Diamond Dogs – The Distinctive Series Dissected

Part one: With the jury on PSA’s luxury line coming to some less than palatable conclusions, is Carlos Tavares in the mood to listen as the DS project sputters and pops.

Image via independent.ie
Image: independent.ie

When PSA launched the DS line in 2009, many observers viewed it as the final throw of the dice for Citroën. Suffocated by a value strategy that saw ever-decreasing returns, the ailing brand icon appeared on its last legs. Critics and Citroënistes alike condemned PSA’s plan as madness, yet early sales both in Europe and latterly China saw many of us eating sizeable chunks of humble tarte. Indeed so bullish was PSA Chairman, Carlos Tavares last year that DS was divorced from Citroën as a stand-alone marque.

Tavares certainly appears to have worked wonders on the core business; a recent investor report from analyst, Max Warburton of city firm Sanford C Berstein suggesting PSA’s prospects are coming up roses. Warburton – (no stranger to these pages, he) – presented some well founded views on PSA’s long-term viability. The good news being Tavares has successfully turned PSA’s business around, on current form the most profitable of the mass market European players. Having softened them up however, he delivered his coup de foudre, informing investors; “One of the key tenets of PSA’s long-term strategy is to develop ‘DS’ as a third brand and as a ‘premium’ offering. We believe this is misguided. PSA already has two brands; it doesn’t need and can’t afford a third. DS is ill-defined, has low consumer recognition and is highly unlikely to generate shareholder returns.”

This could easily be dismissed as the self-interested witterings of a spreadsheet geek with little motor industry knowledge and a bunch of voracious investors to mollify, but as Hilton Holloway points out in his recent Autocar piece, Warburton’s industry knowledge is perhaps unrivalled. If this wasn’t bad enough, the entire validity of the DS project must now be placed under the sternest scrutiny given significant sales reversals, not only here in Europe, but also in the (for PSA) vital Chinese market.

Despite a strongly recovering European auto landscape, DS’ sales are on the slide from the heights of 2012 when 117,374 were delivered. Last year saw European sales fall to 75,163 cars, a drop of 64%. Drilling down, the top-selling DS3 model peaked in 2011 with sales of 72,876, but managed only 45,665 deliveries in 2015, which by anyone’s reckoning is 62% less. It’s a similar story with the C-segment DS4. Peaking in 2012 at 30,214 units, last year their crossover-y thing managed to find 17,610 lucky owners.

The story for the DS5 is even worse. From the model’s peak in 2012, 11,888 delivered across Europe last year can hardly be called anything but a collapse. This on the back of recent brand-defining facelifts to all three models. China too offers little comfort; all European brands facing the grim prospect of falling demand and shrinking profits, all of which must be giving Tavares and his minions a serious case of the willies.

Were the naysayers right all along? It’s tempting to say they were, especially since PSA have consistently mangled DS’ execution, which was undercooked to start with. In the next part, we’ll look in more detail at Warburton’s claims for DS’ and ask if Tavares can afford to carry on regardless?

Note: The text has been altered to reflect Jan-Dec sales figures. Sales data via left-lane.com/PSA/

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

17 thoughts on “Diamond Dogs – The Distinctive Series Dissected”

  1. The public are fickle and the modern public have zero loyalty to a brand – I suggest. They like something different and like something different again. There are exceptions, Apple for example – for the time being at least. Personally I think the DS is more of the same of the sameness. It is a sham car that can be bought as a variety of other models. I note the obligatory ludicrous chrome embellishments that actually make 50’s and 60’s US cars look sensible. (today of course those cars are impressive as a consequence to some extent). Does the DS have any design features that I would associate with Citroen .. genuinely do not know?

    1. The same thing occurred to me: there is a major divorce between the style and function pretty much on a par with the 50s US road yachts. And no, Citroen/DS has no USP.

    2. The only USP i see is the stepping of the leather seats.

      Nice, but for sure not attractive enough to pull customers to DS. (They should offer some different materials and colours for this stepping and a free combination of those).

      Monsieur Tavarez recently explained in auto motor und sport, that DS does not need unique technology but they want to offer cars with unique materials and design quality. Maybe it is the right way to launch a french premium brand.
      But i cannot see much of this unique stuff.
      To my eyes the Cactus has a lot more style and character than the DS models.

  2. Where is the new model investment in PSA at the moment, and, in particular, Citroën and DS? The facelifted 5 and 4 and stupidly badged Crossback are hardly enough. The Cactus was the last “new model” and that is based on the C3 Picasso. The whole range, with the exception of the C4 Picasso, seems aged and increasingly uncompetitive. I totally agree with the perspective of the analyst about the folly of diluting investment across a third brand. Citroën’s heritage meant (note past tense, now) it could have been both a small car and a more premium car brand – if PSA, has maintained an engineering and innovation led approach. The fickle public (bang-on comment, that) does eventually see through pure badge engineering, so continual redressing of Peugeots was never going to endure.

    1. The Saxo: we’ve had two decades of half-hearted Citroens.
      Looking at it broadly, brand management without engineering fundamentals leads to destruction of a brand. The pity is PSA has two brands of potentially great distinction and yet treats them like undifferentiated sludge. How much money have they wasted “saving” money by underinvesting in Citroen?

  3. Watch out for eagles: coup de foudre may not pass the language testing. I think it means a bolt from the blue and often relates to romance.
    The DS brand is a trim package without a proper set of cars to attach itself to. The DS3’s success related to its correctly copied personalisation capability. It was stupid in the extreme to imagine it had any unique character or the magical ability to be the keysytone of an arch of vehicles. They should can the entire range and busy themselves with content, quality and a meaningful USP.

    1. Correct, although the author clearly meant to use ‘coup de tonnerre’ and can be forgiven for confusing thunder with lightening.

  4. Markus: the seats are very nice. I have to say that this is not enough. That article in Curbside Classic about the emergence of the “Brougham” era in the late 60s and early 70s puts all of this in perspective. What is DS but a European “Brougham” package. To be fair, Citroen gave the cars brand-exclusive bodies while Ford has stayed true to the Brougham tradition by only clothing the Mondeo is trim-specifc materials and options. It seems to me you can Brougham a strong brand but you can´t woo people to a weak brand by offering enough spec to make the car as expensive as its more prestigious peers. Tavares is wrong if he thinks empty design and lavish leather seats will make people pony up for a car. They have to want the car in its base form first.

  5. There is too much happening at the front end of the DS5. The C-shaped thing under the headlight is unnecesary and gets in the way of the busy lamps and busy grille. They overegged this ommelette by a big margin. Also, the proportions are wrong. I´d say the car is 2% too short or 2% too high.

  6. Interesting … here we are, 5 days after the expiry of the editor’s ban on mention of the C-brand under last month’s theme (Disappointments, should anyone need reminding) and, here we all are again, emoting about the current and future state treatment of the once grande-marque. More therapy required, has to be the broad conclusion about us as a collective.

    1. More therapy? I am at three: one in the mornings, one in the afternoon and an one in the evenings. I stay seated and they come in a do shifts. I do Freudian in the mornings, NLP in the afternoon and Jungian in the evenings.

  7. Why does Citroen sell a Mitsubishi ASX with a PSA-sign (built in Japan) instead of offering the DS6 here in Europe?

    And why does Citroen not offer the Cactus in China, where small crossovers can be sold as easy as Coca-Cola?

    Why did DS enter the Formula-E-series without offering an electric car?

    And why will Citroen launch a second DS4 Hatchback Car in China with the DS4S – instead of replacing the DS4 in Europe and China with this nice car (but no one wants a compact car with a hatchback in China).?
    http://www.autoevolution.com/news/all-new-ds-4s-premium-hatchback-revealed-in-china-102187.html

    t is a strange strategy – if there is a PSA-strategy….

    1. There´s a USP right there: make all the DS cars PHEV or electric.
      Rumour has it that the Chinese will get the Cactus. Why not earlier? The looks were considered too outre for the market.
      And I looked at the DS4 and wanted to scream “why” in Hollywood-sign sized letters. It is just precisely an alright-looking hatchback. Nothing special. Isn´t it the sheer redundancy of the brand that smacks one´s gob. It´s not like Lexus or Talbot or Infiniti, built from the ground up. It´s not like Vignale, a trim variant. It´s not a new name replacing a tarnished one. There will be MBAs written about this for a decade.
      Good questions. No ready answers.

  8. I suggest that Citroen didn’t need an extra brand …. they merely need a uniquely identifiable Citroen product across all their models. However Citroen is frightened of being unique – in fairness for good reason. In the world of finance, dividends and profits are everything, selling cars to a market that will have a low peak sales (because it is different) is not going to generate improved profits year on year on year. Thus they sell sameness because sameness sells… currently sameness includes the aforementioned chrome embellishments, technology to link your apple i phone to a video screen and cctv at your home, indicators in your door mirrors, day running lights that light up like Xmas trees in almost every orifice of the front of the car etc etc.
    I empathise with Citroen, it’s tough to sell uniqueness because there are only so many punters out there.

    1. Every firm has to have a distinctive characteristic. Citroen´s problem (among many) is making a hash of it. Citroen alienated people by being too wierd. I liked those cars while many didn´t. Toyota sell a lot of cars without being at all interesting. Maybe you don´t need to be interesting. Being reliable, safe and well made is a good place to start. A little idiosyncracy can be tolerated if those bases are in place.

    2. That’s how you get where Citroen are now … they are actually significantly different but still “samey”. Doing things differently hardly ever sells in stupendous numbers and when it does the target audience moves away because everyone has it. Pop music is a good example The Human League when underground were very creative, when they went pop (see Dare album) they sold lots … but then went downhill as their original audience consider they “sold out” and the fickle populace decided something else was better.

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