Refrain: Citroëns To Be Sold On Style Not Price

So reports the team at Autocar. It is true that only one firm can sell the cheapest product in a given market…

Surplus to requirements. Image:
Surplus to requirements. Image:

Citroën has noticed that being the next cheapest or quite cheap or cheap-ish is not really getting them very far. Time to try something else. But can they move away from the corner they are painted into? Price is nicely measurable. You add up the numbers and you get a figure you can compare easily to every one else’s figures. Style on the other hand is a qualitative thing. Once you decide to focus on style you are focusing on something that is much harder to manage reliably.

How will PSA ensure the Citroëns look good and not controversial or short-lived? The next stumbling block is that the DS brand and Peugeot are also not majoring on price. If Citroëns are supposed to look really good then how will they look really good in a way that does not make Peugeot cars look relatively less appealing?

Under the old regime, Peugeot were PSA products for people who were a bit less price sensitive and Citroën aimed at value. Those two parameters capture different sorts of people. Now both (or all three brands) are moving away from differentiation on the basis of price and will be struggling to find non-measurable ways to gain sales but not from each other.

Just forget it ever happened. Image: Send them a donation. £3 is enough for now but more would help. Thanks.
Just forget it ever happened. Image: Send them a donation. £3 is enough for now but more would help. Thanks.

Without a USP that is really tangible, PSA are just causing trouble for themselves. Citroën boss Linda Jackson said the cars would look distinctive but “that doesn’t mean they’ll all look the same – although there will be a coherence – but they must be striking, they must put an emphasis on comfortable ride and they must offer technology that people use, to make their lives better.” Right. And Peugeot and DS will offer cars that are not so comfortable and whose technology is not so useful. The new Peugeot 409 will have an ice-cream maker in the rear footwell. The DS will have pebble-dashed windows and will be cart-sprung. I am jesting of course.

The answer to this conundrum, by the way, is nothing new but made more difficult now that the DS line of cars exists. PSA need to follow the Richard formula of having ranges of cars that have distinct and exclusive body shells, unique and proprietary technology and base model prices that do not overlap. This was the situation that existed when Citroën sold modernist hatchbacks with hydropneumatic suspension and Peugeot sold saloons with conventional suspension.

If PSA don’t do something like this again and merely have three lines of cars selling within a similar price range they will soon find one of these three brands is surplus to requirements. Oh if it were the pointless, pointless DS marque but something tells me that Citroën is going to be a dead brand in one model cycle. As it is, having a small range of platforms and using the same engines in all three lines means PSA is heading down a path explored by GM in the 80s, where their brands competed with each other and not with the other maker’s products.

Goodness. I really wish I could write something good about PSA. I like France: I really want to be having a coffee in Chantilly right now. The French are great: I wish I had some French culture and not my workaday Anglo-Celtic inheritance. Peugeot and Citroën once made superb vehicles. It would be so good to have nothing to write about them in the way I can find little of interest in Audi or VW.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

10 thoughts on “Refrain: Citroëns To Be Sold On Style Not Price”

  1. PSA clearly lost the plot for a long time. Whilst there were some highlights, most of their decisions can only be described as the actions of a drunk. Why did Peugeot reject feline grace for a line up that imitated the creatures of the deep? Why did Citroen become a budget brand? Why did Peugeot decide their steering wheels should not be connected to the rack in any meaningful way? Why did Citroen model the Xsara Picasso after a depressed octopus? I could go on.

  2. Why did Peugeot hobble their new styling theme pioneered by the 206 with grilles that looked like the gawping mouths of an adolescent wearing braces? Why did Citroen pour resources into developing the C6, a car clearly without a market? Why did the Peugeot 407 estate look like an abandoned brogue? Why can Citroen’s DS line not marry progressive styling with a half decent chassis?

  3. Hey, chrisward1978, leave the poor, defenseless C6 alone! Rationally, your point is quite valid, but there’s no honour in kicking a loveable, underdeveloped, commercial disaster when it’s down.

    Returning to the plot, the article to which Richard refers is really lame, mainly because the content provided by Mrs Citroen is as empty as one of my boss’s promises of a pay rise. We need to see some really thoughtful production models before we can dare to hope. The current line up is really lame and lacking in identity. The current C4 is the biggest crime against the marque, with the C5 a close second. The Cactus shows they know they have to find another path, but what’s needed is a Mazda-like run of consistently well crafted and thoughtful new models.

    1. Come now, the C6 was a desperate gamble. I am all in favour of a big French wafter, but Citroen was apparently undecided as to whether it was a homage to Citroen’s past or an Audi A6. That said, one wonders if the model’s paucity of sales finally convinced the company to embrace the future with the DS cars?

  4. While I am not a big fan of the C6, we should be thankful they gave it a go anyway, for all its faults.
    The statement about Citroen majoring on convenience and comfort reminds me of the statement from 2006 about Lancia majoring on style and design. Both are quite vapid statements. The jourmalists, of course, don´t call them out on this, as to do so would be seen as rude.

  5. What does “underdeveloped” mean anyway?
    Are there really any underdeveloped cars out there nowadays?

  6. I don´t know enough about the current car market to say if there any underdeveloped cars out there. Historically it refered to the occasions when a car was not tested sufficiently prior to launch. Development testing takes time and costs money but it´s essential to take the prototypes and drive them in a wide range of conditions for a long time to see what breaks and why. If you built fifty prototypes and drive them 100,000 miles each you´ll probably catch 99% of the most probable failures. There is doubtless some very thorough engineering/statistics research on this. Underdeveloped cars were a specialism of the UK makers in the 70s. The Peugeot 605 and Citroen XM were accused of being underdeveloped: why else did they have so many electrical faults, for example, went the argument. Lotus is another case. They are a small firm and taking a year to road test their cars in cold and hot places was costly so they did as little as possible. The customer ends up doing the development work. The manufacturer learns that for every 100 cars, 9% have this problem or 100% develop that problem; then the car is revised in the light of the warranty claim findings.

  7. Chris wrote: “That said, one wonders if the model’s paucity of sales finally convinced the company to embrace the future with the DS cars?” PSA think the Citroen name is so tarnished that they have to start again; the reasoning is that the Citroen´s greatest moment was the DS so they are trying to leverage that name´s brand equity. I think they view the DS as a stylistic masterpeice and forget the technical accomplishments. However, it was the combination of technical and aesthetic brilliance that made people buy Citroens. Simply casting aside Citroen for a line of flashy but insubstantial cars is a waste of resources. For a start they will run three lines of cars for a while and I expect some Citroens will still do well and some DS cars might sell relatively better. At some point they will have to simply rebadge the remaining Citroens as DS cars which means an awkward period with residual Citroen-y cars in a more tinselly DS range.
    They could just have not bothered with the Citroen designs but kept the name. It will take as long to establish DS as it will to renew Citroen. It´s a mess. I can´t begin to untangle what a daft idea it is to base a model whose fame rested on qualities PSA have spent decades trying to extinguish.
    On a more general level, this is one of those rare times a sub-brand replaces a brand. Was Triumph´s usurping of Standard another case?

  8. It is interesting to consider what would have happened if the DS3 had just been called the Citroen C3 Sport, or similar. Would it have sold quite so well? Much as I’d like to think otherwise, I suspect the answer is no. The bullshit did work. Also, I’m still left with the conviction that, consciously or unconsciously, the C3 and C4 look so dowdly in order to make their DS versions look better. Which is mad, but plausible.

    Vacuous though it often is, branding does sell – for two reasons. First is the connection with well regarded items that have the same name. Second is quite the opposite – that the name seems new and fresh with no baggage. It appears that DS is both of these.

    It must be admitted that the classic DS, deservedly well regarded though it is, does have a mass of admirers who have no interest or appreciation of its engineering, save for the pleasure in watching it go up and down.

    All this really brings me to the conclusion that PSA are just busking it with no real strategy.

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