Which Way Now for Citroën?
Arguably the most interesting French car brand, Citroën, is embarking on a bold new strategy to reposition itself in the market. As part of the ambitious plan, it will be reviving the company’s iconic DS badge.
The move, kicked off with the release of pictures of the first DS concept, the DS Inside, a three-door premium small car in the mould of the Mini and Alfa Romeo MiTo, has caused some bewilderment in Europe.
The original DS (its name was play on the French word déesse, meaning goddess), was a seminal luxury car which lasted from the mid 1950s to 1975 and took European car design a huge step forward, with its elegant , ultra-streamlined body and radical underpinnings. Nothing like the new DS Inside, in other words.
The convoluted reason is that in the company’s latest thinking, DS apparently now stands for Different Spirit and will eventually be applied to a variety of models known as DS3, DS4 and DS5. In other words, it is simply a move away from the company’s current C-numbering system, which is applied to models ranging from the C1 city car to the C8 large MPV.
Apparently, DS models will supplement Citroën’s existing range, so the new DS3 will be similarly-sized and sell alongside the existing C3 supermini, but will presumably be more expensive and aimed at a different clientele.
A production version will debut in 2010, alongside a second-generation C3, and it’s still unclear if the cars will share any styling cues.
Different Spirit isn’t just the philosophy behind this planned new line of cars. In the most dramatic upheaval for Citroën dealers since the 1970s, a revised logo (with the famous chevrons “softened”) has also made its debut. To me they look more like boomerangs, but the official line from the company is that “the chevrons have broken free from their frame and become three-dimensional, gaining in strength and body”.
Better showroom ambience and more attentive customer service are also promised, with immediate effect.
Citroën is a curious brand with a fantastic heritage – dating back 90 years – but a relatively poor modern image, despite some good models and styling which seems to have come into its own lately, particularly with the latest C4, C5 and C6 designs.
The company has for years been in the shadow of its corporate (and bigger-selling) sister, Peugeot, with the two brands offering models often in direct competition with each other.
Here in the UK, and in many other parts of Europe, Citroën is seen as a budget marque, particularly when it comes to discounting to grab extra market share. This was almost endemic at Citroën dealers even before the credit crunch, with a catastrophic knock-on effect on resale values.
Much of this is a legacy of past failures – at one time the company sold distinctly dodgy Peugeot bodge-ups like the LNA and Saxo, shorn of any character. That mistake was rectified a few years ago, but the public perception of the brand has remained stubbornly negative in many quarters.
Today the company is particularly strong in the MPV field, with a huge range including the C8, C4 Picasso, Xsara Picasso and the impressive new C3 Picasso – made in Slovakia and about to go on sale across Europe. Citroën also offers two new van-based MPVs, the Berlingo Multispace and Nemo Multispace.
To return to the DS badge’s revival, it seems Citroën is intent on harking back to the days when the company was universally admired across the globe. As late as the 1970s the DS was still selling strongly and the company even had a fantastic V6 grand-tourer, the SM, co-developed with Maserati.
More recent big cars from the company have not kept up this glamorous reputation and have singularly failed to attract premium buyers. This is despite the latest C6 being rather good, and ironically far more exclusive than its mass-produced German competitors.
It seems clear the new DS line won’t be executive cars like their predecessors, but will instead be aimed at the growing market for smaller and mid-size premium vehicles.
It is early days yet, but a glance at the DS Inside concept – it will debut shortly at the Geneva Motor Show – doesn’t look that promising.
It’s a handsome enough car, but the style is extremely generic – take away those chevrons and it could be a Toyota, a Skoda or a Kia. In truth, it looks less interesting than most of Citroën’s current line up.
Buyers of smaller models offered by brands like Audi, BMW, Volvo and Alfa haven’t wanted to touch any Citroën with a barge pole for years, so it will be quite an achievement if the company does pull off this image change.
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