The establishment of the standalone DS premium brand in Britain will be built around the revised DS 3, which will formally be unveiled at the Geneva motor show, according to the brand’s UK boss Arnoud Leclerc.
DS is being positioned as a French-influenced alternative to Audi, BMW and Mercedes, with the DS 3, in particular, being targeted at the likes of the Audi A1 and Mini hatch. However, company bosses including Leclerc admit that establishing DS will take several years, and acknowledge that their first task is to build brand awareness.
“In the UK, the opportunity with DS 3 is clear,” said Leclerc. “We need to build brand awareness ahead of new product launches, and the 3 is well enough established in the public’s mind to give us the platform to do that. Outside of France, the UK is the biggest market, and between 65% and 70% of sales are to new customers to the PSA Group - it is a car that changes perceptions.”
Leclerc described the typical 3 customer as “expressionists” looking for “more status, style and performance”. He added that the typical 3 customer was also more in line with the target market for DS brand values than for its other vehicles, the DS 4 and DS 5, at present - something he expected to shift as the brand becomes better known.
“We are working hard to raise awareness, but it is a long job,” said Leclerc, highlighting initiatives including pop-up stores in major retail outlets such as Westfield as examples of how the firm will do this. “We believe in the products, but it takes time and investment to get our message through. We have tested the brand around the world - and the message back is that avante garde spirit, done in a very French way, has a universal appeal.”
DS actually sold less cars in the UK last year than in 2014 - just over 20,000, as opposed to around 23,000 in 2014, but Leclerc says that this is part of a long-term strategy to build residual values in line with premium rivals. “It is no good forcing sales through rental or low-cost channels,” he said. “The journey with DS is to build awareness and set the right principles in place, ready for a bigger push with new products. If we push too hard on price now, we will kill our strategy long-term.”
Although DS is showing an eye-catching GT concept in Geneva, the DS E-Tense, its immediate new product focus beyond the DS 3, 4 and 5 is believed to be on large and small SUVs and a large saloon, with a focus on sales of the bigger vehicles in the Chinese market. However, these vehicles are not expected to reach production until 2018.
“By mid-2018 we will have the foundations in place,” said Leclerc. “The product will be coming through, we will have a dedicated dealership network in place and we will have spent the intervening period building brand awareness. The DS 3’s popularity means we don’t have to bide our time - we can prepare with some energy, and the new car has been positioned carefully, with more premium content, to do that.”
Among Leclerc’s plans for a network of “around 100” DS dealers is a flagship store in the heart of London, in the vein of the DS World venues in Paris and Shanghai. “When people visit these places, they understand the brand immediately - they are great for raising awareness. However, Leclerc hinted that the London store may not be a standalone venture: “I think we have the opportunity to do something a little different,” he said.
It is also likely that Leclerc will launch around a dozen concierge sales and ownership teams, that will bring cars to customers to test, plus sell, deliver and service them direct. “Everyone is looking at this - and if enough clients want it we will do it,” he said. “Everything we are doing is underpinned by the question, 'how are we making the customer happy?'"