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.
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.”
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.
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.