Reinventing itself is the DNA of the brand, says Frédéric Banzet, general manager of the Citroën brand. «It is a choice; it is a must; it is a strategy».
Citroën is reinventing itself since it adopted the strategy of doubling its character and appeal, by being bipartisan. Democratic and Republican. It is investing in two production lines which have different personalities, different mission and different style; and it is taking a new global start by betting on two product profiling. The C and DS lines.
Since its launch, the DS premium range has been such a success that the company has decided to bank on it to face the current critical phase, without neglecting the bred-and-butter C line, that is indeed undergoing a re-volution based on its tradition for product and marketing innovations.
As of next year, with the launch of the unconventional C4-Cactus, the tradition will be resumed with new impetus.
There is more to the new C4 Cactus than just an addition to the C4 model range.
«It is the manifesto of the company new strategy. The manifesto of a new philosophy that somehow takes Citroen to its origins with the aim of being truly French and yet truly global» stresses Monsieur Banzet in his interview to our media, the general manager, speaks of the markets world-wide, the challenges ahead and the opportunities his companies seeks in the near future.
DS as a new brand.
In China, at the end of this year, Citroen will launch an entirely new premium model developed with Chinese buyer in mind. A new, DS3 based, notchback Sedan, which will be given its own name (not been announced yet), in association with Chang’An.
On this occasion, Citroen is upgrading its premium DS sub-brand to full, independent, brand status in China, with other markets likely to follow. «We have turned a constrain into an opportunity», says Banzet. New regulations in China call for new international joint-ventures there to set up separate sales and service networks. Their production cannot be sold by an existing network of the partners. Citroen has thus agreed with Chang’An to market the cars they are going to jointly produce in China as of this month (October, 2013) under the DS brand name.
The first of these outputs is the DS 5, just launched in the past few days there. “The Citroen-Chang’an joint venture has already signed up 25 dealership in China and 15 more will be added by the end of this year,” said Mr. Banzet, who added: “through next year the DS franchises will be able to offer a range of three DS models.”
The Chinese DS dealerships come with a specific and exclusive identity, completely premium. The interior design has the atmosphere of a jewellery shop in Paris. (picture of Show-room and dealership).
«A French and Parisians soul is essential in anything DS does and represents. The French factor of the brand is extremely important and we can bring something real to the public beyond mere marketing and communication. The show-room must relate to the design and materials details of our cars: such as the roof design, the laser printed DS logo on the mirror, the quality of the leather which you can find only in Bentley and Aston Martin, the design of the seat is close to those of a lounge. Details that speak of the French inspiration», explains Banzet.
Shortly after the DS5 will soon come the new DS4 limousine: an all-new classic C4 notchback sharing the architecture of the C-Elyse but with a design focusing on the expectations of the Chinese car buyers. “A new DS not launched or sold anywhere“, says Banzet.
Interestingly this mid-size DS shares the architecture and design language of the car selected for the World Touring Car Championship entry which, as of next year, will have just one mission: win the championship (the most followed in the most important markets in China, Europe, Latin America and Asia, after F1) by 2015.
Multiple rallies world champion Sebastian Loeb will make sure Citroen will make it. Perhaps on year earlier than anticipated.
By the end of 2014, DS dealers in China will receive also a third model to sell: the must-have SUV previewed at the Frankfurt show by the 4.7 metres long Wild Rubis (first unveiled in Shanghai last Spring). As with the C4 Cactus, take off some show-tuning parts and you will get the actual car to be mass produced in China and sold everywhere.
Sales are up in China and Latin America. Declining in Russia.
The market success in China is critical for Citroen, and Mr. Banzet make no mystery of his expectations there. «Our sales were up 32% through the first half this year, almost twice the 16% overall market increase and we expect to do even better with the new programs.»
What do you expect from Europe?
F.B. – «We tend to believe we have hit the bottom and we can see recovery, yet we are still forecasting the EU market to be in red for the whole. It is down 7% for first half but improving to close at some 4% for the whole year. As for next year, we do not foresee a huge rebound but likely a little growth through EU.»
Will the Chinese gains compensate for the losses in Europe?
«I have good hopes that by the end of the year we achieve that.»
«If we consider sales outside EU we might indeed compensate the losses at home with the gains outside Europe. Here our sales went down some 7% through the first half. These went down primarily because of they were affected by C3 production delay and the consequent delayed launch of the C4. However, these problems having been solved, the second half looks better and we might close 2013 with sales down 4 (or so) percent for the whole year. We have also to consider the market decline in Russia, which is affecting right, the market segment we have just entered with our new models. There is a price war that we do not want to enter. (see chart below)
Talking of price-war, Mr. Banzet lamented the situation in Italy which he says his awful not just because sales are down but because the market is much distorted by indigenous registrations through the last few days every month, with dealers creating an inflated market of “new cars at used car prices”.
What about the other non-European markets?
«On the other hands we are making significant gains in other relevant and growing markets such a Latin America, Turkey and Algeria, where we are doing better than the market; gaining in sales volume and shares.»
The Cactus Philosophy.
The C4-Cactus is the manifesto of the future Citroens and signal the beginning of a new product offensive. As such it is the first move of a new strategy and points to the company new directions for the C-line.
Look to the C4-Cactus and listen to how Mr. Banzet describing the whole picture and you may come to my conclusion: the upcoming C4-Cactus wants to be the iApple of automobiles at Samsung prices. Quality at the right price, no low-cost, no premium. Great value for money.
The value is in what the car brings to customers and what “she” does for them. Its size is very close to the latest Golf and Focus but it belongs to quite a different world. It delivers less complexity, more simplicity, and is user friendly. It comes with a very distinctive, pragmatic, and yet attractive, design, with plenty of fresh and useful ideas such as the sofa atmosphere, neat dashboard, very simple plenty of storage places, large glove box resulting from re-locating the airbags in the roof of the car, and the air bumps all-round that really protect the car in daily life and give a clear personality.
Will people go crazy for it as they did for the iPhone? This is very unlikely. Perhaps not everybody will like it but, according to Banzet expectations “it will attract a share of enthusiast buyers who the car now. Yes, I am positive, we do no want our cars to be average».