Lost For Words

It doesn’t happen all that often, but the latest confection from DS Automobiles has your correspondent utterly confounded.

(c) vibilagare.se

I don’t know. I genuinely don’t. What does one say nowadays, when every recent new car announcement feels like another assault? Does there come a point when through exhaustion or simple attrition, one is forced to simply lie down and accept the paradigm for what it is? I don’t know any more.

How come, you may ask? Simply because PSA have launched their newest DS-branded vehicle, and it has rendered me speechless.

(c) paultan

Yes of course it’s an inevitable compact crossover, that most pointless, overhyped, marketing-led of all vehicle types, and yes of course it has been styled to hell and back again. This is to be expected and given DS Automobiles’ (to dignify them with their given name) stylistic track record, especially so, but there is something else at play here that I’m at a loss to articulate.

To my mind, the manner in which today’s crossovers are conceived appear to have a good deal in common with a certain archetype of Hollywood film – the kind where the producers cobble together a ‘treatment’ – “It’s Taxi Driver meets The bridges of Madison County, meets Snakes on a Plane – but with a twist.” It isn’t really that difficult a leap to envisage a similar refrain taking place at senior product strategy level amidst many contemporary carmakers.

Today’s crop of crossovers meld the jolt of the familiar with cues and tropes which haven’t quite been seen together in polite company before. Perhaps then the analogy is less like film making and more like contemporary gastronomy?

(c) DS Automobiles

In a backhanded way, one can sympathise with DS’ designers. After all, they were given a brief and they executed it. Part of which was probably to achieve stand-out in what is becoming the most competitive and noisy market sector of all. And in that, we can probably all coalesce around the notion that they have succeeded, because what we can say with some conviction is that this new DS crossover is distinctive.

If one is to ignore the heritage (and I suppose we now have little choice but to do just that), there are some pleasing details, especially within the cabin, which attempts to do something interesting with colour, materials and surfaces. One could even view it as an attempt to provide the kind of indulgent city car we espoused here recently.

I’m not particularly interested in delving into the minutiae of the Crossback’s exterior styling – I leave that to my esteemed colleague, whose dissertation upon this subject (I believe) will follow shortly. Because while it’s tempting to give it a thorough kicking and be done, I hesitate simply because I simply don’t really know what I think any more.

(c) motorward

What I will say is that with the DS 3 Crossback, PSA have gone beyond mere styling, plopped through the looking glass and have arrived somewhere else entirely. I’m not even sure that it even has a name. Let’s (for the sake of argument) call it Post-Design. You may have a better, stronger or clearer idea, but right now, that’s really the best I can come up with.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

19 thoughts on “Lost For Words”

  1. We must be thankful for small mercies. The publicity image shows a car in what appears to be the French countryside. Either they did take the car into the wild or their photoshop skills are getting better.

    1. You may be right. The shadow on the road is too crisp, isn´t? Still, it´s a country location and not an arid cement landscape. There was also also no lens-flare that day.

  2. Your sentiments very much reflect my own when I first saw this vehicle, and every time I see it. The interior at least has the benefit of being an attempt at a clear theme and concept. It looks better in some trims/ photos than others, but I feel the execution is overdone and trying too hard, as seems to be the way with most car design these days. The exterior is just baffling – so many design themes in one place; your film analogy works very well. I have seen a number of C3 Aircrosses on the road recently, which suggests that it is selling quite well, and it seems to be a far more pleasant design than its new, pimped-up cousin.

    Even more perplexing is that DS is dropping the DS3 supermini and that this thing is the effective replacement for that car. The DS3 was far from perfect (I wrote a quick test drive of one on this site a few years ago), but it sold well initially and had some credibility as an alternative, anti-retro design, to ‘chic’, highly personalisable hatches like the Mini and FIAT 500. I can understand that PSA wants to maximise the opportunity for DS’s growth by launching new models first into high growth markets – and few can be as fast growing as the compact crossover – but to give up on the supermini/ sub-compact market, which is huge and of which it had such room for growth, is strange indeed.

    Finally, given that, for the time-being at least, DS is to be represented in the market by the DS7 and DS3 Crossbacks, what are we to make of DS as a marque? For what is it meant to stand? At the moment, I’d say it stands for ‘bling and opportunism’, which is borderline heartbreaking given everything that the 1955 car was.

    1. The DS brand will be very useful as a new example of bad marketing and cynicism. Not since the Aztek or maybe Rodius has there been a new entrant to the Pantheon of memorably bad ideas.

    2. Maybe we have reached ‘peak premium’? So, maybe there just isn’t room for another ‘premium’ brand in the market and therefore DS, for all of its strenuous efforts to make itself distinctive and lovely and gorgeous, just can’t squeeze itself in?

      I’ve written it before, but isn’t the diamond motif already the territory of Renault? I seem to recall that some of La Régie’s cars had headlinings imprinted with said shape, and maybe even the dashboards. Also, note the chrome rimmed air-vents build into the doors: is it me, or do they look badly aligned to the flow of the rest of the dash? The more one looks, the more there is to offend the eye …

  3. Whatever the (de)merits of this particular design, and I’m looking forward to Richard(?) getting his teeth into it, the fundamental problem is that DS as a brand is wholly inauthentic and without a clearly defined purpose or positioning. Is the DS3 Crossback (stupid name!) really so different to the Peugeot 3008 that there’s room for both in the PSA stable? Of course, I know that VW group offers the same soup in four different cans, but at least those brands are all well established with strong brand loyalty. That said, would VW invent SEAT today, if it didn’t already exist? That’s exactly what PSA is trying to do, and I would argue that Peugeot has largely moved into into space intended for DS at the time it was launched. Moreover, the DS branding may actually be a handicap, because it means nothing to younger potential buyers and annoys car-savvy older buyers, who see it as a cynical plundering of an iconic car name, in the same way that Chinese built MG crossovers infuriate traditionalist MG fans.

    1. Crossback is a name made out of two other compound names, isn´t it? “Cross-country” and “hatch-back” or “sportback”. It´s a mash-up which comes as across as EFL. The Peugeot cross-overs convey quite a fair degree of ritziness (as does the Espace). The DS cars are also supposed to be bright and oplulent. So, yes, the DS brand is hemmed in on both sides. It´s not sporty, it´s not cheap, it´s not more opulant than a Peugeot already is.
      As SV says, we´re past peak premium and there´s no room at that inn any more.

  4. Keeping with the film analogy, and the “shark fin” as the accolytes of La Déesse described the (visually) truncated b-pillar, this is Jaws morphing into The Meg.
    PSA recently shared their vision for Vauxhall-Opel with the world. A simple, pleasant enough way to zero the styleometer now they have assimilated the brands into their product planning.
    So we have a Citroën espousing a product-design vibe, Vauxhall-Opel going for visually simple tech, Peugeot offering a rather good elegantly angular alternative to the Uber-KrautWagen approach of VAG and DS entering the one-way portal of the Land That Taste Forgot.
    I hope that this will be the last gasp of this fake brand. The concepts that paved the way to the first offering, the DS3 of 2011, promised an outré take on French Car Couture. The whole thing has been unravelling since..
    From what I understand, with the exception of the DS3, volumes have not met expectations.
    Vulgarity in the territory of the Supercar is de rigeur, the cars fit the lifestyle of those who have an excess of everything admirably. More is more. The bling for the plebs approach of DS has spawned a range of cars that fit nowhere. They are not even cheap. Just nasty.
    DS have “appropriated” the SM as part of their “Heritage” along with the DS. Two of the seminal Citroëns are thus enslaved by marketing teams who apparently have not a single clue.
    The DS Hunchback should be the death of DS. I fear that the nadir is some way off yet.
    To end on a hopeful note, Gilles Vidal has posted some teasers of a 504 Coupé-esque vehicle on his Instagram page.
    Perhaps Peugeot will put elegance back on les Routes Nationales de France.
    A suivre..

    1. That 504 coupe teaser has raised hopes in this quarter … Apparently it will be revealed properly tomorrow.

  5. This can be reduced to the plaintive question of why is PSA still wasting resources on a brand with no natural niche to occupy. It is the very lack of a niche that forces the designers into these convolutions. Is a spanner styled?

    1. In answer to your question, Richard, because it takes confidence and guts to admit you’ve simply got it wrong and wasted a vast amount of human and financial capital on this dead-end. Mercedes-Benz has these attributes, to the company’s credit: getting out of the tie-up with Chrysler and shutting down Maybach as a stand-alone brand were examples of such brave decisions. (That said, Maybach was a disaster of the company’s own making: the 57 and 62 looked exactly like what they were, bloated versions of the previous generation S-Class, blinged up, but wholly lacking in dignity and gravitas.)

    2. Daniel: there must be someone in the company at a high level who still believes in the DS concept then. Otherwise they´d be stopping it. And dealers will be ticked off as they have invested in the retail space; there are designers who work on these cars (dedicated or do they work as a flying squad?); there is factory capacity tied up with these and unions whose members make them. They need a replacement product to shove down the production line. Oh, PSA is in a pickle. “Audacity drives to excellence”. The sunk cost fallacy leaps to mind. “The Misconception: You make rational decisions based on the future value of objects, investments and experiences. The Truth: Your decisions are tainted by the emotional investments you accumulate, and the more you invest in something the harder it becomes to abandon it.”

    3. An interesting point Daniel makes regarding Mercedes/Maybach. When Daimler-Benz reanimated Maybach, they did so as a stand alone brand. Notwithstanding the toe-curlingly awful execution, they had the good sense to cut their losses and relaunch Maybach as their ‘Vignale’ line, which is working out rather well for them, one is told.

      PSA have done the diametric opposite – a decision I believe which was taken by current CEO, Carlos Tavares upon his appointment. If indeed this is so, the likelihood of the decision being reversed is vanishingly small. CEO’s do not like to lose face and such would be the likely fallout that his reputation would probably never recover.

      I suspect this will sell in decent numbers. Such is the conformity and illusion of choice facing customers now that anything with a screed of stand-out is well placed to break through It also exists in a market sector which has already embraced polarising visuals – read Toyota C-HR et al.

      Having said that, for the life of me, I cannot see how PSA can make DS Auto work as a business. It would have easier and cheaper to have incrementally elevated Citroen – (which quite naturally is the course they should have taken). The question they probably should have asked themselves is ‘what would Ferdinand Piech have done? And then execute the hell out of that…

  6. As a thought experiment, imagine if a manufacturer* were to launch a cleanly-styled, beautiful car. Y’know, like they sometimes used to make. Do we think such a proposition would even sell in today’s market?

    * Probably not DS, I don’t think they have it in them.

  7. Richard, I haven’t had chance to examine the new Volvos in the metal, but from what I’ve seen from the pictures I’d describe them as handsome rather than beautiful. Which sounds like damning with faint praise, but I really like the restrained design of their latest saloons. It’s a shame Volvo have abandoned decades of hard-won ergonomic advances in the interior with the adoption of the touch screen for some control functions, but I suppose that’s what the market demands nowadays.

  8. Lost for words… that quite exactly describes my feelings when I first saw this car.

    I really don’t know what to do with it, at least from the outside. The interior is still very busy, but apparently a lot calmer than in the DS7. They really seem to go to great lengths with the interior appearance and quality, at least they were lauded for that from several sides in DS7 reviews. I wonder how well this translates to a cheaper vehicle. And I think it’s a pity that all this is wasted on very busy, claustrophobic cabins. All I can hope is that this sense of quality trickles down to Citroën, where I like their current style of simpler shapes and the possibility of having fabric options that aren’t just black or dark grey.

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