Corde Sensible Pizzicato

Dr. Stellantis – we need 200ml of adrenaline through the EMP2 platform this minute, otherwise he’ll flatline…

2019 DS 9 Image: honestjohn.co.uk

Be still my Yorkshire heartbeat, there remain yearnings for French saloons chez-Miles. For this I blame visits to Le Mans in years past, observing cool-looking battered saloons on the payage or sleek C6s or 607s parked effortless and poorly on village corners. But hark! A contrivance recently reported at AutoCropley – news that Stellantis are to brighten the saloon car world, as the sunrise.

A recent French offering to have piqued my interest was the current Peugeot 508. When seen on screen for the first time, this car, surely the company’s pain et beurre, with its Mustang-esque hind quarters, frameless windows and noticeably different interior style favoured highly with this Yorkshire native, but then, my tastes and current trends do not necessarily align.

But throw into the ring the new DS9, this Berline de Voyage, and my aortas are fully engaged. That rear end cuts more dashes than a daily Peripherique commuter. Grumble all you wish as to the DS brand, (there’s opportunity momentarily), this French/ Chinese saloon is better looking than anything pouring out of Deutschland of late, to these cross or sporting-averse eyes at least.

To Germany though we must return, Deutschpost haste. The DS9 is to be aimed fairly and squarely at The Big Three, not only on the quality front but more pointedly, price. Belay those guffaws for now. But fifty grand for a confused Citroën? Never mind plucking heartstrings – an altogether different form of EMP maybe in order to prevent cardiac arrest.

Meanwhile, according to double chevron head honcho, Vincent Cobée, the stylistic temperament will suit local taste. Cobée elucidates, “We’re not a particularly upper, middle or lower, positioned brand. But we fully intend to to push forward with our higher capabilities, demonstrating Citroën at a much higher level.” Bold statements for sure but containing how much provenance? Stellantis are striving to rid themselves of any kind of bad publicity with the buying masses, be those fleet or Joe Public. But I’m finding it difficult to differentiate between brands.

Peugeot UK’s Managing Director David Peel outlines that the 508 is a “slow burn, we’ve got the premium customers coming but won’t force the issue.” The Germans may pause a moment to grin under their face mask. Is DS then, the apparent enfant terrible, an attempt to try and outflank them all. Wisdom may not be heart shaped. Nor is it in stylised, badge engineered form, either.

Being one, small, insignificant voice against the mighty leaders makes for tall orders. 2020 sales were down – 2,320. A 2019 market share that stood at 0.19% has fallen (to a virus enhanced) 0.15.  Purchasing (but more probably a form of leasing) on-line has become de rigueur but as doors slowly begin to re-open, no mere showroom will one enter.

These DS boutiques are not in every town or city outskirts. My nearest is over thirty miles away. But they do offer a valet service when the car requires one. And the, admittedly internet-only, look of the dealership, nay, boutique, does appear interesting if perhaps falsely inviting. Beatrice Foucher, VP of DS in 2019, extolled the virtues of it being “an extraordinary opportunity for those customers seeking a new experience. 

Could my inner Francophile could be satiated? DS Automobiles (already six years old but heralded as a conquest brand) by new UK chief, Jules Tilstone believes so. “There’s life outside a German brand, we offer premium Elevation here.” His lofty reference is to that of the savoir-faire, Paris experience where a close relationship is made between concierge and customer – one contact person offering (brand)-security and comfort.

Currently Citroën house DS salons in larger branches with the stand-alone boutiques showing better returns in interest and sales. More boutiques are planned as the name grows. One’s breath is not being held, especially when our Jules informed the magazine, “we don’t expect dramatic growth even as we launch the 4 and 9 arriving later.” More oh than ooh-la-la then, which is a little disappointing.

DS Automobiles latest opus. Image: dailyrevs

Tilstone is also quick to point out that Stellantis contains other brands for maximum sales potential, observing a (hopeful) one percent sales rise as acceptable. To a blunt Yorkshireman, this sounds neither confident in product nor progressive terms. These eyes, befuddled by bunkum and discontented by repeated disappointment, covet a French machine of substance – if not necessarily to own then at least to admire. Diamond stitching and fancy grilles are not cutting it with those of a more Germanic leaning- I’ve seen very few new DS’ sur la route. 

DS has not made inroads, despite a very successful presence in the Formula E race series, garnering (in the UK) ambivalence, not acceptance with customers, a sobering viewpoint. Yorkshire folk, intrinsically cost conscious seem puzzled. Citroën, forever offering lucrative deals for a car which may not rate highly in the press but at least shows flair alongside tangential differences to rivals, has proved popular in this locale for years. The world may have grown smaller but are we ready for such a boutique experience? Probably not – but the heart can be fickle.

Whilst some form of candle may be held toward the increasingly unviable French saloon car, produced under whichever relevant Stellantis branch that is deemed relevant, the knowledge that the Shield will return brings with it momentum harboured over the decades. Tormented by Lancia’s long established decamp from UK shores*, the notion of a nicely finished and palpably more Italian motor, one feels an onrush of Erythrophobia.

Doubtless any new Lancia will run some form of utility over saloon and goodness only knows what their take on boutiques and after-care packages are likely to be, yet pulse rates quicken at the very thought. But can the Stellantis honey jar stretch to open heart surgery over so many niche products? 

Some operations take time. 

* At the time of writing it remains unclear if Lancia will be sold in the UK. 

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

41 thoughts on “Corde Sensible Pizzicato”

  1. I felt my pulse quicken when I looked at the DS, then realised it was because it looks exactly like my Alfa 159 Ti.

    1. I don’t really see the likeness, personally – the 159 is a really fine looking thing, I am not sure I can say the same for the DS9.

    2. Besides both being saloons with four wheels and four doors, the resemblance escapes me as well. Whereas I see sober lines, appealing details and a good stance in case of the Alfa, the DS shows garnish of doubtful taste and odd proportions. I was considering a 159 estate (white with blue leather) for some time before buying my current car, but the DS doesn’t strike any chord with me.

  2. Would I honestly like to have a car featuring such rear lights

    The dashboard is awful.
    It combines a playstation instrument cluster with the cliff like looks of an Eighties Cadillac (or other US barge)

    The steering potato alone (I can’t call those iffy non-circular steering devices a wheel) would be enough to put me off.

    It will be interesting to see whether they are able to bring the quality of their dealers up to the level necessary to compete in the fleet market. This will be the toughest and most expensive part of the operation.

    1. That interior is… um… wow. I had to double-check this thing was actually new before I unloaded on it, because it is so shockingly dated the brain struggles to process it is mere months old. And if DS is nominally about elegance (at least I thought that was the brief), why did they apparently fill the studio mood board with images exclusively from Judge Dredd?

    2. That interior looks like it was a rough and unfocused drawing that was developed in 3D so that it has the quality of a finished thing but lacks the clarity a mature designer would bring. If I put it another way, it has the fussiness of an immature designer. It is loathesome.

    3. There’s something 1970’s American (and not in a good way) about the shapes and colours of that dashboard. Look at all the rat-holes and dust traps in the vicinity of the vent at the end of the dashboard, for example. Nothing appears to be properly integrated. The elements that make up the centre stack look to be ‘stuck-on’ rather than ‘designed in’. Horrible!

    4. Look at the area between the vent on the left and the cowl. What is happening there?
      While we are on the topic of interiors, take a look at LR´s work. It´s superlative.

    5. This interior looks like something you’d see in a car from a recent pathetic excuse for a videogame: the much-ballyhooed, overhyped, yet horribly GPU-hogging, RAM-hungry, CPU-clobbering, devoid of any real scenario, and utterly disappointing and full of cringe-inducing and incel-pleasing clichés and stereotypes “Cyberpunk 2077”.

  3. The DS9 isn’t exactly a looker. Overall bland shape with a few too many creases and some unnecessary details. As Dave already mentioned, once you open the door it gets worse. I’d rather have the Cadillac.

    DS managed to sell 37 cars in the Netherlands in June 2021. 19 of those were DS3 Crossbacks, the rest DS7 Crossbacks. Not sure if that’s enough to keep the 11 DS salons or boutiques running. On the bright side they outsold Alfa Romeo, which only shifted 21 cars of the showroom floor in the same period.

    1. I was just thinking that I never see DS cars here (except old examples of the original small model) and was wondering about the sales figures… ouch.

      The entire DS-as-separate-brand idea is inexplicable to me, even more so in the newly broadened context of the sprawling Stellantis portfolio. Mind you, exactly the same comment applies to Abarth. They have some serious rationalisation to do.

    2. Regarding the ‘DS as separate brand’ topic: The only DSs I ever see are DS3 and the occasional DS5, but usually they all still carry the double chevron. That says it all for me.

  4. Good morning Andrew. Taking an optimistic view, I think it’s worth giving Stellantis the benefit of the doubt and see how they evolve the brand strategy. Conversely, their efforts with DS don’t fill me with confidence and they now have simply too many marques. Some will have to be culled. I would start with DS, but the amount of effort that the former PSA invested in that marque (and stubbornness) probably makes that unlikely.

    1. This is a DTW thought-experiment article just waiting to happen, don’t you think? Perhaps Mr Miles could be tempted to do a wider-ranging follow-up…

    2. I’ll posit two different theories regarding Stellantis’ un-orthadox ten year plan for managing their multitude of brands. Both hinge upon the idea that some of their brands could become sub-brands, which may cost less to keep than to shut down entirely.

      A. Dealerships could be consolidated like DCA/FCA have done in North America where Chrysler, Dodge, RAM and Jeep are all sold and serviced under the same roof.

      B. Traditional franchised dealerships could be eliminated in favor of boutique showrooms located in posh business districts in combination with faceless service centers residing in low rent industrial parks. In this case they wouldn’t need to care if the DS brand loses money, as it is only the pace car setting up the race yet to come.

  5. To my honorary Yorkshire eyes, I quite like to overall look of it too. I’m not keen on the current trend of tablet screen dashboards, but they’ve kind of pulled it off in a quirky sort of way – and I like quirky. Doubt we’ll see that many on our Yorkshire roads though.

  6. I find very little of appeal in relation to the DS9 – I do like the seat trim design on what I am guessing is the top-line versions. DS remains very like Infiniti – a brand still scratching around for a clear purpose, proposition or point of difference – the new DS4 even manages to remind me of the Q/ QX30 we discussed the other day.

    On the subject of platforms, I just think Stellantis is playing its cards quite poorly at the moment. No one really questions BMW’S choice of platform for a given model (the 1 and 2 series may be exceptions, sharing with the MINI), but people get in a froth (me included) about high-end/ high price models sharing platforms with lesser/ cheaper cars (in my case with good reason given the compromises on my C6 for reusing a platform designed for much lighter and cheaper cars). Either Stellantis needs a ‘large/ luxury’ platform, or make one up, or stop talking about them by moving the debate on (another manufacturer talks of a portfolio of matrices from which it can pick and mix to suit the model).

    Overall, I expect DS to die at the end of its 10 year probation.

  7. It’s time to revive DeSoto. Stellantis wouldn’t even need to change the badges…

  8. That Francophilia thrives in Yorkshire should come as no surprise; the natives of both countries share so many characteristics, in particular their relaxed acknowledgement of their own superiority over their neighbours. On occasion a shared xenophobia can even be faintly detected (ask any Lancastrian). But this lack of any self-doubt is common to both – I shouldn’t be at all surprised if a future genealogist proves that Charles de Gaulle was a Yorkshireman.

    So, too, their motor industries: fiercely individualistic and idiosyncratic in their approach to design and both capable of great elegance or severe utility. Usually one or the other and rarely anything in between but always managing to inject a certain je ne sais quois (chic?) into the finished product. From the Carret 3-wheel steam carriage of 1861 onwards, there have been over 120 Yorkshire firms who have built motor vehicles and though Rodley, Scootacar or Stanhope are perhaps best forgotten (as the French might prefer to keep quiet about Aixam), Yorkshiremen (& women) have much of which to be proud. As do the French. And if the rest of the world cannot see that, the problem is their own….

    Note that I didn’t mention Jowett once. Neither can I make up my mind about the DS9 – but then I’m from Derbyshire….

    1. Well said, John. You put a smile on my face with your unlikely but, on reflection, highly plausible comparison! 😁

  9. “demonstrating Citroën at a much higher level”…

    I wonder if these people really believe what they’re saying. But maybe it’s even true. After purging everything that one made Citroëns unique, Peugeot has brought it to the level of being the cheap and less attractive Peugeot alternative. From this starting point, a Peugeot with creases and chrome ulcers might actually look like ‘high level’.

  10. They sell about 3k of all DS models per month across Europe, so around 40k per year. It’s been that way for the last 4 years or so.

    The DS 7 Crossback is meant to be pretty good, and they’ve recently launched a new DS 4. I chose this video, as it’s not too long, and gives a good view of the car. It also seemed appropriate that the commentary is in French. I think it’s an interesting car and the DS brand appeals to me, in general. Its’s a bit chi-chi, but that’s okay. I would think that very few people are aware of the brand. I forget it exists, regularly.

    1. Ew, glossy plastic switches on the “wheel” with non-standard legends, and who knows how the legends were printed. For the money, you’d at least expect matt, double-shot injection-molded keycaps.

  11. good to know that I’m not the only one who likes the DS9, even though at least half the commenters of this article do not show much love for it. the DS4 and the DS7 also look good to my eyes, although the current DS3 is simply hideous.

  12. Late to the party but not a fan of the DS 9 nor it’s price of £40k and upwards either. Overall , to my eyes, looks similar to an Audi.
    Interior/steering wheel- oh dear! Thanks for posting though Andrew.

  13. Audi´s A5 is easily a lot better-looking than the DS9 and the Volvo S90 is another clearly better-elaborated expression of elegance. I´d also venture that the 508 is far more pleasing. I am struggling to understand how the managers succeeded in dodging any sense of the striking elegance of the CX or XM or c6 or, frankly, any elegance at all. I have to wonder about the marketing basis for this and also the æsthetic sensibilities of the studio manager and design director or what the brief was like.

  14. JLR’s current CEO, Thierry Bolloré, recently told journalists why he thought Jaguar has failed in the market. He outlined that Jaguar’s offerings, while entirely worthy and well honed (he would say that), elicited curiosity; interest even, but customers preferred the originals – ergo Germanic products. It might sound simplistic, but there is an essential truth therein; be yourself, not a facsimile of something else.

    Surely Carlos Tavares can see that DS Auto falls even further into this category (at best). In the case of the DS9 – a car that looks vaguely like an Audi, but isn’t an Audi. A car which has an interior which is vaguely like that of a current era Mercedes, but isn’t a Mercedes… you get the point. Everyone’s third, fourth or fifth choice. (Or worse). This is no basis for a sustainable brand. But there has to be some rationale for brand-DS, hasn’t here?

    1. I typed “DS3 Crossback haute couture” into a search engine and a pile of rationale filled my screen. I can’t imagine what might have gone wrong with this strategy.

    2. If they were serious about being a design-driven brand they´d not have aped the forms of high-design but done it. It is evident that the designers didn´t think deeply about what it means to take risks with aesthetics. The DS cars are characterised by having 120% more styling features than the competition. None of its is new or deeply considered. It is like late 80s pop-rock – a heap of over-production without a basic concept underneath to carry it.

    3. That’s a really good point. I was struggling to articulate exactly what about it was wrong, but you are right – it’s a mess because nothing is coherent, but the underlying problem is a total lack of clarity about what they are actually trying to achieve. I imagine the fact they are struggling with this is is not unrelated to the fact that DS is a totally manufactured concoction and the task they have is to create a design language from scratch. That would be one thing, but I would bet they have also been told that it must carry ‘Citroen cues’, but also not be so good that it makes the cheapo PSA stuff look undesirable in comparison. I suppose they’ve certainly achieved that last one, at least.

  15. If you want to see modern and striking and strange, look at the Lexus RC300 h. You have to see it in the metal. It is otherworldly. I saw one in Dublin about two weeks ago and it´s burned on my retina. I only saw it for about 30 seconds and it seemed to have comes from another dimension. It fails alot of my standard style tests and Lexus´ own photos don´t do it justice.
    If we look at the front of the DS9, compare it to the simple front of the Mazda 3 or the new Opel Mokka. DS merely did another busy front end instead of challenging the trend. This is perhaps a Talbot Tagora for our times but much less interesting and less likely to even be memorably forgettable.

    1. Lexus RC300 h – is this what Irish Coupe Man is driving these days?

      I like the description of the DS9 as “a Talbot Tagora for our times”, although Whiteley, Poissy and probably Sochaux put far more effort into the original. Applying the principle of ‘are they doing anything which somebody else doesn’t do better[1]?’, DS deserves Talbot’s fate [2].

      [1] I’d make an exception for the delightful DS3 which had seven years of grace as a Citroën, but should probably have been a Peugeot.

      [2] I’d give DS two years. But as a particularly cruel and unusual punishment, the DS brand should continue for a further eight years on British market-only Peugeot Boxer vans.

    2. Robertas: Irish coupé man is mostly in Porsches, I must report. And well done for the cruel and unusual punishment and to Konstantinos, the cool and unusual wordplay. That was worth getting up for.

  16. The DS9 exterior profile looks remarkably like a 2006 era Acura TL, minus the elegant simplicity. So that’s a decade and a half out-of-date right there. And it doesn’t have the delicious Honda J35 V6 under the bonnet either, a really superb engine that Honda hasn’t bestowed on Europe . The interior shot showing the dashboard and controls is, well, other commenters have said it all — a dog’s breakfast.

    In fact, the interior mess reminds me of Acura’s dashboards in the latest TLX sedan and RDX crossover. Fugly. Overly busy. Distracting. But the DS9 is without Honda’s quality and ability to sew plastic pads together properly. The leather wrap on the DS9 steering wheel is very ill-fitted at the bottom.

    Saloons are a fast disappearing breed where I live. The sort-of-kind-of perhaps-if-we’re-lucky ending of the Covid era has everyone out shopping for cars new and used. The worldwide chip shortage and lack of new vehicles means dealer lots are near enough empty of both new and used vehicles right across Canada and the USA, so even wallflower saloons have been snapped up. That’s temporary. Not being a two-box hatchback-on-stilts fan myself, I feel lucky to own a decent looking car that needs no apology either outside or inside, a 2019 Mazda6 turbo that is screwed together very well indeed. No quality lapses anywhere that I’ve seen in two years of ownership, and it’s comfy with a wide rear seat pull-down armrest of which Mr Herriott might well approve. For $40K Canadian. Not Euros.

    Stellantis must have more money than sense to waste so much on various saloons, Alfa Romeos, resurrecting Maserati for the 49th time and what have you. Who’s buying them? Where’s the business case? A very recent article in a US car blog documented the lunacy of Stellantis’ doomed “positioning statement” for each brand they own, which in gibberish rivals anything Gorden Wagener can come up with on a bad day:

    Jeep: “Zero emission freedom.”

    Ram: “Built to serve a sustainable planet.”

    Chrysler: “Clean technology for a new generation of families.”

    Dodge: “Tear up the streets… not the planet.” 

    Alfa Romeo: “From 2024, Alfa becomes Alfa e-Romeo.” (The snake part of the logo is becoming an electric cord!)

    DS Automobiles: “The art of travel, magnified.”

    Lancia: “The most elegant way to protect the planet.”

    Maserati: “The best in performance luxury, electrified.”

    Opel/Vauxhall: “Green is the new cool.”

    Fiat: “It’s only green when it’s green for all.”

    Abarth: “Heating up people, but not the planet.”

    Peugeot: “Turning sustainable mobility into quality time,”

    Citroen: “Citroen electric: Well-being for all!”

    Tavares presumably okayed this example of group brain fade. I can only shake my head in disbelief. So there you are. Officially, the DS9 is “the art of travel, magnified”.

    1. Bill: that laundry list of brand themes pretty much summates the mess of Stellantis. The Lancia one alarmed me. I´d assume some form of environmental awareness is factored into all the brands so leave it as a given, I´d say, and tell us how this is done. It´s worrying that Lancia is being tagged elegant. Anyone who´s been reading my mutterings here knows Lancia is supposed to be Modern and delicious to drive. Take BMW´s i3 electric car. There´s a Lancia car – it´s modernist and, I believe, nice to punt around. Imagine that as a medium sized saloon (if you´re going to sell such a thing, Lancia is the brand for that).

    2. Richard, I still believe the 2008 Delta is a perfectly good shape for a new Lancia saloon and Qashqai-size CUV. A nice shape, of course, is not enough, as I know all too well, given my experiences from owning a 2009 Delta…

  17. Lately, I’ve been thinking that DS should never have been spun-off into its own brand in the first place. Instead, I think the “DS” moniker should return as a Citroën flagship that would combine the best mechanical qualities of a Peugeot floorpan and drivetrain with whatever clever suspension Citroën can devise, along with elements taken from the best examples of Citroën’s design charm. The ghastly “did someone screw a bunch of LCD screens on a 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am’s dash?” interior of the DS4 only serves to cement this thought in my head. Also, given the pathetic sales DS achieves EU-wide, why are its executives still employed?

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