Sorry Ms. Jackson

As Citroën reveals the European version of the C5 Aircross CUV, we examine its likely significance within CEO, Linda Jackson’s ‘people-focused’ double chevron reinvention.

Image credit: (c) Citroen UK

Last week, Citroën announced the European debut of its new marque flagship, the C5 Aircross CUV, introduced to the Chinese market last autumn to help arrest the double chevron’s faltering sales performance; PSA citing sales of 40,000 units to the year end. A nice round sum.

The C5 Aircross is significant in three ways to European eyes. Firstly, because it allows us to view Citroën’s styling theme for the first time as a unified whole, rather than as a random collection. Secondly, as the largest car Citroën currently offers, the Aircross must broaden the double chevron’s appeal, attracting more affluent buyers from rival brands, while not cannibalising its Peugeot 3008 sibling. Thirdly, it must also appeal to existing Citroen C5 owners who only have recourse to Sochaux if a saloon from the PSA stable is what they seek.

With its product centre of gravity having become centred on small economy hatchbacks, the new Qashqai-rivalling crossover has the added task of shifting Citroën’s transaction prices up, a matter of no small import for CEO, Linda Jackson.

Now that Citroën has rolled out its current styling theme across the board, we have a better grasp of the brand’s visual identity, so do we like what we see?

Image credit: breezcar

Two main themes appear to distinguish Citroën’s anno-2018 visuals from its Lion of Belfort stablemates. Firstly surfacing, which along the flanks is softer and calmer that that of its equivalent Peugeot and secondly in terms of graphics, which by contrast major on visual discordance and surprise.

There are perhaps two reasons for this – firstly to embed the notion of Citroën as the non-conformist offering within the PSA hierarchy and secondly, to distract from the fact that the C5 Aircross remains in essence an entirely conformist shape, little different to its growing cadre of EMP-2 platform-mates.

Taken as a whole, the car is not unappealing, but it does fail to cohere, the jumble of trompe d’oeil styling tricks serving up a slightly fussy and vaguely unsatisfying confection. Citroën rather tellingly describes it as ‘aspirational’, citing ‘customers who do not want to forfeit practicality for image’, which simultaneously says little while revealing a good deal more.

On the surface of things, Citroën’s take on aspiration seems to consist of offering customers a wide choice of exterior customisation options – with some 30 exterior combinations available, encompassing “seven body colours, a black two-tone roof offering and three Color Packs comprising coloured inserts on the front bumper, the Airbump® on the lower part of the front doors, and the roof bars.”

Image credit: sudouest

If we accept (as one supposes we must) that the platonic ideal of the Citroën we knew and loved is lost, we can perhaps understand the desire to place some distance between themselves and their Sochaux stablemates, given the restrictions placed upon them both by marque hierarchy and financial stricture, but it remains to be seen whether a combination of visual discord, a more assertive ‘face’ and a ladling of fun-bumps will be enough to get customers through the showroom doors.

Assuming they do however, what will they discover inside? The Aircross continues the horizontal dashboard theme established with the C4 Cactus, but in a more upscale, less minimalist manner. Less polarising in appearance than that of the Peugeot 3008, its IP is also dominated by a large central touchscreen within which most controls, including the HVAC (damningly) are grouped.

More laudatory however is the option of warmer colours (which few will specify) and Citroën’s patented Advanced Comfort Seats, offering five ‘interior ambiances’, whose matching colours and materials, Citroën say, affords “clarity and warmth in a trendy and premium casual chic style.” Ignoring the queasy language, the C5’s cabin at least appears somewhat inviting, if perhaps a little overstyled.

Further to the brand’s Advanced Comfort Programme® is the continued rollout of what they term progressive hydraulic cushions. This system employing an additional assist and rebound spring within the damper assembly has been praised for improving ride comfort, but paradoxically, has also been criticised for prioritising it over handling dynamics.

It is to Citroën’s credit that they are attempting to reset the dial towards passenger comfort, while attempting to carve a USP for themselves, but one has to suspect that up against a juvenile motor press who view ride comfort as an affront to their manhood, the double chevron will likely continue to face an uphill battle to win hearts and minds.

Production at the Rennes-La Janais site will soon begin, with deliveries beginning later this year. At the tail-end of 2019, it will become the first Citroën model to be made available as a plug-in hybrid. Citroën’s Linda Jackson has also pledged to add replacements to the discontinued C4 and C5 saloons within the next two years or so, further expanding the brand’s reach and one assumes, appeal. However, on current form it’s difficult to envisage how this styling language can be successfully stretched to encompass such models.

Image credit: startstop

Moreover, there remains an essential discord and at its heart lies the question of Citroën’s raison d’être in this new-age multi-brand PSA hierarchy. While VW have successfully managed to adopt a workable strategy while sharing large elements of commonality, PSA’s experiments in this arena still seem somewhat muddled.

Because let us be clear – an ill-defined brand is not one with an assured future. It isn’t that the C5 Aircross is necessarily a poor effort, more that it simply doesn’t really add up to anything like enough to be more than most people’s sixth choice.

Sorry Ms. Jackson, but on this basis you may need to get the colouring books out again.

©Driven to Write. All rights reserved.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

22 thoughts on “Sorry Ms. Jackson”

  1. “attracting more affluent buyers from rival brands, while not cannibalising its Peugeot 3008 sibling”

    Is it 3008-sized, or 5008? Also is cannibalisation really an issue if the sale goes to the same group?

    1. Yes, cannibalisation is an issue. If you have to spread 100,000 sales over two product lines then you make less money. The optimum is for Peugeot to sell X copies of a model and Citroen to sell Y copies of a model so that the total is is greater than if only Peugeot only sold a model or if Citroen only a sold a model.

    2. I have no doubt that there is a number of customers who would buy either product from Peugeot or Citroen, but the key point has to be that the duplication of models should generate enough incremental sales to justify the outlay, which itself has been reduced through platform and component sharing.

    3. That´s the principle behind platform sharing, that making a second model will create enough new sales. What we don´t know is how many extra cars Citroen will sell. It could be that PSA does not sell enough of both types of car to justify the second line. And the problem witht platform sharing is that the products are necessarily fundamentally very similar. So, I imagine there is an amount of cannibalisation inherent in launching a second line. The less of that you want the more distinct the cars are the more costly the second model becomes to develop. We don´t know if the new Citroen customers are choosing the Citroen because it is newer than the equivalent Peugeot – some must be. It´s hard to imagine there are no sales lost to the newer car.

    4. “It´s hard to imagine there are no sales lost to the newer car”

      Possibly, but it’s still better than sales lost to a newer car from another company.

    5. It’s a balancing act, isn’t it? Some cannibalisation is inevitable with products as similar beneath the skin as these. Too much however simply undermines the business case for the weaker of the two brands. In this case Citroën. Of course it’s less expensive to reskin a vehicle rather than make more profound alterations. PSA must assume that there are customers who are resistant to the 3008 on aesthetic, brand-loyalty or locality grounds, who might find the Citroën recipe more to their taste. Others will simply gravitate towards the new.

      There is also the issue of price. Citroën will probably command a lower base price than that of Peugeot, as that is what the PSA brand hierarchy demands. So Citroën may theoretically attract a more budget conscious customer. Will two distinct (if closely related) models fare better in the market than one? Probably. Add Opel and (heaven help us) DS to the mix and you have quite a lot of scale, (good) but also plenty of scope for in-fighting. (Less so) Is it better to have your own brands fighting each other for a sale rather than fighting the opposition? Getting that balance right is the thing, I would suggest.

  2. The front design’s too confused for me.
    But it’s the back half where this car fails.
    No sliding doors.
    And for a load-lugger, that rear hatch sill is some 50cm high, which is utterly impractical for the age of people who can afford this car.

  3. I’ve realised in the past 24 hours that the key thing here is to treat Citroën a bit like MG, which we discussed yesterday, i.e. like it’s a new company that is (ab)using a marque that just happens to have a certain history to it. So, try to forget the past and judge as if it’s a new-to-market company.

    On that basis, when one takes in the C3, C3 Aircross, C4 Cactus and now C5 Aircross, and even the new Berlingo (when it arrives in showrooms), there is an emerging kind of cohesion to the what the range looks like and how it is made up. I happened to be in a Citroën showroom yesterday near to my place of work (in need of a new TPMS sensor – ouch!) and was able to take in the first three of those cars listed above. The C4 Cactus, on the smaller allow wheels, looks like exactly what it is – a bad facelift of the original and, as such, has aged massively overnight. The new squidgy seats are rather nice, but very little else has changed and it looks cheap and even crude in some aspects in and around the lower dash.

    Furthermore, it looked even more of a mess relative to the C3 Aircross parked next to it. As a whole, this car is more convincing now than the refreshed(!) Cactus. Some details annoy (there is a black plastic curved hollow on the hatch which abuts the rear lamps and is just wrong), but it is rare in looking like a friendly small SUV rather than trying to be all butch and dynamic. It’s also roomier inside than the Cactus and more coherently styled. It’s a replacement for the old C3 Picasso, which I still prefer for being more honest, but given that MPVs are now clearly as popular as Harvey Weinstein at a casting for Little Women, I can at least take succour from the C3 Aircross still being a practical and soft-edged vehicle.

    I’ve not seen the C5 SUV in the metal yet, but, of its type, it’s OK to my eyes. I much prefer it to the DS7 Crossback and it’s pleasingly differentiated from the 3008 (the 5008 is larger and available as a 5+2 seater, which the C5 isn’t). The obvious rival in some respects comes from within – the somewhat forgotten but still surprisingly strong selling C4 Spacetourer/ Picasso as was, and it will be interesting to note how many sales of the latter will be cannibalised by the incoming car.

  4. This car does nothing for me. The frontal aspect is horrible in my eyes, and with its too many stacked horizontal lines reminds me of the worst example in this segment, the VW Tiguan. The interior also could have been done more in line with other newer Citroëns, same simplicity, but maybe nicer materials. As it is, it looks fussy and mainstreamy, and its massive centre console makes it seem claustrophobic.

    Calling it a C5 doesn’t help disguising the fact that Citroën is now entirely lacking an offer in the D-segment, and that they are offering a “comfortable” suspension that apparently sacrifices roadholding and safety instead of keeping an existing system that combines it all.

    1. The CXperience should be here in a year or so, I guess. I wonder if that will signal a new design direction.

  5. Do you think GM’s sale of its European operations to PSA Groupe might mean a re-introduction of Citroën and/or Peugeot to the US?

    1. Thanks for the reply and sorry I didn’t read the recent article.

  6. HVAC controls via a touchscreen.
    At Muppet labs.. sorry, the Technocentre, this was also deemed a good idea. I only wish I owned a bodyshop, as the stream of Region Parisiennes prangs involving touchscreen equipped Renaults is little short of scary.
    To access said function, one must aim at a tiny icon at the base of the screen. Fine while stationary, as we all ALWAYS are when accessing our onboard distraction centres, somewhat more difficult on ill-maintained roads.. sod it, here’s a link:

    Get the idea? Geeks who don’t have the life experience to use analogue devices to tell the time with have been employed to hasten vehicle obsolescence by any means possible. All use of said screen while driving the car is déconseillé, of course…
    The rise of the touchscreen has reduced interior design to the rôle of providing a surface on which to perch said screen. Modernity is epitomised by a large slap of shiny blackness, devoid of any showroom appeal until activated.
    The simple joy of manipulating a well placed, delicately weighted HVAC rotary control (Toto, we’re not in France anymore..) are fading from memory with the rush to embrace the next new thing. That the rotarys of yore could be manipulated by touch and positioned by memory, obviating the necessity to deviate eyes or concentration from the task of not killing somebody’s child matters not to the purveyors of metal to the masses.
    Monsieur Macron worries about his masses to the point of reducing the speed limit on single carriageway roads in France. From the first of July, the boys in blue and an army of private subcontractors are to be mobilised to save between three and four hundred lives per year by rigorously enforcing the new 80km/h limit. The current state of the roads is already good reason to lèver le pied, the loss of precious points more so.
    At a time when the diesel engined-car is in the process of being hounded out of Paris and its suburbs, when people are beginning to question the size of their ego and thinking instead of their social responsibility Citroen see fit to launch this glossy potato.
    All trace of the tension found in the flanks of the 3008 has given way to something resembling the faded glory of the ageing bodybuilder. The protein powders and the Viagra aren’t working anymore, so he reverts to costume jewellery in quantity and sartorially-challenged suits. He will strut and fret for a moment, then fade from memory.
    The flawed genius strain that gave us Citroen and Lancia has been supplanted by the hellspawn of marketing. Objectively the cars I contribute to today are quantifyably better than those I contributed to thirty yesteryears ago. They are subjectively inferior in every way to the the cars of an engineer led past that I revere.

    1. That was very elegantly put. I loathe Citroen touchscreens. Fitts’ Law. Do they teach designers anything? Or must they disregard their education?

    2. I watched the instruction video. That’s satire, isn’t it? It’s what they call Critical Design, questioning assumptions about consumerism.

  7. I couldn’t agree more with Rob’s eloquent criticism of the folly of loading multiple controls onto touchscreens. The video clip he provides illustrates the problem perfectly. I cannot believe that carrying out the sequence of steps illustrated is any less a distraction to the driver than, for example, using a hand-held mobile phone. How many fatal accidents will it take for the regulatory authorities to realise this and outlaw such controls?

    The standard three rotary knobs on my partner’s MINI for the HVAC system is perfectly intuitive and requires the merest glance to adjust (even if they’re a bit wobbly and lack mechanical precision). My Boxster’s push-button arrangement, although nicely engineered, is rather less intuitive and the touch-screen for the media and sat-nav can be slow and a bit dim-witted at times.

    1. Simplicity works for me with HVAC. One dial for temp, second for speed, last for where you want the air to go.
      Zafira had this, and a modern Corsa does too, but some graduate thief in Montparnasse knew there was no lock on the spare wheel and nicked in in the night. Which I had to pay the hire company.

  8. This new model does nothing for me. But then, as a high-riding hatchback faux off roader, it’s just not that interesting.

    I think Citroen deserve credit for focusing on comfort (well, as much as their cash-starved engineering resources will allow them to) and for coming up with a coherent and distinctive look for the brand that doesn’t rely on aggression.

    This is not the most successful example of this design theme, but the C3 hatchback is a minor triumph in this regard: it looks friendly rather than fearsome.

    In a sense all SUVs are ‘aspirational’ – their owners aspire to the kind of lifestyle that would require a genuine off road vehicle, whereas the reality is that their leisure time is based around driving to the mall.

    A true Citroen should not be aspirational in this way, but entirely comfortable with where it is. But few consumer brands can prosper by ignoring market forces… and I worry that buyers will reject this Citroen for not being aggressive and aspirational enough.

    1. I have to disagree about the aspirations of SUV owners. I think many people just prefer the elevated driving position and better view of the road that it gives. If that is delivered by something that looks a bit more dynamic and interesting than the Scenics and Zafiras of ten years ago then all well and good….

    2. In the minority here: I have no problem with Espaces, Zafiras or Scenics at all. The customers evidently do inasmuch as the CUV borrows the more exciting form of the mud-plugger to do what the MPV or any hatch back does. The CUV trend reminds me of the Australian fly that finds a particular colour of beer bottle more alluring than the female of its species.
      It´s just plain bad luck that the CUV tickles people´s fancy too much. You´d imagine people would know better. Sugar, caffeine, nicotine and CUVs and social media. People can´t stop their addiction.

    3. No, I don’t have any problem with Zafiras, Espaces or Scenics; I should have specified that the SUVs are perceived as looking more dynamic and interesting subjectively, in the eyes of the buying public overall.

      At the end of the day, it’s about marketing and fashion as much as the car, isn’t it?

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