Fiat's luxury brand has already shown the Thesis to 1,100 European fleet representative in a bid to give it as positive a launch as possible. Now set for Italian launch in April 2002 and export markets shortly after, Thesis will help to define the future of the Lancia brand, says Fiat Auto executives.
That rollout programme is continuing across Europe as Lancia seeks to win new business in Germany and France as well as Italy.
Lancia says the delays were necessary to get the car absolutely perfect - it is thought electronic and reliability problems had to be overcome. Sales targets are modest: it wants to sell about 13,000 units next year and 25,000 in 2003.
By using materials like magnesium, wood and alcantara leather where many other manufacturers use plastics, the Thesis cabin is lush, original and wholly successful.
It rides and handles well for such a big car, with very little body roll when cornering.
The Thesis is full of clever touches and good ideas which will undoubtedly appeal to the most discerning senior European company car drivers: there's an intelligent cruise control function that maintains a given space between you and the car in front; there's a sophisticated solar panel-generated climate control system that keeps the interior cool while you are away from the car; and there are some of the most technically-advanced seats of any in the luxury sector.
Even the communications package is refreshingly different.
The Connect system used by the driver to communicate with a special Fiat/Alfa/Lancia call centre has been adapted to be used by the Thesis driver's secretary - an inspired idea that should improve the day-to-day organisation of many a mobile executive.
The weakest point in the package is the styling, which is at best ungainly.
Thesis debuts with 2.0-litre and 2.4-litre five-cylinder engines and a 3.0-litre V6. A turbodiesel will arrive in the future.
Lancia says it will offer an average of 15% better value than the main competition, mainly through better specification levels. Prices will start at around e30,000– 37,000. 'Thesis has a big role to play - it is part of the relaunch of the entire Lancia brand,' said a Lancia spokesman.
'We think that Italy should compete harder in Europe's executive segments, and the Thesis is a major part of that strategy.'
After the Thesis, Lancia will launch a new full size minivan next year. In early 2003, a new Ypsilon supermini will debut, followed by a 4x4 mid-size car to replace the Delta. (December 2001)