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.
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.
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.
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.
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 dot.com 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.
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