DS’ New Horizon

As brand-DS’ pathfinder model becomes available to order, we find ourselves once again asking, what on earth is the distinctive series for?

It’s the Louvre, so it must be art. Image: Evans Halshaw

Yesterday, Autocar reported that PSA’s new DS7 Crossback crossover is now available to order in the UK market, with RHD deliveries starting in early 2018. Pricing ranges from about £28,000 in entry-level Elegance trim to over £43,500 for the highest specification ‘Ultra Prestige’ model. That’s right up there with ‘Premium Luxury’ in the redundant nomenclature stakes wouldn’t you say? Isn’t ‘Prestige’ prestigious enough any more? One could be forgiven for imagining DS’ marketers have had rather a lot of time on their hands of late, so this does rather smack of a certain laziness on their part.

Be that as it may, what does the best part of £30k buy you if you skip down to your local DS dealer (what do you mean, there isn’t one near you?) and place your order? Well, for a start it buys you a vehicle underpinned by a version of PSA’s modular EMP2 platform and (one imagines) internal body structure shared by Peugeot’s 3008, Citroën’s forthcoming C5 Aircross and Opel’s newly introduced Bigland models. Engines too are shared PSA units – a 1.2 litre triple and a four cylinder 1.6 in two states of tune. For diesel lovers, a 1.6 and an ultra-frugal (their words, not mine) DVR 1.5 litre unit will be amongst the boxes awaiting one’s tick.

Image: DS Automobiles

Chassis-wise, the DS7 offers few surprises, apart from the option (available as standard on the £42,650 LaPremière launch model) of the ‘Active Scan’ suspension system. In a similar manner to that of Mercedes, this utilises a front-mounted camera to scan the road surface, while the car’s ‘brain’ electronically pre-sets the damper stiffness in anticipation of road disturbances.

Now while this does sound a good deal more elaborate than the novel damping system to be employed by Citroën throughout their range, not only will it be interesting to compare the two approaches in practice, but equally tempting to speculate as to which (analogue or electronic) will prove more durable in service. However, anyone looking for all-wheel drive capability will have to seek alternative council. The DS7 will, until 2019 at least, be front-drive only. Come now, you really weren’t considering taking your sliver of finely crafted French auto-couture through some muddy outfield, were you?

Styling is, well, lets be charitable and simply say derivative. A pinch of Infiniti, several heaped tablespoons of Audi, it is both everything and nothing. Having said that, it’s probably pitched pretty much spot on within the market’s centre of gravity. Nothing to scare the horses, but enough tinsel and trinkets to make every day feel like Christmas at Iceland. (Or another frozen food retailer of your choice).

When will we be released from this quilting hell? Image: automobile dimension

All of this arrives on the back of a recent piece in Automotive News, where they pondered the relative trajectories for PSA’s new four-brand structure. Five if you count Vauxhall. (I don’t) With both Peugeot and Opel/Vauxhall aimed at similar sectors – (the upper end of what PSA describe as the generalist section of the market) and Citroën occupying a less clarified ‘people minded’ value for money segment – (is there really such a thing Linda?) – ANE’s Peter Sigal argues (not entirely convincingly I’d suggest) that the double chevron appears to be the PSA brand at most risk of becoming redundant.

Of Carlos Tavares’ marque cache, Opel/Vauxhall are the top performing by sales, followed by Peugeot, with Citroën a more distant third. However, while both French brands have gained volume through 2017, the former GM duo have lost share in a rising market. DS on the other hand languish firmly in the doldrums with registrations of a mere 31,052 cars in the year to August. According to ANE, September added another 4,683 to that total. So even with a very favourable wind behind it, DS automobiles look likely to top out 2017 with sales of around 50,000 cars in Europe, which pales into relative insignificance within the bigger PSA picture.

Distinctive? Really? Image: ABC.es

With chronic overcapacity and an epidemic of pre-registrations artificially bulking up sales figures, the picture is a good deal less cut and dried across the three (and a bit) generalist PSA brands, so while brand-DS could theoretically gain margins three times that of the cooking PSA brands, they still have to do the numbers, an area where the current range has failed rather dismally.

“Shaping New Horizons” is how DS currently defines itself in its TV advertising. It doesn’t say much does it? Neither, if we’re honest does brand-DS itself. While market analysts suggest Citroën’s current positioning is ill-defined and ‘misunderstood’, if anything within the PSA portfolio truly lacks definition, it’s the distinctive series. But moreover, it’s a needless distraction from the bigger issues facing Tavares’ new auto empire.

I imagine the DS7 is likely to find a (minor) niche within the market, similar to that of Alfa Romeo or similar, although I suspect it will largely prove to be amongst those with little knowledge or interest in automobiles. But is a minor niche enough? It just isn’t, is it?

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

18 thoughts on “DS’ New Horizon”

  1. Sales numbers of all things called DS are roughly 30,000 per year.
    Sales numbers of the ‘proper’ DS were around 100,000 per year (with the highest numbers towards the end of the production run), the CX sold in similar numbers.
    There were 1,45 million DS in all and roughly a million CX.
    Then they sold 300,000 XMs and barely any C6s.
    What does that tell us about their understanding of their customers and their brand management?

  2. I noted in another ANE article that Vauxhall sales in the UK were 35% down in October compared to the same month of 2016. My reading is that the British public has read of threats to the assembly plants of Ellesmere Port and Luton and fears that the marque is facing impending doom. No one wants to buy a car -however nice – from a doomed company. PSA has not helped here by not publically celebrating the capture of this prized asset. People probably think Vauxhall is the next Rover, or SAAB. I think it’s a PR disaster and added to the demise of diesel sales and move to EV/ Hybrid (of which I am think I am right in asserting Vauxhall has nothing to offer right now) and it’s the perfect storm.

    Of DS, I despise this 7 and positively wish the brand (it shall not be deigned a marque here) ill. So there!

    1. For the PSA takeover of Opel see Chrysler/Talbot. As a brand Opel has nothing that PSA needs in terms of image, price or content. That’s not a slight on Opel. It’d be same if PSA captured Ford Europe or Kia/Hyundai. If PSA really want Opel they’d better spend big on marketing and warranty support and showcase some future product.

  3. Richard: +1 to see the PSA/Opel deal as another ill-fated one, like Chrysler/Talbot/Rootes. Meanwhile, their marketing department considers that a good strategy is to have no strategy at all.

  4. The ‘Active Scan’ system won’t have the hardware to back it up. It is one thing where a camera is relaying messages to a Mercedes platform with all-round fully independent suspension and sophisticated electronics… quite another tying this to an ancient and pretty basic platform.

  5. Recently, we were discussing the subject of elegance. It’s a characteristic that appears conspicuous by its absence within or without the entire DS range. The interior ambience in particular I find needlessly busy and downright stressful to look at. I can’t imagine what it must be like to experience in reality. It’s all noise and diversion and to be blunt, reeks of desperation.

    1. ” Russelheim is to become a centre of excellence for electric powertrains to be used by the entire PSA brand portfolio”
      Interesting, does this mean we might see the GM Bolt and Volt reappear in some form to be marketed in Europe and the UK ? I suspected as much some weeks back just after the buy out as this technology was the icing on the cake for PSA if they are going to compete in todays environment where virtually every manufacturer is moving into electric power.

    2. That I rather doubt. Given GM’s position on IP when Saab was in the frame to be purchased by SIAC I can’t envisage Ms. Barra wanting to hand over something as hard-won without a very large fee being paid. One I imagine, Mr. Tavares wouldn’t be prepared to pay. I suspect Opel will develop or licence their own.

      By the way, you’ll note the above-mentioned comment has been removed. That is so as not to step on the toes of a piece to go out tomorrow.

  6. When GM went through its Chapter 11 a few years back and subsequent restructuring, I saw a viable proposition for a combined Opel/Vauxhall + Saab + Saturn entity. This was before Saab was sold off and Saturn axed, at the same time Opel was underpinning half the GM lineup.

    They could’ve used Opel for their bread and butter cars, while positioning Saab as the premium brand. And rebadged the Opels as Saturns in the US. There’s a nice logic to it, as Opel has no presence in the US and Saturn none in Europe. Perhaps if they tied it up with an ex GM partner in Japan, like Isuzu or Suzuki.

    The problem is, as a viable business proposition a strong ex GM Saab/Saturn/Opel would only make it a competitor to GM itself, and why would they make it easier for someone else to make money out of it? That’s why I think they were just glad selling Saab letting someone else take the cost of running it into the ground. They knew full well a new owner would never be able of making it alone.

    That’s why I’m very sceptic to the Opel/Vauxhall purchase. PSA got it for very little money, there must be hidden clauses in that deal for the price to be so low. Why would GM be selling off brands they’ve owned for almost ninety years? Neither Opel or Vauxhall have an identity as something else than GM:s European branch, there are no living people to remember either brand from before GM acquired them.

    If they are losing money, PSA must’ve guaranteed all the costs of winding them down, like laying people off, closing factories, taking care of pension funds and so on. And if they are making money, why the hell would GM want to give that away? Why would they wanna rip off their entire European arm off, making their competition stronger?

    The more I look at this deal, the less sense it makes. PSA doesn’t need Opel and Vauxhall as brands. GM doesn’t need a stronger competitor. Unless PSA got it for free on the condition of winding the operations down as soon as possible. How the hell they reckon they’re gonna transfer those sales into the PSA portfolio boggles my mind. Ex Opel buyers will be all over the field, from Dacia up to Skoda, VW and Mercedes.

    1. There´s one item in that I have to draw attention to: GM has quit Europe almost entirely. It stopped selling Chevrolet in 2013. So, it doesn´t compete in Europe with PSA at all. I don´t think GM thinks PSA will be able to make it in the US.
      Other than that, yes. Ex-Opel customers will drift off to whatever else costs about the same as an Opel. Nothing will have the all-round competence and unassuming comfort of an Astra, Insignia or Zafira though. They will migrate thinking their ordinary Opel can be replaced easily and in fact it won´t be.
      About Opel/Saturn/Saab – presumably those cars based on the Astra/Vectra platforms could also have had Chevrolet variants so Ruesselsheim could have done engineering for all small and medium sized cars leaving Detroit to handle full-size cars and trucks. If you leave Saturn out out it´d be even simpler. Saturn didn´t make any sense as a brand the moment it had its independence taken from it.

    2. Sorry, Richard, but I beg to differ (again).
      Nearly no other car will be as easily replaced as an Opel. When all you expect from a car is low prices and the ability to potter along the Autobahn at 90 kph with a roll of toilet paper under the rear window then any car will do. The typical Opel buyer is not interested in cars at all and treats his Opel like a drivable washing machine. That’s why they are suffering so much from competitors producing equally bland but infinitely better made cars like Toyota or competing on price but being vastly more interesting like Kia.
      Mr. Tavares already told the German press that in his view Opel’s main problem is cost and that this was the result of their fruitless attempt at producing VW-like quality, leading to VW-like processes and VW-like cost structures without VW-like sales numbers. All this so called attack at VW gave us is cars with daft names (would you buy a car named ‘Konrad’?) and exaggerated design that still don’t sell (in its home country, the Insignia is outsold by each of Audi A4, BMW Three and Mercedes C by a factor of three or four to one!).
      As long as at least in Opel’s home country it’s a ninety-nine percent safe bet that the car in front of any randomly chosen traffic jam is an Opel they will not be able to attract new buyers, particularly not those willing to spend real money and expecting an appropriate product.

  7. Shaping a new Horizon? That DS7’s not even worthy of being called a new 309.

    Interesting that the entire DS range is trailing well behind the finally fading Lancia White Hen, my benchmark in such matters.

    I start to wonder which – if any – of DS, Opel, and Vauxhall – will still be around in ten years. My left-field bet would be Vauxhall. Opel’s best long-term hope, at least as a brand, is to be prised from PSA by Dongfeng as a bridgehead into Europe.

    And Eóin, I’m seeing lots of new Reidlands in my home patch. in the pre-merger days that would have looked like a shrewd move – now it’s just autophagy.

  8. I agree that the purchase of Opel is ultimately doomed, PSA can barely manage what they have now without the difficulty of first integrating Opel and then developing any sort of sensible strategy for all their overlapping model lines.

    Unlike others on here though I won’t be even remotely sorry to see Opel and Vauxhall disappear, I have always found the cars (since the mid 90s) to be targeted at “average” with such absolute laser like precision that it must be a deliberate choice to make them as poor as you can get away with, and no better than they absolutely have to be. Combined with the general corporate hubris of GM it is a company I would never chose to engage with.

    1. As we have discussed here, there is a not-small portion of the public who feel the same way. A very interesting book remains to be written on the reason Opel never succesfully challenged that view.

    2. I don’t know about Vauxhall but I absolutely agree on not feeling sorry for Opel and I’m quite sure most other car drivers think the same (otherwise they’d buy Opels but they don’t).
      Starting in the mid-Seventies, Opel produced so incredibly mediocre products that were so far behind technological trends (how long did it take them to finally ditch the ox cart rear axles on their big cars and how long did it take them to go front wheel drive or when did they finally throw out the CIH museum pieces under the bonnet?) that they were barely visible from a modern point of view. For a very short time the Vectra A seemed like a serious competitor to the Audi 80 B3 because you could get an Opel with 110 hp for the same price as an Audi with 90 hp (important stuff on the rep mobile front). But you only had to get into the Opel once to see the Haribo switch gear to make you wish you had opted for the Audi. That was even before you recognised the mushy steering and the non existing throttle response – GM’s famous sneeze factor.
      From then it was downhill all the time.

  9. Dave – I find much to agree with on the Vectra A and Opel’s decline into mediocrity, but your judgement is harsh on the company achievements in the sixties and seventies.

    In the days before the Granada, Opel were well ahead of Ford on rear suspension, with four links and coils from the 1966 Rekord C on. The front ends were done properly too, with subframes from the early ’60s onwards. In the 70s, Opel’s chassis engineering was a benchmark for conventional design done properly, and inspired the Rover SD1, Triumph TR7 and most of the Japanese manufacturers. Proper IRS came with the 1978 Senator, when Volvo, Rover, and Alfa offered non-independent rear suspension and no option.

    The Kadett D was an excellent first shot at a mass-market front wheel drive car, better in almost every aspect than the earlier Golf Mk.1 and the later Escort Mk.4.

    And was the CIH so bad? In its defence I’d say that its only crime was to be over-engineered, and therefore heavy and expensive to produce. The CIH arrangement gave the advantages of an overhead camshaft without the perceived disadvantages of complicated tappet adjustment and high oil consumption. The SOHC Family II which succeeded it was blighted in its early iterations by top end-fragility and the rotten Varajet carburettor. Eventually it was developed into a decent engine, but it’s no surprise that Opel kept the CIH in production until 1998.

    1. I’ll readily concede that Opel produced cars that were attractive in a Fifties’ world. The six cylinder Kapitän was an absolute prestige car at a time when Mercedes was so poor they had to make do with the same bodyshell for their complete model range.
      The Rekord D looked very attractive in its new Euro-style clothes but even Opel must have felt uneasy about its rear suspension, otherwise they wouldn’t have called it “Tri Stabil” to hide the fact that it was a live axle. Nevertheless, the Rekord D’s road manners often were praised against the Granada’s technologically more advanced but wallowy setup.
      The Rekord C’s rear suspension surely was better than the leaf sprung design of a Ford P7 or the swing axles so beloved by Mercedes. But that was the late Sixties. That it took them until 1986 to fit IRS to their mainstream car is unforgivable.
      (I would exclude Alfa from the list of culprits as their DeDion solution was on a different level, albeit an outmoded one, and certainly not done for cost cutting reasons. Blame Consalvo Sanesi for insisting on that design instead of double wishbones)
      I remember an Opel production manager telling a journalist that the CIH engine was dirt cheap to produce but still more expensive than an American V8. The most interesting feature of the CIH was that the valve clearance had to be adjusted with the engine running and the valve cover removed (most Opel garages had valve covers with a hole in them for temporary use for this job), resulting in an oily mess all over the place.

      Somewhere something must have gone seriously wrong. Opel increasingly became a revolving door short term career intermezzo for GM’s US managers who needed a short Euro sojourn in their CV and therefore had no real interest in what they were doing in Rüsselsheim. They had sixteen CEOs in about 20 years, nine of them being US Americans, some of them couldn’t even be bothered with moving to Germany for their new job. This neglect by lack of continuity inevitably showed in the products.

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