Fiat auto group brand Lancia is extending its marketing communications to the online 'virtual world' beginning with a press conference later today (Friday 25 January) and culminating in March with a world-first online car launch.

Today the brand is opening its new Lancia Village on Lancia island on Second Life.

This, according to the automaker, is "An island with the unmistakable shape of Italy for a brand that not only contributes to the circulation of Italian-made goods in the real world, but now, with elegance and determination, occupies a place in the virtual world as well."

Lancia said the island's architecture reflects the values and attitude of its cars, and is "an elaborate space constructed by experts, a place where the brand is revealed to visitors from an amusing new viewpoint".

The island will be opened at 6pm (CET) with a virtual press conference.

Lancia has promised to welcome visitors with five "exclusive" buildings (reception, showroom, multi-theatre, glass bubble and Lancia cafè) and four group car models (Ypsilon, Musa, Phedra and Thesis), "realised in a definition never previously achieved on Second Life".

The unconventional press conference will then go beyond the virtual walls of the conference room 'outside' after the initial 'corporate' presentation.

Virtual visitor media will 'fly' or be 'teletransported' to the drive-in to watch a U2 video and then visit all buildings on the island. At the end of the press conference, guests can attend a 10pm disco party at the glass bubble to which all Second Life residents have also been invited.

The avatar of Lancia manager Maurizio Oconnel and a character from Italian advertising will accompany Second Life users on their tour of the island.

The press conference will also allow journalists to preview the 2008 concerts which will occupy the drive-in area weekly, featuring internationally known artists such as Zucchero, Peter Gabriel, Queen and Beyoncé.

Until 25 February, users will be able to take part in the video-photo contest Show Your Lancia on Second Life: the most original videos and photos featuring a Lancia as the subject will receive prizes in L$ (Linden Dollars, the official currency of SL).

On 3 March, Lancia will preview its new Delta model in the virtual world, in what it claims will be a world first.

The car will be presented at the Lancia Village on Second Life 24 hours before taking its bow in the real world at the Geneva motor show.