiat needs to regain their trust in a big way.
   Being the Five Hundred Car Company, which Fiat certainly was in the US, cannot help, if buyers expect Fiat to offer more. We’ve seen it fail here, and Fiat’s had to back-track. Even in Hong Kong, where Fiat had also been reduced to flogging only the 500, it has had to add the Freemont.
   Fiat will argue that as it had been absent from North America for so long, it could re-enter the market-place with a single, fashionable model: after all, Mini and Smart have done.
   The trouble is that Fiat isn’t known as a niche brand: there was enough in the US media to indicate that this was an Italian giant, and the perception of such a large company didn’t gel with it offering a niche range anywhere. It lacked the cachet of a brand that was created to be fashionable and funky from the outset. You just can’t do it when that’s the name of the owner (think: can you sell “cool” cars with GM as the brand—that had been tried in New Zealand and failed dismally; or, going back a generation, Leyland? Volkswagen surely is the sole exception with its Beetle), and FCA, which the parent company is called, isn’t a consumer-facing brand. It’s just a company name with no brand equity.
   In the same vein, average punters might not know of BMW’s connection with Mini, or Daimler AG’s connection with Smart. They stand alone with plenty of brand equity, helped by identifiable products, and, in Mini’s case, even helped by its image outside North America.
   I also question whether the 500X and 500L are cute cars in the same vein as the original 500. Getting Ben Stiller’s Derek Zoolander character to advertise the 500X seemed good in theory—till it dawned on the public that the new Zoolander film was a bit naff, cashing in on last-decade nostalgia. I’m not a fan of retro design, either, and I would have hoped that Fiat would have renewed its 500 by now, since we’re on to newer versions of the Beetle, Mini, and Smart. It’s no surprise that Fiat sales are down 14·6 per cent so far this year.
   If Toyota could not sustain Scion with all its muscle, then Fiat retail really should be integrated into dealerships selling Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram Stateside. And I’d argue that Scion couldn’t remain because the brand had lost its coolness among the college kids who bought the XB in the first place. Buyers in this consumerist game, and at the fashion end it is more a game than in any other, are notoriously fickle.
   I don’t know how it’s going to play out. Fiat’s a brand I’ve grown up with, and I’ve been visiting their dealerships since I was two years old. Back in the 1970s the showroom in Homantin, Kowloon had everything from 127s to 130s. Fiat was doing a brisk trade on 124s. I came close to buying various Fiat Group cars over the years, including a Tipo and a Lancia Delta, and more recently I had considered Alfa Romeo Mitos and Giuliettas. I briefly toyed with importing a Tipo 844 Lancia Delta from the UK badged as a Chrysler, but decided having a $75 1:43-scale one was enough.
   To see Lancia decimated and now on life support as Fiat concentrated on making Chrysler and Dodge work, to see the home brand filled with other people’s products in the interim, and to receive news that US buyers weren’t flocking to its showrooms in the same numbers any more, all make me concerned. Go to Italy and the taxi ranks no longer are dominated by Fiat Group cars: the cabbies have gone French and German. It’s all very well Maserati and Ferrari doing well but the former’s volumes won’t have a huge impact, while the latter has been separated and now has a different parent. The only continent where I think Fiat is making a decent bash of things is South America. I don’t want to paint a doom-and-gloom picture, not least because I have fondness for all the brands that now fall under the Fiat umbrella. But the weaknesses, at least to an outsider looking in, outnumber the strengths. My gut says Fiat will work through it all, but will it do it in a fast enough fashion, or is there more pain to come?

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Posted in branding, business, cars, China, globalization, marketing, USA | 1 Comment »


A tribute to Massimo Vignelli

29.05.2014

The below ran in Lucire today, though it is equally suited to the readers of this blog.


RIT

Massimo Vignelli, who passed away on May 27, was a hero of mine. When receiving the news shortly before it hit the media in a big way, from our mutual friend Stanley Moss, this title’s travel editor and CEO of the Medinge Group, I posted immediately on Facebook: ‘It is a sad duty to note the passing of Massimo Vignelli, one of my heroes in graphic design. When I was starting out in the business, Massimo was one of the greats: a proponent of modernism and simple, sharp typography. His influence is apparent in a lot of the work done by our brand consultancy and in our magazines, even in my 2013 mayoral campaign graphics. A lot of his work from half a century ago has stood the test of time. There was only one degree of separation between us, and I regret that we never connected during his lifetime. The passing of a legend.’
   This Facebook status only scratches the surface of my admiration for Vignelli. There have been more comprehensive obits already (Fast Company Design rightly called him ‘one of the greatest 20th century designers’), detailing his work notably for the New York subway map, and—curiously to me—glossing over the effect he had on corporate design, especially in the US.
   Vignelli, and his wife Lella, a designer in her own right and a qualified architect, set up the Vignelli Office of Design and Architecture in Milano in 1960, which had clients including Pirelli and Olivetti. In 1965, they moved to New York and Vignelli co-founded Unimark International (with Ralph Eckerstrom, James Fogelman, Wally Gutches, Larry Klein, and Bob Noorda), where he was design director. It was the world’s largest design and marketing firm till its closure in 1977.
   The 1960s were a great time for Vignelli and his corporate identities. He worked on American Airlines, Ford, Knoll, and J. C. Penney, and the work was strictly modernist, often employing Helvetica as the typeface family. Vignelli was known to have stuck with six families for most his work—Bodoni was another, a type family based around geometry that, on the surface, tied in to his modernist, logical approach. However, there were underlying reasons, including his belief that Helvetica had an ideal ratio between upper- and lowercase letters, with short ascenders and descenders, lending itself to what he considered classic proportions. The 1989 WTC Our Bodoni, created under Vignelli’s direction by Tom Carnase and commissioned by Bert di Pamphilis, adheres to the same proportions.
   Although my own typeface design background means that I could not adhere to six, there is something to be said for employing a logical approach to design. American corporate design went through a “cleaning up” in the 1960s, with a brighter, bolder sensibility. Detractors might accuse it of being stark, the Helveticization of American design making things too standard. Yet through the 1970s the influence remained, and to my young eyes that decade, this was how professional design should look, contrary to the low-budget work plaguing newspapers and books that I saw as I arrived in the occident.
   When the Vignellis left Unimark to set up Vignelli Associates in 1971 (and later Vignelli Designs in 1978), their stamp remained. The MTA launched Vignelli’s subway map the following year, and like the London Underground map by Harry Beck in 1931, it ignored what was above ground in favour of a logical diagram with the stops. Beck was a technical draftsman and the approach must have found favour with Vignelli, just as it did with those creating maps for the Paris Métropolitain and the Berlin U-bahn.
   New Yorkers didn’t take to the Vignelli map as well as Londoners and Parisians, and it was replaced in 1979 with one that was more geographically accurate to what was above ground.
   In 1973, Vignelli worked on the identity for Bloomingdale’s, and his work endures: the Big Brown Bag is his work, and it continues to be used by the chain today. Cinzano, Lancia and others continue with Vignelli’s designs.
   Ironically, despite a rejection of fashion in favour of timelessness, some of the work is identified with the 1960s and 1970s, notably thanks to the original cut of Helvetica, which has only recently been revived (a more modern cut is commonplace), and which is slightly less popular today. Others, benefiting from more modern layout programs and photography, look current to 2010s eyes, such as Vignelli Associates’ work for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
   The approach taken by Lucire in its print editions has a sense of modernism that has a direct Vignelli influence, including the use of related typeface families since we went to retail print editions in 2004. Our logotype itself, dating from 1997, has the sort of simplicity that I believe Vignelli would have approved of.
   Vignelli was, fortunately, fêted during his lifetime. He received the Compasso d’Oro from ADI twice (1964 and 1998), the AIGA Gold Medal (1983), the Presidential Design Award (1985), the Honorary Royal Designer for Industry Award from the Royal Society of Arts (1996), the National Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cooper–Hewitt National Museum of Design (2003), among many. He holds honorary doctorates from seven institutions, including the Rochester Institute of Technology (2002). Rochester has a Vignelli Center for Design Studies, whose website adheres to his design principles and where educational programmes espouse his modernist approach. It also houses the Vignellis’ professional archive.
   He is survived by his wife, Lella, who continues to work as CEO of Vignelli Associates and president of Vignelli Designs; their son, Luca, their daughter, Valentina Vignelli Zimmer, and three grandchildren.

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Dodge revives the Dart, while UK Delta owners revive Lancia

07.12.2011

Dodge Dart preview
Dodge Dart preview
Fiat has announced that it’s going to bring back the Dodge Dart nameplate on a compact sedan based on a stretched Alfa Romeo Giulietta platform for the 2013 model year.
   This was actually mentioned when Chrysler was going cap-in-hand to the US Government, so it’s not a total surprise. The nameplate, however, is.
   It makes sense to me, though if you look at some of the blog comments elsewhere, motorheads are coming out saying it should be used for a rear-wheel-drive sedan that captures the spirit of the original.
   The trouble is, it does. Dart was a compact beloved of schoolteachers, and even if the last one was a variant of the Dodge Diplomat sold in Spanish-speaking countries, enough time has passed for the general public not to be nostalgic for V8-powered Demons, Dart Sports and the like.
   It’s a compact sort of name, and it’s going after a general audience. And it looks too aggressive to be called Omni or Neon. A sporty little Dodge should be called Dart.
   I know that it could be very easily argued that the last time an American company resurrected a hallowed nameplate last sold in the US in the 1970s—the Pontiac GTO—and ignored the heritage, it was a sales’ disaster.
   But the Goat is legendary. Think back to the 1975 model year: did anyone really regard a basic Dart as legendary?
   We’ve already had a four-door sedan from Dodge called the Charger, the Polara name last wound up on a version of the Hillman Avenger down in Brazil, and the Chrysler New Yorker nameplate went on to a heap of different cars in the 1980s (R-body, M-body, E-body, C-body), so this isn’t exactly a company that has been looking after its heritage that well. I dare say the public is used to nameplates being recycled when it comes to Chrysler, sometimes for the better (300) and sometimes for the worse (it’ll be a long time before anyone brings Sebring back).
   The preview shots Dodge has revealed look aggressive, and since a designer is running the decals-and-flash show there, I suspect it wouldn’t look too bad.
   The other nameplate news of late, going in reverse chronological order, is the demise of Maybach. No surprises there, either: if you’re going to charge stratospheric prices for a car, it had better look stratospheric—not a rehash of a Mercedes-Benz S-Klasse. ’Nuff said.
   Finally, I’ve been meaning to blog about this little item for many weeks now: the rebadging of rebadged Lancias, if we might come full circle to Fiat.
   As many of you know, Lancias are sold as Chryslers in markets where Chrysler has a stronghold, while Chryslers are sold as Lancias where Lancia has a stronghold. That means, in Britain and Éire, the Lancia Ypsilon and Delta are sold as Chryslers.
   Car design, however, is no longer a matter of badge-engineering (even if there are certain segments where you can still get away with it, such as city cars and certain minivans). Everything about the design has to reflect the brand’s value. Cover up the grille of a Volvo, and it’s still a Volvo. But the Lancia design language is very Italian, and the Chrysler design language is very American, the insipid 200 aside.
   It is unfair to criticize Chrysler–Lancia given that these cars were penned before Fiat merged the brands, but I thought this customer-level rebranding exercise was a very interesting one on the part of Lancia fans in the UK and Éire.
   A group of enthusiasts located an Italian dealer who was willing to sell them a bunch of Lancia badges, so British and Irish owners could give their cars the complete Lancia treatment.
   It shows something I have talked about in many of my speeches: that brands are increasingly in the hands of the consumers.
   But it also shows that no matter what badge you put on the Ypsilon and Delta, they look Italian—and certain consumers want authenticity.
   Finally, it shows that in a globalized world, it’s no longer up to retailers to tell us what something is called. We have access to the ’net, and we can find out for ourselves. When it comes to cars, where there is a lot of online research, demand might start building from the moment scoop photographs are released. These Lancia enthusiasts have clearly wanted their RHD Deltas for a long time, and they have the means to make their dream come true, regardless of what the badge at the dealership says.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, design, marketing, USA | 1 Comment »


Chrysler is Detroit-thug tough

07.02.2011

To take a leaf from Adland, where this is hosted, Chrysler’s message is: buy this ugly car or Eminem will beat you up.
   To be fair, the cinematographer has picked some good angles for the 200 so it doesn’t look like a rehashed Sebring. Shooting it at night minimizes the harsh realities of the centre section. And the commercial has a nice feel to it: it’s not a stereotypical pull-the-patriotic-heartstrings American one, but one which does convey what the script says: we’ve been through hard times, we’re realistic, and, therefore, we understand you more. We also see Chrysler not pulling any fake snobbery, though admittedly the DaimlerChrysler AG days ruined any chance of the company having luxury pretensions for a while.
   It doesn’t make me want to rush out and get one of these cars, but I’ll say one thing: at least it’s not a Lancia commercial adapted for the US, as I don’t think the first one worked particularly well. Though this one from 2008 might not be so bad if the Delta gets there:

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Posted in business, cars, culture, marketing, TV, USA | No Comments »