Citroen’s C4 Cactus is a popular choice in Southern Europe, but signs are that it’s fading. Is the fun over already?
One of the drawbacks of being something of a novelty act is that there is often a risk that its appeal will fade. Upon its introduction in 2014, Citroën’s C4 Cactus was viewed as something of a character amidst a sector somewhat devoid of it. With styling which combined a studied practicality and ruggedness with a cheerful and largely unaggressive demeanour, initial sales for the model were strong, with 28,974 registered in 2014.
The following year, its first full twelve months on sale, 78,888 found homes, largely vindicating Citroën’s projections and underpinning their ‘character car’ strategy under the leadership of former marketer Linda Jackson. Last year however, the Cactus lost ground, topping out 2016 with 71,378 examples registered in Europe. This year however, the slippage has shown signs of acceleration with registrations over the current year to August down 21% at 41,773. So is Europe losing interest?
Perhaps. First of all, the Cactus is selling into a vastly more competitive market now than the one it entered in some style in 2014. Not only that, but it is up against vehicles which are more crossover in style and that are based on C-segment platforms, something the C3-based Cactus is not. What is clear is that the market wants a more overtly crossover-styled vehicle and not something which appears as neither one nor the other, even if it does look like nothing else.
Also, it’s possible that Citroën’s value for money pitch isn’t necessarily resonating with buyers, especially given that most Cacti appear to be specced to the nines, which won’t necessarily be the cheapest route into Linda’s fun-factory. It’s also unclear as to whether buyers are resistant to some of the more overt engineering and specification-related compromises the Cactus’ B-sector platform and ‘value’ positioning have dictated, but with the market now awash with alternatives, it’s quite possibly the case.
With the model soon entering into its fourth year of production, it’s facing a declining market share and an ever-expanding array of better developed rivals. Citroën is undoubtedly at work to replace both it and its fading and dowdy C4 sibling, which only managed a paltry 46,939 registrations last year. It’s likely they will take a similar route as they have with the C3 range by introducing both a more engagingly styled hatchback model in addition to a more pure-crossover type vehicle, something the market does seem to want. But these models are some time off as yet.
My feeling is the Cactus will receive a refresh next year in the hope of holding the fort until such time as a more convincing replacement is prepared. When it finally does bow out in around 2018/19, it will have done its job of introducing Citroën’s post ‘DS-series’ face to the world and if Ms. Jackson’s projections hold true, re-establishing the non-meshing chevrons as a sales force within Europe’s top ten.
But there’s some considerable way to go. In a recovering Euro-market, Citroen are in 12th place in the year to August, up 4.3% on the same period last year, but with both Nissan and Hyundai nipping at Linda’s kitten heels, those two places further up the zigguarat will be hard-won.
Novelty cars enjoy short lifespans – (well they do if they’re not Fiat 500’s anyway). If Citroën is to make its plans stick, they will have have to avoid sticking plaster solutions like this one. Because as any successful comedian will tell you, frivolity will only take you so far in life. To make it in this business, you’ve got to be deadly serious.
All images: Driven to write. Car sales data: carsalesbase.com