Disappointing Sequel (Part Two)

Concluding our latterday examination of DS Automobiles, we draw some conclusions.

Image: auto55

The 2015 relaunch of DS Automobiles as a separate stand-alone marque necessitated a facelift for the existing DS3, DS4 and DS5 models. The Citroën badging and logo was replaced with a new, stylised DS badge, while the distinctive Double-Chevron front grille was replaced by a rather generic hexagonal item. The stylised DS initials appeared twice on the front end of the facelifted cars, in large size within the grille and on a smaller square badge on the painted panel above. At the rear, DS also appeared twice; stylised in the centre of the tailgate and offset to the right in a plain script suffixed with the model number.

Did the abundance of badges indicate a degree of unease about DS’s name recognition, and its prospects as a stand-alone marque? This badging led to a certain confusion as to the names of the relaunched models; for example, was it DS DS3 or simply DS 3? The official DS website indicates that the latter is correct.

In any event, the relaunch had no apparent impact on DS sales, which continued to decline. The formerly successful DS 3 was already five years old and, in 2016, its first full year as a DS, a total of 38,690(1) were sold in Europe, roughly half the number of sales it achieved at its peak in 2011. Moreover, the DS 4 and DS 5 would both be discontinued in 2018 because of poor sales. To become viable, DS urgently needed convincing new models.

The first of these was the DS 7 Crossback, launched in 2017. This is a mid-sized crossover which looks like an amalgam of contemporary Audi Q5 and Lexus NX styling cues. It is not unpleasant, but rather generic in appearance. The DS 7 had an auspicious launch: President-Elect Emmanuel Macron used a customised open-topped version for his inauguration on 14th May, seven months before the model went on general sale in France.

Autocar magazine tested the DS 7 Crossback after its UK launch in early 2018. The reviewer remarked on the lack of originality in its design. The interior appeared to be more distinctive and, at least superficially, quite luxurious, with an abundance of diamond-shaped motifs in the upholstery and trim. However, there were also plenty of hard plastics to be found, undermining its premium aspirations.

2017 DS 7 Crossback (c) drivek.co.uk

Although based on the same PSA EMP2 architecture that underpins the Peugeot 3008 and 5008, the Prestige-spec DS7 came with a feature called DS Active Scan: a camera monitors the road surface ahead and automatically adjusts the shock absorbers accordingly. Unfortunately, this system failed to deliver the hoped-for ride quality, which was described as follows: “The DS 7 rides softly and with adequate comfort at low speeds. The car’s suspension conducts plenty of road noise into the cabin, however, and while it deals with bigger, softer-edged lumps and bumps well enough, it too often allowed the 19in wheels and 50-profile tyres of our test car to thump and crash a bit over sharper scars and imperfections.”

Overall, the DS 7 was summarised as being generous in cabin and boot space, with interesting design details and a punchy, quiet and economical petrol engine. However, it was adjudged to be lacking in originality and insufficiently polished to compete on equal terms with its premium rivals.

The DS 7 was followed in 2018 by the DS 3 Crossback, aimed squarely at the Audi Q2 and MINI Countryman. In design terms, it is a strange confection of two distinctly different styles: rounded, organic and somewhat bloated below the waistline, geometric above. The shark’s fin detail on the B-pillar of the original DS 3 supermini is reprised, although it looks rather dissonant on a five-door vehicle.

Surprisingly, the design of the new model has little in common with its larger sibling. It may be the case that DS wants to give each of its models a distinctive and unique style, but is this wise for a new company with so little brand awareness or equity?

ds auto
2018 DS 3 Crossback

The DS 3 Crossback is based on the new CMP platform co-developed with PSA’s Chinese partner, Dongfeng Motor. PSA reportedly spent €100m refitting its Poissy plant in readiness for the new model, which was hoped to be the mainstay of the company’s range.

Autocar tested the DS 3 Crossback in early 2019. The reviewer was unconvinced by the exterior style and thought the interior, although distinctive, was lacking both in terms of ergonomics and quality: entry and egress was restricted by high and wide sills, there was poor vision from the rear seats, the diamond-motif stylised secondary controls were inconsistent in their action, and plenty of hard plastics were to be found at lower levels in the cabin.

The new platform was equipped with independent rear suspension. The car was softly sprung with light but uncommunicative steering, so not very engaging to drive. Unfortunately, there was no compensation to be found in its ride quality, which felt restless and under-damped, with significant cabin noise generated by road imperfections. Overall the magazine summarised the DS 3 Crossback as follows: “Unremarkable handling and a choppy ride are notable offenders, as is an interior that fails to deliver the sort of space and convenience that compact crossover buyers are now used to.”

DS 7 Crossback European sales were 68,074 from launch until the end of November 2020, an average of just 1,660 units a month. DS 3 Crossback European sales were 35,560 from launch until the same date, an average of just 1,482 units a month. Even allowing for the disruption caused by Covid-19, these are weak numbers and suggest that DS Automobiles is still far from establishing itself as a serious player.

2019 DS 9 (c) honestjohn.co.uk

Perhaps DS Automobiles had hoped the burgeoning Chinese market might provide a route to viability? The company offers a wider range of models there, including the DS 9, a large saloon based on an extended Peugeot 508 platform, which is scheduled to go on sale in Europe from late 2020. Unfortunately, the situation there is even more dire than in Europe: in 2014 DS sold 26,008 vehicles in China, but numbers have declined precipitously since and only 1,254 DS vehicles were sold there in 2019. In the eleven months to the end of November 2020, a derisory total of just 381 DS vehicles were sold in China.

PSA’s acquisition of GM’s European business in March 2017 and FCA in December 2019 leaves the enlarged group, now renamed Stellantis, with a plethora of overlapping mainstream brands, but no convincing premium competitor. Rather than persist with DS, should Stellantis instead consider putting its energy into Alfa Romeo, or even Lancia? Although shamefully neglected, and just about defunct in the case of the latter, these storied Italian marques at least have a fine history on which to launch a full-scale revival.

DS Automobiles has promised a third Crossback model, the 4, for late 2021.  This will be a PHEV in a crossover-coupé style that will sit between the 3 and 7 in the range. Time will tell whether the 4 will be good enough to turn around the company’s fortunes, but the recent precedence is not encouraging. The 2014 Devine DS concept had raised hopes for more attractive and coherent DS designs, but these hopes have not yet been met.

The shape of the future? The Divine DS concept at Chantilly Style et Luxe. Image via frenchisgood

For now, DS Automobiles seems only to be going backwards. Its most convincing model was the 2009 DS 3 and its current offerings smack of cynicism, attempting to overlay prosaic underpinnings with a superficial veneer of luxury and sophistication. In that regard, DS Automobiles is the polar opposite of the wonderful Déesse from which it takes its name. In November 2020, DS announced that it would stop selling petrol and diesel vehicles from 2025 and would only offer electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles thereafter.

It is a moot point as to whether or not DS Automobiles can be turned around but its current situation is not propitious. The PSA/FCA merger to form Stellantis received almost universal shareholder approval on 4th January 2021 and should be completed by the end of the month. The new company will be juggling a portfolio of fourteen brands. Facing challenges on a number of different fronts, it is difficult to see DS, at best a marginal player within the enlarged group, being a priority.

(1) All sales data from www.carsalesbase.com.

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

37 thoughts on “Disappointing Sequel (Part Two)”

  1. DS as a brand seem all at sea. Whilst they hold my interest to a point, the 9 is agreeable to these eyes, the other stuff is just jumping on the bandwagon, chintzy, over blown mess. Like pinning the tail on the donkey, a great deal of DS appears to have been done blindfolded.

    A very brief autotrader search at the top end finds used DS7 going for almost £60,000. Serious cash for a not so serious motor.

    But then someone thinks this is ok

    If this is a mini, I live on the moon

    1. Andrew, that is truly dreadful – and for the first time I can see the shape of the structure that the glass normally hides completely. No wonder cyclists and motor cyclists are invisible! Who, I wonder, will be the first designer or manufacturer brave enough to expose – and celebrate – the basic structure of the product without adorning it with cladding which pretends it is is something which it isn’t?
      Answer: no-one!

    2. Dear Andrew Miles, posting a photo like that is very unkind. The day started so nice and I just had a good breakfast…

    3. They have gone for a flag mounted mirror then stuck in a massive sail panel! Bonkers!

  2. I can only speak for myself, but none of the DS products hit my heart. Cheaply trimmed to “luxury”, and far too turgid to be real luxury. Funnily enough, “the fish” is the only one that triggers faint positive feelings in me, but I don’t need a van – and if I did, I would ruin my fortune with an Avantime (in metallic blue with a white roof, of course).

    The motivation of PSA more than 10 years ago to install a brand that serves the upper market segment is quite understandable. (The fact that the effect was more like that of a New Year’s Eve rocket is another story).
    Now, however, after the merger with FCA, the situation of DS – as you have already correctly written in your article – is different. Compared to a brand like Lancia (even Alfa Romeo), DS would be obsolete.
    However – and here I can only speak for the situation in Germoney – in order to revive Lancia (and also Alfa Romeo) and sell them in reasonable numbers, you would need a dealer network – or at least a sensible distribution concept. Neither the one nor the other is given at Fiat/Alfa Romeo (Lancia is dead in Germoney). Here, dealers/garages close down in rows (often) or switch to another brand (rarely).
    PSA has a better dealer network, at least here. However, it remains to be seen whether existing PSA dealers will want to or will be allowed to take on other brands.
    Let’s wait until the merger is completed and see what management and brands will be left in the coming big shake-up. With all that Stellantis has in its basket, there is too much overlap.
    Like you, I think DS will die. There are enough reasons. I doubt whether Lancia will be revived in return.

    1. Dear Fred, apologies for ruining your breakfast. I should’ve put a warning up first.

      Oh, that Lancia could be saved and made great again. This moon atmosphere gets to you after a while…

  3. Fourteen brands under the Stellantis umbrella. Since I’m still in end-of-year-quiz mode I thought and have a go at it:

    1. Peugeot
    2. Citroën
    3. DS
    4. Opel
    5. Vauxhall (forgot this one, it’s been a while since I was in the UK)
    6. Abarth (missed this one too)
    7. Alfa Romeo
    8. Chrysler
    9. Dodge
    10. Fiat
    11. Jeep
    12. Lancia
    13. Maserati
    14. Ram

    There are a few more brands that are part of the PSA/FCA group:

    15. Free2Move (car rental)
    16. Mopar (MOtor PARts)
    17. SRT (on the FCA website the Dodge performance models are shown as a brand)
    18. Comau (industrial automation and robotics)
    19. Teksid (iron and aluminium components)

    One has to wonder if all 14 car brands will survive. DS might be dead soon (pun intended). Do we really need a rebranded Opel? (serious question, I don’t know the position of Vauxhall in the UK). Can Abarth be justified as a performance brand of just the Fiat 500? What will become of Alfa Romeo? Is the Brennero enough to save the company? Will there be a good dealer network? There are rumors the Chrysler brand will be dropped soon. Will Lancia continue to be on life support? I have a feeling it won’t end well for a few brands.

    1. Freerk: thanks for that long list. In Christmas Quiz mode, can anyone recall my three-way division of car brand and can anyone dare to put the 14 brands into the 3-way framework? We have a sub-luxury 2o minute holiday for 5 in New Ross as the prize. This includes free rental of a Ford Maverick (or similar) from Tubridy Rentals Ltd.

    2. “A rubbish heap of brands” as Richard H put it. Horribly true, and still makes me laugh.

      I wonder what would happen if they ‘did a Renault’ – that is, ditch everything selling fewer than, say, 4K units per market. Some of the brands, above, have some models that are doing very well – the Corsa in the UK, for example.

      In a post-pure combustion engine world, I can make a case for Peugeot – some successful models, nice design direction (e.g. the e-Legend). The same goes for Opel / Vauxhall with their new ‘Visor’ theme.

      Jeep and Ram should be okay in their relatively specialist segments. Could Dodge expand on their muscle car theme with an EV, like Ford with the Mustang?

      Fiat have the 500, which is okay, but old as a concept and I guess they’ll do the Centoventi (?).

      The rest? No, thank you.

    3. What’s third prize? A fortnight in New Ross with a DS 4 for transport?

      Good afternoon all. I’m lurking, but a bit preoccupied elsewhere!

    4. In the pre-bypass days, 20 mins wouldn’t have been enough time to get into (let alone out of) New Ross!

    5. I recall Richard comparing FCA to a “syphilitic zombie”, but I can’t remember what the other two strands of the framework were.

    6. The holiday in New Ross will include accomodation at McBirney´s The Winds B&B (2 stars, Bord Failte), by the way. The vegetarian breakfast option is Dunnes´ own brand corflakes and Maxwell House. You get a guided tour of the Kennedy Homestead which has been preserved exactly as it was the day John F. Kennedy left it to to take up his job in the United States as the 35th President.
      https://www.tripadvisor.dk/Attraction_Review-g186641-d292262-Reviews-Kennedy_Homestead-New_Ross_County_Wexford.html

    7. I’ll only have a go if the prize includes a tour of Tacumshane Windmill.

    8. Tacumshane Windmill: currently closed for refurbishment. Vestas Wind Systems a/s are upgrading the tower and the blades. It will be 80 metres high with 24 m blades.

    9. Stellantis need to look into the business of ontology. I think there is no logical ontological arrangement of this list where the number of logical categories is equal to 14. Immediately gone are DS, Vauxhall, Abarth, Alfa, Chrysler, Lancia and Ram. Sorry, Lancia. I understand the brand and so do others here. Nobody at Stellantis reads this, though. I would keep Fiat only to make the 500. A case could be made to keep Lancia solely to make Y-type cars. People seem to like them.

      1. Peugeot
      2. Citroën
      3. DS
      4. Opel
      5. Vauxhall (forgot this one, it’s been a while since I was in the UK)
      6. Abarth (missed this one too)
      7. Alfa Romeo
      8. Chrysler
      9. Dodge
      10. Fiat
      11. Jeep
      12. Lancia
      13. Maserati
      14. Ram

    10. Abarth is also threatened with death.
      Too big to be included in the exception of emissions requirements for small manufacturers. So they will be forced to offer EVs as well. The brand essence would be lost. Who will buy an electric Abarth? Can anyone seriously imagine an Opel e-Corsa in a macho tracksuit? That’s so absurd that even DS would gain a raison d’être.

    11. Just read this yesterday: The SRT team has dissolved, but the people have been integrated within other teams of the company. but Chrysler seems to be in the clear for now.

  4. Thank you Daniel for this review.
    I didn’t know about DS’s Chinese operations nor its awful sales figures. I can only hope PSA already spotted the point on their amortisation graphs where it’s least painful to pull the plug on DS.
    After so many years I still can’t grasp the idea behind pet brands. In DS’s case, it seems to have brought only unrealistic expectations about cars that are never more than passable. All the hype working against the cars themselves. Isn’t Cupra a similar case?
    Then there’s the bizarre styling. Recently I saw an electric DS3 wafting through a car park as I walked by. I wasn’t aware of the DS3 shape before the encounter and I was somewhat spooked by the sight of it – no wonder they call it E-Tense.

  5. Curiously, I happened upon a Dispiriting Spinoff 7 Crossback on my morning dog walk – are they all finished in that shade of Gold? I’ve yet to come across one in any other shade – mind you, it’s probably that I’m seeing the same car. Chintzy about sums it up. A bit like those over-wrought Brougham-spec American cars from the ’70s. Banality, rolled in glitter.

    There is so much to criticise about this whole DS business, it’s difficult to know where to start, but for me, it’s the sense of desperation about them, particularly in the manner in which they are detailed. I lost count of the amount of DS badging on the car. It was everywhere, including both front and rear lamp units. Not that it would make a moment’s difference locally. A DS what?

    I can’t see many being sold here. Citroen was a hard enough sell in Ireland. Still, there’s always the fun of inventing alternative names. I give you, Desperate Styling by way of a parting shot.

  6. Bonjour à mes amis Anglais.
    Je viens de lire avec attention votre article et j’y adhère à 100%.
    DS est pour moi en mort clinique, malgré les promesses de Tavares, les chiffres de ventes en attestent. C’est dommage, peut-etre que ça aurait pu etre une marque à part …
    La nouvelle DS3 est une horreur, tellement moche par rapport à la DS3 originelle.
    Le reste de la gamme ne vaut pas mieux, foi de Français 😀
    La crise actuelle du Covid va précipiter l’avenir de la marque DS et, d’apres moi et de nombreux commentateurs en France, elle va devenir qu’un niveau de finition pour certaines Citroën (comme Maybach pour Mercedes par exemple).

    Translate Google :
    Hello to my English friends.
    I have just read your article carefully and I agree 100%.
    DS is for me in clinical death, in spite of the promises of Tavares, the sales figures attest it. It’s a shame, maybe it could have been a brand apart …
    The new DS3 is an eyesore, so ugly compared to the original DS3.
    The rest of the range is no better, French faith: D
    The current Covid crisis will precipitate the future of the DS brand and, according to me and many commentators in France, it will become only a level of finish for some Citroëns (like Maybach for Mercedes for example).

    PS : Je vous lis pratiquement tout les jours, quel fantastique site !
    Longue vie à Driventowrite 😀

    1. Bonsoir Alain. Bienvenue chez DTW et merci pour vos commentaires et vos aimables paroles. Je suis heureux que vous appréciez le site Web.

      Good evening Alain. Welcome to DTW and thank you for your comments and kind words. I’m glad you are enjoying the website.

  7. The 2013 DS Wild Rubis concept was a rather nice effort, with its distinctive roof rails and XM-inspired rear doors:

    Something really close to it could make a better DS7 than the one we ended up with. Its actual production version is the Chinese-market DS6 WR; it’s too watered-down, the XM references are completely lost (instead, it looks a bit too much like the MK1 GLA around the C-pillar) and the proportions are a bit off:

    The DS5 was briefly available with cool-looking “Dark Chrome” as an alternative to the classic chrome exterior trim. I’ve read that it should normally be standard on the “Performance Line” versions of the current models, but there were quality issues so it got replaced by rather nasty-looking black plastic. Also, the Alezan interior of the DS7 (a very expensive option) inexplicably lost its colour-coded lower dashboard a while ago…

    1. I wanted to include photos on that comment but apparently I didn’t get it right…

    2. Good morning Megasigma. Please allow me to assist.

      DS Wild Rubis:

      DS 6 WR:

      DS 5 Dark Chrome option:

      There are instructions for embedding photos in posts on the ‘Driven To Explain’ page. Just click on the tab above, scroll down and you’ll find them.

    3. Thanks Daniel! I’ll try to post a photo again to see if I’ve got it right:

  8. last night we watched the final episode of Spiral,
    that engrossing French police procedural. even the
    sight of often errant lawyer Joséphine Karlsson driving
    a dreaded Crossback couldn’t undermine the tension…
    but what a sad, sad saga. what a betrayal of Citroën’s
    heritage. those responsible deserve a good spanking.

    1. Breaking Stellantis news: a new Jeep Grand Cherokee, seen here in US seven-seat spec:

      Is it wrong that, C-pillar fussiness apart, I rather like it?

    2. The chrome band running around the sides and down the c-pillar looks good to me. The rest of the car less so.

      I had a look at the DS Rubis concept – I can see a shape like the XM rear door in the design. However, is it not possible it´s merely a coincidence? For it to be a direct and clear quote, it´d need to be matched to an up-kick at the front, by the mirror. So, for it to be a full “quote” of the XM there would need to be a dropped window line which requires a line for it to drop relative to. That is not present in the Rubis; it´s half a quote as is “…. be, that is the question” which missing the essence of the full line, I would say.
      The current C5 has an inflection at the base of the DLO which is XM-like. However, there is nothing at the back end. It too seems more like a design coincidence, where the designer was uncomfortable with a straight line and decided to bend it up as it neared the A-pillar.

    3. Hi Richard. How about we go halves on a new Jeep Grand Cherokee? You get the chrome trim you like, I get the rest of it. 😁

      Seriously, I think Megasigma is right: the Wild Rubis is much more likely to be referencing the GLA Mk1 than the XM. DS has shown little regard for Citroën’s back-catalogue and instead steals details from competitors. The DS 7 Crossback is a case in point, a mélange of (old) Audi and lexus design tropes.

    4. While I´m not in the market for a big American SUV, I can admit the styling is quite alright. Perhaps if I see it in the metal I might change my mind. A short look at other photos shows a lot of parallelism and orderly surfaces. The transitional surfaces/fillets have the discipline of the LR about them. The wheel arch ripples are a bit overdone. On the stance front and also proportions, the Cherokee looks purposeful while not becoming to swept back and low. I like that. That chrome strip is both attractive and structurally relevant. Opel were the first to be so playful with that chrome DLO garnish. Jeep have taken the idea and elaborated in a pleasing way.

  9. Jeep styling seems to have too much tension between angular and smooth details, almost as if the Fiat Panda’s “rounded square” theme split into two branches.

    The new Cherokee design is more coherent and restrained than its predecessor. If those wheels were 14″, I’d quite like it. However, it doesn’t seem to have better ground clearance than an Audi Allroad, or even a Volvo V90 (in Swedish Police spec).

  10. The Honda E is close to the performance of base versions of the existing Abarth, so it would not be impossible to achieve; the range of anything much faster would be poor though. If my calculation is correct, the base selling price of the Abarth was about 33% greater than that of the base Fiat – surely not a bad return? If maintained, that would make a base Abarth e500 about £26600 – about the same as a Honda E.

    Fred G Eger – they are actually planning just that: macho Vauxhalls resurrecting the VXR badge, all electric, without peformance changes, and including the Vivaro van. https://www.autoexpress.co.uk/vauxhall/corsa/353999/vauxhall-corsa-vxr-course-electric-2022-comeback

    SMMT data shows that Abarth outsold Alfa Romeo in the UK, for one (2019 as well as the anomaly -?- of 2020). AR prices may be higher, but I’d imagine that the costs of rebadging the hot 500s are far lower than developing the AR range? Incidentally, DS sold only 30 more cars than Abarth in the UK last year. Cupra shifted just 162

    Vauxhall should stay, going on basic sales data – last year (and 2019) it outsold Citroen, DS and Peugeot combine, although that is by basic units rather than profit/loss of course, and only UK. This may not reflect all markets, but might be of interest.

    1. Abarth outsold AR is both remarkable and less so. It´s a trim and spec variant of Fiat and as such is more like a mainstream volume product (like Ford´s Vignale.) One might expect a variant of a popular car to sell a lot too. However, there was a time when Alfa Romeo sold more than a 140,000 cars a year (2007) in total and now it sells around 54,000 cars a year (2019). That´s pretty damn bad and especially after throwing all that money at the Giulia.

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