Brother From Another Mother

An unofficial American take on the Citroën XM.

Like many European automakers, Citroën had a torrid time trying to establish a sustainable business in the US market during the second half of the twentieth century. It finally threw in the towel in 1972, but there remained a demand for cars bearing the double-chevron badge from a small hardcore band of marque enthusiasts.

To meet this demand, Dutchman André Pol and Malcolm K. Langman established CXautomotive, later renamed CXA, in the mid-1980s. Their plan was to import and modify Citroen’s CX model so that it would comply with US regulations, then distribute and sell the car nationwide. Bruised from its previous US experience and wary of potential ongoing liabilities, Citroën refused to cooperate with CXA and prohibited the use of either the Citroën name or double-chevron logo on CXA’s imports.

Despite the lack of cooperation from France, CXA still managed to source and sell around 2,000 cars in the latter half of the 1980s. The CX’s replacement arrived in 1989 in the shape of the XM, which was duly crowned European Car of the Year in 1990. With the availability of new CXs to convert soon coming to an end, CXA needed a replacement, and switching to its hydractive successor was a logical step. CXA duly purchased a couple of XMs and reserved floorspace for a stand at the New York Auto Show scheduled for April 1990.

It did not take long for PSA to find out about CXA’s plans, provoking Citroën’s parent company to take the radical step of renting floorspace at the same show. However, since almost all areas had already been taken by other exhibitors, the best PSA could get was a spot in the basement. A V6 powered XM and a ‘cutaway’ display vehicle were hastily shipped across the Atlantic, together with display materials and brochures supplied by Citroën UK. Hence, the brochures featured RHD vehicles but were at least written in English, which mattered rather more than the location of the steering wheel.

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In a press release handed out at the show, PSA/Citroën stated that it would market the XM in the USA, albeit with the proviso that the modifications necessary to comply with US regulations would delay its availability until the 1992 model year. The XM would be imported by the existing official agent, Citroën Cars Company in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, and would be sold via a limited number of selected outlets.

PSA also made it abundantly clear that anyone who purchased an XM through CXA would be on their own: “CXA and any of their representatives have no relation with Automobiles Citroën whatsoever, they are unauthorized. Automobiles Citroën accepts no responsibility for the modifications performed by CXA to make the XM comply with US safety and emissions regulations. Automobiles Citroën will not honor any warranty claims on XMs sold by CXA and will not be held responsible in case of any future recall actions.”

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Just four months later, however, Citroën issued a brief announcement that the XM would not after all be coming to the US. Only a few XMs had been brought over for regulatory modifications and small-scale customer clinics. This casts considerable doubt as to the seriousness of the intent as originally expressed and raised suspicions that it was simply a ‘spoiler’ exercise to undermine CXA.

Undaunted, CXA did proceed to offer the XM on the US market in Pallas (2-litre) and Vitesse (V6) guise. Around 200 modifications were necessary to make the car comply with all regulatory demands. These included welding additional tubular steel side-impact beams in the doors, installing different seat belts and catalytic converters, the latter sourced from BMW.

Unlike the CX by CXA, de-badging and modifications to the XM were performed in the US at CXA’s premises in West Chester, Pennsylvania rather than in The Netherlands. Visually, disregarding the absence of the double-chevron badging, the American XM was almost identical to its European counterpart. Apart from the mandatory side marker lights, the only difference was the headlights: the original XM items did not comply with US regulations and were replaced by those from the Pontiac Grand Prix. These were quite similar in size and shape, although a little bit narrower: the resulting gaps either side of the grille were covered with two plastic fillets, painted to match the body colour.

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Even though the XM received a reasonably favourable report in Car & Driver magazine and came well equipped, just as with the CXA, the elevated price was a severe obstacle to sales. The 168 horsepower V6 Vitesse was priced at around US $55,000. For the same price, a 278 horsepower V8 Infiniti Q45a sedan (the ‘a’ indicating that it was the active suspension version) could also be yours. And for approximately US $40,000, one could put a Lexus GS300 with a 227 horsepower inline-six or an E34 BMW 535i on the driveway.

The less than stellar quality image of French cars with the American public was another negative, as was the fact that CXA had just sixty representatives across the country, most of them small independent garages familiar with servicing Citroëns.

In six years, just 52 XMs were sold by CXA, after which the company decided to quit selling cars altogether. Whatever the motivation behind its last-minute appearance at the 1990 New York Auto Show, Citroën itself was probably wise not to go through with offering the XM in the US as it is doubtful that it would have been able to offer the car for much less than CXA did, with similarly dismal results.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

13 thoughts on “Brother From Another Mother”

  1. Good morning Bruno. Given the XM’s reputation for fragility, I wonder how many of those 52 US-registered cars are still on the road? You would really have to love the XM to buy it over a BMW E34-generation 535i, spending an extra $15k for the privilege.

    Incidentally, that looks suspiciously like Citroën’s double-chevron badge on the nose of the CXA XMs pictured above (rather than CXA’s cheeky reinterpretation of it). Perhaps the original badges were ‘accidentally’ left in the glove box by CXA when the cars were converted to US specification and delivered to the customer? 😁

    1. Hello Daniel,
      That’s entirely plausible considering CXA’s rapport with Citroën France- and it would be an easy fix anyway 🙂 (although I do not know if the chevrons were glued on or actually fit into pre-drilled holes in the plastic grille piece)

  2. I think the use of the Pontiac headlights was rather clever, as it´s not easy to tell the difference.
    The Car and Driver review was very positive and they emphasized the fit and finish, if I can remember.
    CXA didn´t offered the 24v version because it wasn´t available with an auto transmission; I suppose it would be even more expensive.

  3. Reading this article makes me feel sorry for CXA and their bunch of small family owned businesses.
    Having to deal with early XMs certainly was no fun in Europe and must have been a pain in a very unpleasant place in the US. Not getting any information from PSA and being cut off from recalls surely didn’t help.
    I could imagine the weird situation that in Europe dealers could and should have done recalls but a far too large number of them could not be bothered and in the US they would have liked to do the work but didn’t have access to parts and information and above all wouldn’t get refunded.

    The Pontiac lights were a clever idea and must have given less trouble than the original parts with their second set of Fresnel lenses that turned yellow/brown in no time and made the headlights useless.

  4. Was Citroën ever serious of getting the XM across the pond, I wonder. Probably not and they didn’t want a car that was delivered by a third party, which from there point of view is understandable.

    CXA never stood a chance, with prices this high, few points of sale in a vast country, the reputation of French cars in said country… That really is a tall order. Kudos to the customers and CXA, though, for trying.

    On a side note: the title of today’s article reminded me of this:

  5. Very interesting article. I had no clue about this company. It’s not the only small business that tried to import French cars in the US. The DS and the SM found a small niche of enthusiasts.
    It’s amazing how French automakers consistently flopped in the US market. Renault, Peugeot and Citroën had to pull away from the US market after pitiful failures. The “Never buy a Peugeot” adage lasted for decades after the 405 earned one of the worst possible reputations. Citroën tried to promote the DS as a luxury car while without a V8 or at very least an inline 6 you don’t have a chance of being taken seriously. Anyway the French are not taken seriously by Americans, probably worst than the Italians are. And French automakers’ amateurish practices added fodder to this prejudice. Only Facel Vega was able to find a niche until it demise.
    Today in the US you can buy cars from practically all the countries in the world but from France. Shame on the French automakers managers.

    1. It is remarkable, isn´t it. Peugeot 405s end up in N. Africa and so do 406s and the reason for this is that they were robust and straight-forward. Most French cars are quite simple but perhaps the biggest factor is the type of cars were wrong. Most French cars were small and the biggest ones didn´t meet the expectations of US customers.
      Thisis old data: Brown, J. J., Light, C. D., & Gazda, G. M. (1987). Attitudes towards European, Japanese and US cars. European Journal of Marketing.

  6. Hello all, I’m going to stick up for the XM. I have had several citroëns including 2 DS23’s and 2 XM’s. The way the big Citroën could cushion the ride whilst still having a nice response to the helm made every journey fascinating. I also treated them as real dogs bodies and yet found them reliable. I have owned many more BMW’s which I consider over rated. Unless you go for an all whistles model you get a car which rides in a very mediocre fashion has inert steering and is less than commodious. My last one a 530i had a very nice engine but beyond that was totally without character. The US market has been the graveyard of so many European models. It always amazes me that manufacturers used to go back time after time only to have the hopes dashed. Remember the Rover P6, a frat car in it’s time. It petered out. Everything presented by Austin Rover and it’s successors failed. But then in return we in Europe have hardly lapped up the US products and they were not all terrible.

  7. Another vote for the XM from an ex owner. I had a 1993 Prestige and loved it although it did let me down badly when one of the cylinder block blanking plugs blew out in a remote part of Scotland dumping all the coolant.
    When it did behave it was a pleasure to drive and I loved the styling, except for the area round the plastic nose piece which just looked wrong.
    A very “European” quirky car which never had a chance of being a big seller in the US.

  8. A french car without anby kind of warranty… small wonder they failed. Commendable effort, though: wish someone would do that for, say, kei cars in Europe.

    The Q45 you mention was covered here a while back. It’s mind boggling that this and the XM were the same price – even leaving aside the engine:

    At the heart of the dichotomy between Europe and the US, I suspect, are two things: a difference in space available and space usage through town planning ( and a difference in attitude towards appliances which in the US seems much more prosaic and value-oriented.

    1. Tom

      You are right. The Q45 had a 300bhp V8 and you could get it with active suspension. Kinda hurts that the XM only had a 160bhp (non-cataysed, the Federalised version was less and the CA version still less) V6, although its suspension was brilliant (just not quite the same as the CX, didn’t ride quite as nicely).

      This was when Citroen really did need a Maserati engine for a halo model.

      Oh well.

  9. I like the XM, except for the electrical wiring. That was diabolical. It completely ruined the car. How could anyone be so cruel as to have every single wire in the harness the exact same colour? Tracing faults- total nightmare. Apart from that it was slow. Too slow for the money.

    In the US (and in many other places), the anemic engines of the vast majority of European cars meant barely adequate if not unacceptably glacial performance, particularly from a dead stop. The low performance of what were meant to be prestigious and expensive brands made many people question the real worth of the European vehicle. Why buy a Euro wheezer when for much, much less money you could get a vehicle with far better accelerative performance? For the money you could find plenty and they could be routinely maintained by any local mechanic anywhere, with spare parts easily available right through the country and when you wanted to move the vehicle on, guaranteed easy resale.

    The sad truth was European cars are, in the main, way too slow, much too expensive to purchase and maintain and operate, woefully unreliable (particularly when compared to Japanese products). The brands which didn’t work in the US had no halo models of merit, were nothing special, featured terrible reliability and the sparse franchises resulted in poor territorial cover.

    An acquaintance commented that the Euro brands that failed in the US were made for poor people to have. It took a while but a stigma attached itself to several of the most famous brands (ones which “went away” from the US market). His sentiment is correct though, Europeans did not and still do not have as high a standard of living as the average fellow in the USA. Hence their cars were built for an environment which was very different to what is commonly experienced in the US. As a consequence European cars have been compromised in ways which tended to limit their appeal. Those that found success needed to be special- possess a USP which could make them stand out as better in some way. Mercedes found a USP (not that it is true these days), so did VW and so did BMW. Ferrari certainly did. Lamborghini, Porsche did manage that trick also. FIAT, Alfa, Lancia, Citroen, Peugeot et al did not. They were just strange and mildly yucky Euro things (kind of like that slightly slimey uncle who no-one really likes to stand too close to in family photos). The stigma generated an attitude of “don’t buy one unless you are looking for trouble” and “your neighbours will be laughing at your silliness”. Trouble for all the Euro brands is that the rise of the Japanese luxury cars (such as Infinity, Acura and definitely Lexus) highlighted their inadequacies for anyone who choose to observe. Plenty did observe.

    As the US goes through its looming crash and restructure there just won’t be the appetite for as much non-mainstream foreign product sadly.

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