The Storms Of Swanlinbar

This DS flagship is aimed at the Audi A4. At this rate, DS will be offering C-D class cars to compete with Audi’s A2 and BMWs 2-series.

DS 9. Worth an Audi A4, apparently. Source: Autocar.

DS are saying that “prestige” will have been reached when the DS9 can compete with not the A6, E-Class or 5-series but the Audi A4. That is quite a marked drop in expectations, n’est ce pas? If we are prepared to take it upon ourselves to gather all our strength and try honestly to consider the DS9 as a successor to Citroën’s most well-known range topper, then by rights the DS9 ought to be an alternative to at least an E-class.

In 1968 the DS21 cost almost the same as the Merdedes 220 (there was a 25% price difference). When the CX arrived things already dropped down a rung; the CX was a car that could range from being a Cortina competitor to whatever the heck the CX Prestige was an alternative for – maybe a base S-Class or a fully-specified Senator or Granada. It certainly matched a 5-series across much of its price range.

When the XM arrived in 1989 things still held steady, at least in the minds of journalists who thought the XM 3.0 V6 the equal of cars such as the Jaguar XJ6, the BMW 520i (or 525i) and lower-order E-classes. Now, of course few customers of the competitor cars really considered the XM to be a peer. Still, it was in the same price class and size range. The XM was not put up against Audi 80s and Ford Sierras or even the Mercedes 190E.

Moving forward to the C6, it was still seen as a contender in the executive saloon ranks even if it only really tried to pilfer sales from the Honda Accord and Peugeot 607 (really, it just satisfied a lingering cadre of Citroen die-hards). Still and all, nobody would say “Hmm, A4? Mondeo? C6? I can’t decide…” any more than someone would say “Hmmm… B&B fortnight in Malvern or two weeks in Cortina d’Ampezzo?”

The 1990 Citroen XM in non-standard Maya Gold.

Which brings us to the DS9, a car so very good that DS hopes customers from the lower premium C-D class will consider it. Is that not a fall from grace or a climb-down or a stumble of considerable proportions. In defense, the A4 is now a bloody huge car, just like the Mondeo and the Insignia are. So, in some ways the categories have moved down so a car as large as an XM (the DS’ predecessor is now 2020 Astra sized).

In counter-defense, DS have messed up by identifying their flagship with the bread and butter cars of Audi, Mercedes and BMW. They’ve cheapened the meaning of range topping. Over at Renault, the Espace is clearly a fine, big car to be considered in its own right. If you have an Espace I think few will say that the owner could have had a Five.

It seems so fundamentally different it is judged on its own terms. Damn those back seats – they are the deal breaker for me and the Espace. Most Espacers don’t give a care though and that’s quite okay. The point is, PSA have fielded a car comparable to cars it ought not to be compared to. That’s a deadly sin. You can’t prestige upwards.

A nice big car. Source: Wikipedia.org

If there is another DS9 will it aim perhaps to be the equal of the BMW 2-series and Mercedes B? If things keep on as they are, it will.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

24 thoughts on “The Storms Of Swanlinbar”

  1. Good morning, Richard. I know the C6 was not a success in terms of sales, but at least it was a “proper” big Citröen, with a lineage you could traced back to the DS. The new DS9 is, of course, nothing more than the Chinese market 508L with a nose and tail job.

    I fully understand that, given the likely small sales volumes, the DS9 needed to be cheap to develop, but it brings absolutely nothing interesting or distinctive to the market, other than some questionable decorative motifs. Whatever the resurrected DS is meant to be, surely it’s not this.

    Given PSA’s progress in other respects, and the additional challenge of integrating FCA while GME is still a work in progress, DS is just an unwelcome distraction.

    1. Is the DS9 just a kind of modern day Cimarron? I feel sorry for the PR person tasked with talking up this unremarkable car. If they had kept quiet about its prestige they might have been better off. Why talk to journalists about this kind of meta-content. Tell us the car is comfy, fast, safe and packed with features and … that´s it. Take it or leave it. Don´t tell us it´s prestigious any more than you have to tell us its beautiul. What is going wrong here is the rhetoric. Show, don´t tell.

    2. That’s a very apt description, Richard. The 508L and DS9 don’t even have the regular 508’s nice frameless door windows. I suspect the 508L is a bit like the US market VW Passat, which is bigger than the European model but subtly de-contented of some of its more sophisticated features. That makes it an unlikely basis for a “proper” DS.

    3. You’ve nailed it.

      For companies that have been at the sharp end of consumer marketing for so long, it still amazes me that car companies still make such fundamental errors.

      Quality is defined by the customer, not the company. Which is to say, the actual, physical quality of an object is less important than how it meets the customer expectation of quality.

      Likewise, a ‘brand’ is a collection of intangible values that add up to a person’s perception of a particular company, product or service. Calling your product ‘prestigious’ or ‘premium’ is a nonsense: if the brand is too weak to support these notions, the customer will ignore you.

      I can almost imagine the sales materials sent out to dealerships to accompany this car:

      ‘If the customer says they are also interested in an Audi A4, tell them that for the same price they can get a DS9. Yes, nine – five whole numbers bigger! That’s prestige!’

  2. They sold 1,45 million D-types, of which a large portion were ID/Dsuper versions which were anything but prestigious. They sold 900 thousand CXs, 330 thousand XMs and 23 thousand C6s.
    Seems they somehow lost the access to their market.
    Should I be interested in a DS9 my nearest dealer would be thirty kilometres away, the next one more than seventy. Hope they are better than the average Citroen dealer who isn’t any better than Fiat/Alfa dealers.
    When looking for information on the DS9 I found that it comes with a moped engine of 1.6 litres which surely disqualifies it as an A4 competitor.

    1. Dave: you helpfully underline my point. Daniel: I like the US Passat analogy.
      Citroen and others lost the D-class segment as leasing became a bigger part of the market. There was also the business of residuals being made a bigger deal. As I said lots of times here, the car reviewers began to habitually say “X is a nice car but don´t buy it until it´s second hand and avail of the huge loss in value.” Well, eventually there were no first time buyers. Car journos talked not about the car but the customers´ estimation of the car which is not their job.

    2. One problem is that beginning in the mid-Nineties the market has been divided in two large segments mirroring the chasm in society. You either sell on price, then your customers are private buyers. Or you sell lease contracts, then your customers are driving company car. In Germany, more then eighty percent of Audis and nearly hundred percent of Porsches go into corporate lease contracts.
      Corporate lease fees (besides of being astonishingly low, mainly because of their phenomenally cheap insurance schemes) are driven by resale values as the cost factor number one.
      That’s why there are no more red cars and that’s why cars are crammed with electronic nonsense.
      Fleet managers are penny pinchers and go for the lowest possible lease fee but they are also not willing to negotiate with recalcitrant dealers – that’s why Alfa doesn’t sell in the necessary numbers.
      If you are the driver of such a car and are given a certain monthly sum to spend on your car (look at the configurators – they always have an option to show the monthly cost of an optional extra instead of the absolute cost) and you can choose between an A4 with a two litre engine and a DS9 with its moped drivetrain (or a three cylinder Mondeo) – which one would you choose?

  3. I have to say that the DS9 is a massive letdown after all the concepts such as the CXPERIENCE, etc. It took me a while to realize that this is meant to be the new, large Citroën and not just an extension to the DS range.

    What makes it worse is being told by someone with a fixed grin on their face, who must know better, that something is ‘amazing’ and ‘beautiful’. I can judge that for myself.

    1. Indeed. It really is not up to the artist/maker to tell us how we feel about their creation. And then it´s not even much of a creation. It´s not clear to me why they bother with a range of unexceptional cars such as this. If they did not come burdened with a storied name it would matter less. As it is, it´s like Cadillac touting an Astra-based car as the heir to the 1969 Eldodoradododa or Ferrari pushing a warmed over 500L as the new Testarossa. The engineers and designers at DS have a rotten brief; like GM the problem is up on board room level.

    2. Charles – I think this is different. The DS9 is DS’s range topper. A new C5 as the future Citroën flagship is promised. What it will look like is not clear, but my guess is that it’s closer to the CXperience than the DS9, and thankfully will lack most of its ‘prestigious’ features like the uninspired chrome slashes on the bonnet or at the rear lights, or diamond stitched leather(ette).

  4. I wonder if fashioning the same car as a heir to the Xantia and the C5 – with Citroen badges – would make more sense on the European market. Obviously “9” is a very high shirt number for a European car: 9-series, A9, Z-class, 908 anyone? That sounds (to me, at least) just misplaced.

    1. It´s inflation, simple and clear. A “9” is a big number in car hierarchy terms.

      A quick look at Citroen Germany shows the C5 is dead (I think I already knew that). There is a space for Citroen saloon in the C-D class. They don´t have one and are instead offering this Sellotape and Blu-Tak concatenation.

      How does it make sense to go after the “premium” marques when PSA can´t field something in the middle class? And does it make sense for DS to trump Peugeot? In the old model, Peugeot offered conservative good taste and Citroen offered something more expressive; one was a saloon the other a hatch. It made sense.

      Like the US and the Afghan war, PSA is stuck with DS, a plan invented by people who probably have died or left the firm. The range is an elaboration of a freakishly succesful supermini from (deep breath) 2009. Although I hate received wisdom, it´s pretty hard to argue one can build a range up from a tiny car. Counterpoint: isn´t that was BMW did in the early 1950s? (Or did people still recall their pre-War cars). DS exists as a demonstration of the sunk-cost fallacy. I presume it can be repurposed also as an example of buyer´s regret.

    2. Indeed, plans for DS seem to have been laid out long ago and then shelved. The DS9 concept appeared eight years ago. An even earlier proposal for a big Citroen, the Metropolis, dates back to 2010. Both were aimed at the executive saloon market. That was the heyday of the DS3 and years before DS had its own brand and CEO. In 2020, not only the DS albatross is still hanging from PSA’s neck, but it risks forming with Peugeot an awkward embrace of the kind that damaged Alfa and Lancia at the same time.

      BMW did sell small cars in the 1950s, but also the 501 saloon and soon afterwards the 507 roadster. That’s already a larger footprint in the market than DS can expect to have.

  5. I suppose the DS9 is what you end up with when you feel you ought to be in a segment, but can’t really afford it. It’s all a bit self-defeating. Seat Exeo, anyone?

    I wonder how long it’ll be in production for.

    1. I think the DS9 (or perhaps its marketing pitch) tries to punch above its weight in terms of refinement. It’s a cheaper car than it should have been, so it was given ostentatious features and a big name.
      The Exeo, on the other hand, was a means to keep selling the Audi A4-B7 while the A4-B8 was already hitting the streets. I see the Exeo more like a D-segment equivalent of the Clio Campus, Peugeot 206+, Fiat Punto Evo.

  6. Hello Jeroen – yes, I see what you mean. The parallel I’d draw between the DS9 and Exeo is that one is clearly an Audi and the other is clearly a Peugeot. They’re both attempts to get more value out of a platform, which is a reasonable aim. They’re also both fine cars, I’m sure. I just think it’s odd to have so little differentiation between them and the original product, and to make them slightly inferior in some ways.

    1. For the same reason I find odd the splitting of Seat into Seat and Cupra. Depending on the internal competition within VAG, Seats have been presented through the years as either ‘budget’ or ‘cheerful’ (e.g. Toledo, Exeo vs. Leon, Ibiza). I thought the whole point of Seat was to eventually combine the two images.
      Yet these differently branded cars are going to be identical in most aspects, as they roll out of the same production lines. Am I missing something or is this kind of brand microtargeting almost a clearance sale in disguise to recover some costs of scalable production?

  7. The whole dilemma of positioning a car today just shows how ridiculous the whole badge snobbery has become. The lower and upper ranges of the market are now clearly distinguished by ‘premium’ vs. ‘non-premium’ brands, and less so by size. Large ‘non-premium’ vehicles have disappeared quite completely, so as Dave mentions above, there simply is no equivalent to the masses of IDs and lower-spec CXs any more.

    One story about this unreasonable badge thinking still sticks in my mind: someone expecting a Citroën C5 as his rental car was told that it was not available, and instead was offered a Mercedes B-class. This was even considered an ‘upgrade’ by the rental company. A similar thing happened to me long time ago, when we ordered a Renault Scenic (or similar) in order to have enough space for comfortable travel and our rather bulky luggage. Alas, our ‘upgrade’ car was a BMW 1 series…

    1. Customers’ expectations and requirements have changed fundamentally over the last twenty-five years or so. People are buying posh smaller cars instead of cheap big ones because there are no more large families or the need to transport fridges or antiques in your car.
      In the Eighties nobody in their right mind would have payed the silly money for an A3 that Audi is asking.

    2. There is a good reason mainstream brands might move out of the classic sectors in to new ones. A Peugeot 3008 sells more fairly against similar sized cars from Audi etc. A 508 will probably always run up against the comparison with BMW smaller cars. As I said the other day, an Espace is in a class of its own. Citroen probably needs to abandon the obvious classses and also dodge numbers which invite comparisons both fair and otherwise.

    3. I think the Citroën nomenclature is still fairly reasonable, unlike the DS one. But I agree, a proper name (or an intelligently chosen combination of letters) is more suitable to Citroën and somehow underlines each car’s identity as something of its own, probably not confined by segment boundaries. Today, a C3 is just the third iteration of a C3-sized vehicle.
      Moving out of classic sectors has had mixed success with Citroën. Making a commercial vehicle more car-like and cheerful for targeting young, unpretentions families was a good move when they launched the Berlingo. Selling a slightly too small car on a B-segment platform as a replacement of a true C-segment car was rather less successful, as we have seen with the Cactus. I hope that the coming C4 (apparently also standing on the ‘small’ PSA platform) will benefit from less weight and width, but also add more usefulness and space in order to compete again in this important segment.

  8. You don’t talk much about the interior. The dash I can be ambivalent about, but the seats and overall ambience are quite lush.

    1. A video showing the DS9’s main features has just been produced by the UK sales channel, ‘Carwow’.

      As sometimes happens, although I think this car is in many ways a hugely missed opportunity, I have begun to admire it, as it has a strange sort of charm. I really like some parts of it and I’m not indifferent to it, which is something (and increasingly unusual, I’m sad to say). I quite like oddly-conceived underdogs (e.g. Austin 3-Litre, Renault Vel Satis, Talbot Tagora, etc). I still don’t like its looks, much, but I’d like to see what it looks like in a more dignified colour than pinky metallic beige.

      It is clear from the video that a lot more effort has gone in to the car than I had originally assumed / seen from the (poor) motor show launch video. It doesn’t have any features that are unique to it, but I bet it will be very comfortable (trick suspension which reads the road) and it has a roomy, interesting and genuinely luxurious interior. If this were on my company car list I’d have one like a shot, just for the novelty value. It would be a nice car to be driven in, I would think. I hope it sells well, even if its success is limited to China. I wonder if it will be a presidential vehicle, in France.

      Here’s the Carwow video.

      And a good static review, in French, which shows the details well.

  9. The more I look at those indicators placed high up on the rear pillars, the more the irritate me – the idea was quite fun, the execution is awful.

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