Lighting Out For the Territories

Sometimes it’s hard to ask for directions. The latest in a torrent of PSA news stories looks at to the carmaker’s underperforming DS brand, which has some troubling news to impart.

Image credit: (c) DS Automobiles

Earlier this week, Autocar reported that PSA’s prestige DS brand has discontinued both the slow-selling DS4 and even slower selling DS5 models. With combined sales of 17,484 for both car lines last year (a mere 5738 of which were the larger DS5), few will mourn their passing. However, should this fill you with a hitherto unrequited urge to seek one out for posterity, Autocar reports that an ‘extensive supply’ of both models remain stockpiled.

The party line allegedly is that these are planned product actions, part of DS’ plan to relaunch the brand around new generation models with a focus on SUVs and hybrid-electric power. The first of these is set to debut at October’s Paris motor show, believed to be a CUV replacement to the current DS3 – the first PSA model to utilise its new-generation B-segment platform.

Meanwhile, a DS spokesperson has also announced they are ceasing production of diesel-engined versions of the current DS3, partly as a response to stricter emissions testing, but also as part of this model’s impending run out.

Depending on one’s view, this is either the beginning of an exciting new era for PSA’s upmarket endeavour, or a further symbol of the wheelnuts coming undone. Certainly with worldwide DS sales down a troubling 38.5% last year, the successes of 2010 now seem a rather distant memory.

“Hello, excuse me, can you tell me where I am”? image credit: car24news

There does appear to be something of a misapprehension surrounding the nature and meaning of failure amid Carlos Tavares’ PSA boardroom. Despite sales figures which are to be frank, alarming, Tavares it seems, remains committed to a project which might have looked good on paper, but has failed to ignite.

Last year, DS Automobiles’ CEO Yves Bonnefort told Automotive News, such was the enthusiasm for the new products in hand, he was having to turn potential brand-DS dealers away. This week, a PSA spokesperson confirmed that the UK dealer network will shrink from the 200 ostensibly Citroen sites currently holding the DS franchise, to around 30 stand-alone outlets. Lucky them.

Given the likely sales volume for the DS brand upon this Blighted Isle, this is probably a prudent decision, but even the 70 DS outlets that are eventually intended to make up the total don’t necessarily add up to anything resembling what one might call confidence in the endeavour.

This whole DS business is perplexing. I fail to understand who it is aimed at, what purpose it is meant to serve but most of all, what its proposition is. If its television advertising serves as any meaningful guide, DS seems mostly about clever lighting technology. And pleating. Which doesn’t really sound like a solid base upon which to build a sustainable marque.

“You can read the signs”. Image credit: Evans Halshaw

It isn’t that I have an issue with the concept of a French luxury car brand per se. Frankly, I would welcome one. But this is not what I would have had in mind. My notions of French Style are probably somewhat dated and maybe naïve, in that I would view it as being rooted in a conservative formality, tempered by flamboyance in colour and detail, and unified by superior materials and fine craftsmanship.

What French style appeared to reject were tactless displays. (I’ve always been slightly troubled by people’s excitement over glittering stones). Yet DS Automobiles’ proposition, which they claim is rooted in French couture culture seems more an outright repudiation of Coco Chanel’s ‘luxury is the opposite of vulgarity’ dictum.

VW have made a decent business case out of producing multiple car lines off more or less the same hardware. It’s understandable then that PSA might attempt to borrow from a successful formula, but in a similar manner to how a Skoda makes perfect sense while an Audi makes none, Peugeot’s 3008 CUV is by most accounts a sound and not unattractive choice for what it is, whereas the DS7 seems not only desperately grasping, but somehow dishonest – perhaps because I rather innocently tended to imagine such lurches in taste as being infra dig within France’s proud republic.

“You’ve been on this road before.” Image credit: (c) Car magazine

Not content with borrowing from Ingolstadt’s latter-day business model however, PSA also appear to have drank rather deeply from whatever Audi’s Marc Lichte imbibes. But as the four rings themselves appear to be turning in ever decreasing circles towards an aesthetic that cannot decide between baroque and appliqué, (opting for both), one is left with little recourse but to draw unfavourable parallels.

I have some sympathy for Mr. Tavares and his ilk. Today’s carmakers are endlessly bombarded by legislators, by rivals, by the threat of Silicon Valley disruptors and by the financial markets, not to mention the analyst firms who advise them: to expand, to innovate, to endlessly do new and exciting things. The old business models are passé – everybody must now behave like a start-up.

But that’s the problem with uncharted territory, one risks becoming hopelessly adrift. By which time, it’s too late to turn back – you’ve simply travelled too far to navigate home. DS Automobiles was a bold gambit – one which might have worked, had it been executed properly. There is no shame in admitting one is lost. The key is to realise it before it’s too late.

©Driven to Write. All rights reserved.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

8 thoughts on “Lighting Out For the Territories”

  1. DS makes even less sense than it did now that PSA owns Opel.

    As a design, there was something attractive about the DS5 (at least pre-facelift), but underneath it was a C4 Grand Picasso of a previous generation and so the dynamics (and, probably therefore, the reliability) were always going to be deeply flawed.

    The DS7 is rather grotesque in many ways and I hate its interior. It makes me think of a bad-tempered Lexus, or Infiniti (we should be writing more about Infiniti, which is – if anything – more flawed than DS). I dislike the fact that the DS3 replacement will be another CUV. Next time they show the new range alongside the real thing at a launch or car show I may be driven to vandalism.

  2. It’s difficult to envisage a viable future for DS as a stand alone brand. It was (re)launched as a sub-brand under the Citröen name with a disparate range of cars that shared little in the way of identifiable shared characteristics and nothing to connect it to the original DS model (which meant almost nothing to anyone under 50 who wasn’t a car enthusiast). Even as someone with a keen interest in matters automotive, I’ve really no idea what DS stands for in terms of brand values. It’s biggest seller, the DS3, as a “warm” hatchback, seems to represent the polar opposite of elegance and comfort which defined the original DS. The recent TV advertisement for the DS7, with the risible strapline “Audacity Drives To Excellence”, was just embarrassing.

    It’s a truism that you never get a second chance to make a first impression and PSA has squandered all the historical resonance DS posessed. Time to call it a day? They’ve enough on their plate trying to reposition the Opel (and Vauxhall) brands so they don’t cannibalise their French brand sales.

  3. I know exactly what DS stands for as a brand: vertical daylight running lights in the front bumper. That’s it, that’s their innovation.

    Citroën: air bumps
    DS: vertical DRLs

    We clear now?

    1. Got it. That must be the audacious bit. Thanks for clarifying. 😁

  4. I remember sitting in the DS4 and DS5 launch cars and gaining the distinct impression that neither car knew what it was. The DS4 was a muddle, a low riding CUV not far enough removed from the C4. The DS5 a bigger disappointment, with well executed exterior styling but just not roomy or luxurious enough. Then the reviews came in and confirmed the muddled impressions: neither tautly sporting nor isolated and cosseting, merely flinty and vague. A big shame, as I wanted to like both, particularly the DS5.

  5. For being named after “La Déesse” there’s too little DS in their DS. They simply lack a halo product that would make sense for the brand. it’s like they have no “Idée” what they’re doing. What people really want is a Citroën DS for this century, something that is electric and looks like haute couture. What they really want is a Tesla in a nicer dress. And PSA really missed the boat on that one…

    1. Yesterday evening I saw a DS5 parked on the street. Like the rest of the range it´s only a statement in ornamenation that does nothing to aid the understanding of the product. It seems to be the same size as a Focus or Golf but a bit taller. The DS4 isn´t a lot smaller and does much the same kind of thing (though it made the C4 look even dowdier whille not itself being much good anyway). Inside the DS5 is a cramped and dark cabin. Okay, it can be less dark if you choose the light hide or fabrics**. The geometry of the forms makes for a a busy and claustrophobic feel which is wrong for a luxury car. And it rides badly and is not fast enough to be acceptable. In sum, it fails so thoroughly across the board it should enter the class of “exceptionally wrong” alongside a very few other cars. It´s not an Aztek sort of failure. Maybe it´s more like a Cadillac Cimarron/Lincoln Versailles kind of failure.

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