First there was Luca di Montezemolo, the former president of Ferrari, who wrote in the Corriere della Sera at the end of 2022: “The Italian car no longer exists. Only Ferrari remains. There is almost nothing in Turin”, adding about Stellantis, “it’s a French group, not Italian. The design that our country has produced has been and continues to be, even if it is no longer about cars, a cultural value. Sergio Pininfarina was the emblem of these values. When he put down his pencil, there was almost no need to put the Ferrari or Made in Italy logo on it, you could see immediately that this product came from this hand. It is a value that we risk losing”.
More recently, it was Flavio Briatore, the former team-manager of Benetton then Renault in F1, who threw his own stone into the pond, speaking on social networks during a vacation trip. “Fiat no longer exists, we no longer see any cars on the street except for a few old carts from twenty years ago”. Indeed, the entrepreneur published an article, then deleted, on his Instagram profile while he was traveling to Forte dei Marmi, claiming that only Mercedes, Audis and Dacias were seen on the roads: “I think the flagship model is the Panda, but apart from that there are no more Italian cars on the streets”.
Luxury is fine, but it’s anecdotal
While qualifying these various remarks, especially those of Briatore who is not at his first untimely statement, it is clear that in Europe and even on its national market, the Italian automobile has taken a hit. Let’s put aside the luxury brands whose figures remain insignificant and out of category. Ferrari is an exception, while Lamborghini is under the German flag and Pagani is ultra confidential, but all these brands, as well as small craftsmen like MAT, Kimera or Ares, perpetuate the world image of the beautiful, racy and sporty Italian. . However, this remains a niche for the ultra-rich and supercar manufacturers are eyeing America, China and the Middle East much more than Dante’s country or even the old continent. As for designers, Pininfarina has gone under the Chinese flag, Bertone has disappeared, Italdesign is owned by VW and Zagato is the last of the Mohicans.
Fiat, the “leader” of Stellantis in trompe l’oeil?
Going back to large series and generalist brands, those that speak most to the average consumer, car production in Italy amounted to only 796,000 vehicles in 2022, compared to 1.5-1.7 million at the start of the century, but this could improve soon, since Stellantis has chosen to increase its production to 1 million in our transalpine neighbors, to the chagrin of the French government which was hoping for a relocation of production. Like what, the fact that Stellantis is a “French” entity in the eyes of Montezemolo does not necessarily translate into tricolor favoritism. However, in this production of Italian factories, we must not forget the part taken by the American brands of the group, with the Jeep models or the Dodge Hornet, a clone of the Alfa Romeo Tonale exported to America. Recently, a new controversy has arisen with the Fiat Topolino, derived from the Citroën Ami, but whose choice to set up production in Morocco has aroused an outcry.
However, on paper, Fiat was the first brand of the Stellantis group in terms of sales in 2022, remaining the leader in the city car segment, with for example 120,000 units of 500 electric vehicles registered since its launch in 2020. performance of the thermal Fiat 500 and Panda, respectively first and second in the urban car segment, occupying 43.8% of segment share in 2022 on the continent. Finally, all segments combined, the brand is number 1 in Italy with a market share of 15.1%, but it was more than 30% in the 90s. to…3.5%, whereas it was nearly 15% in 1990. FIAT owes its performance above all to South America, with a market share of 13.6%, notably thanks to Brazil with 430,000 units sold and a market share of 21.9%, the best annual performance as well as the best of any brand in the last decade.
A range that has become impoverished
In Europe therefore, and more particularly in Italy, the 500/Panda duo would be a bit of an optical illusion. It must be said that, since the 90s, without necessarily going back any further, competition has increased and diversified with the arrival of the Korean Kia/Hyundai, the rise of Skoda, the arrival of Dacia, etc. while the Fiat range has shrunk. In the early 90s, Fiat covered the whole spectrum, with the Panda, the Uno, the Tipo, the Croma and then the Punto which was an incredible bestseller. Fiat even dared sexier vehicles, like the Barchetta and Coupé. Under Marchionne, Fiat gradually moved to the 500 mono-culture, with certainly great success for the small sedan, but an uninspired and counter-current 500L derivative, at a time when crossovers supplanted traditional minivans, then a late 500X , or even a Freemont which was only a tasteless rebadged Dodge Journey. On the other hand, in Brazil where Fiat is doing very well, coincidentally the range is more extensive, with several SUVs or even more Abarth versions. For once, Fiat also paid at that time for its delay in hybridization, electrification and new standards, which contributed to impoverishing its offer in Europe to stay in the nails, even if it means buying CO² credit at You’re here…
Marchionne, a right of inventory?
And Fiat is not alone in what some are calling a slump. Many praised Sergio Marchionne, who recovered the FCA group financially after the takeover with Chrysler, but the balance sheet produced is otherwise more questionable and quite disastrous in terms of Italy. We did not renew the Punto, which had nevertheless been a hit in the oh so crucial segment of multi-purpose city cars in Europe, we witnessed the outright suicide of Lancia, already moribund since the mid-1990s, with rebadged Chryslers which obviously made a mess, while Alfa Romeo, which had revived well at the beginning of the century with the 147/156/159, had to scrape by with a Giulia/Stelvio pair which did not sell enough, without renewing the Giulietta or the Mito, not to mention the serial cancellation of many buoyant projects (the Giulia station wagon demanded by many Alfists in a segment dominated by the Germans, the GTV coupe, etc.).
Many also deplore the loss of charm and identity in terms of style, the trivialization of models or the mistake of wanting to copy rather than asserting one’s own identity. Despite its popularity with enthusiasts, the Giulia is seen by some as too close to the BMW 3 series, but Alfa Romeo is seen as the “guardian of the temple” of Italian style. This was not enough, because the reduced engine offer, the absence of hybridization, the lack of body variants and the delay in infotainment type technologies penalized sales. Positive point, the Tonale, and also the next small crossover hope the tifosis, began to reverse this trend.
So certainly, pay attention to what Briatore says, who takes a biased look because he relies on the observation of a restricted part of Italy, which is moreover in a tourist area. But yes, just drive on the Autostrade dei Fiori, and you will see that many Italians, at least for those who have recent vehicles, drive German, Korean, soon Chinese station wagons and SUVs and to a lesser extent French measure, because either Fiat, or Alfa, or Lancia have seen their ranges reduced to a trickle and have left the vacant places to be taken by others. There are nevertheless positive signs, with the resumption of sales of the Biscione with the Tonale crossover, the success of the electric 500 soon to be backed up by its crossover variant, and the imminent return of Lancia, which remains a hell of a bet for a brand that has fallen into oblivion.
Ferrari, the tree that hides the desert in competition
We can also remember that in motorsport, an area where Italian brands have always been very present, and not just Ferrari, the Italian racing car has also deserted. The Abarth 1000 TCs sowed terror on the circuits in the 1960s, Fiat won in the WRC at the end of the 1970s, Lancia won in Group B and raced in Endurance, Alfa Romeo was the terror of supertourism in the 1990s with 155 and 156… What about today? Ferrari has absorbed all the transalpine sporting potential, Fiat no longer has a sporting presence since the Punto S2000, apart from Abarth which has developed a fairly confidential 124 rally, Alfa Romeo has not given an official sporting career to the Giulietta or the Mito and has to settle for sponsorship with Sauber. Maserati is slowly coming back with Formula E and an MC20 GT2, but it’s not about big championships. Here too, this lack of visibility has contributed to “taking” the Italian automobile out of the minds of some consumers.
What do you think ?