Currently reading: Citroen boss: Cars must get smaller, lighter - and more fun
Increasing focus on aerodynamics in an EV age could create a "post-SUV world", says Vincent Cobée

The SUV could be on the verge of extinction as car makers focus more heavily on aerodynamic design cues in the hunt for range, according to Vincent Cobée, CEO of Citroën

Speaking candidly to Autocar, the French brand’s boss said designers are placing increasing emphasis on how slippery a car can be, with “anything which is high or squarish” more than likely not considered for reasons of aero efficiency. 

“The transition to electric vehicles is going to massively increase the importance of aerodynamics,” he said, calling it the “post-SUV world”. 

He added: “Because, to be honest, whether your car is aero or not, in the current ICE world just increase the fuel tank and as long as your purchasing power ignores the price of petrol, which it does for 30-50% of the population, why bother? 

“[In the] fully electric world, you lose autonomy because of aerodynamics, so the link is much stronger. So anything which is high or squarish will have immediate penalty to its autonomy in a battery-EV world.” 

Cobée also suggested new methods of vehicle taxation – perhaps designed to penalise heavier, larger vehicles – could further threaten the onward viability of SUVs. 

01 Citroen c5 x rt 2022 lead 0

“There will be, I’m quite convinced, some form of regulation or directive or incentive [cut] on weights and battery sizes,” he said. “Now in France, if you buy an electric car and it weighs more than 2.4 tonnes, you’re not eligible for incentives,” he explained, suggesting that eventually this cut-off could fall to 1.8 tonnes. 

“So if you start talking about less than two tonnes and less than 60kWh or 70kWh, then SUVs will suffer massively.” 

Because of this, Cobée is confident car makers will instead look to design cars that sit lower and offer more efficient shapes, rather than shaving kilograms from bulky, straight-edged SUVs. 

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“If I reduce weights by 50kg, the impact is nearly zero. But if I improve aerodynamics, or powertrain efficiency, the impact on range is very, very quick,” he said. “So [they have a] much higher impact or level of impact than weight.” 

He added: “Fundamentally, so far the auto industry is: ‘Okay, you want less weight? Use aluminium instead of steel.’ That means the cost is higher. 

“I think the real challenge would be less weight for less cost, but it’s not impossible: we need to do it by design.” 

The lightweight treated-cardboard bodywork of the recent Citroën Oli concept was one example that Cobée cited. He said: “If you see Oli, you can stand on the bonnet or stand on the roof, and it’s a third of the weight and it’s recycled.”

Citroën's Cobée: Compromise is needed in net-zero transition

Vincent cobee citroen

CEO of Citroën Vincent Cobee has called on politicians to work with automotive industry heads to find “common ground” as car makers push to reduce their impacts on the planet and its environment.

Speaking to Autocar, the Frenchman said compromises must be struck to allow car firm’s to push to net zero in a more straightforward manner.

“[Politicians need to] accept the fact that we need to make a decision and find the common ground. The problem is this common ground is compromise,” he said.

This compromise could come in the form of mass-produced environmentally friendly cars, such as last year’s Citroën Oli concept, Cobee added.

Citroen oli 2022 front quarter tracking 0

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“When we do Oli, I want to say ‘you know what the common ground does not have to be a compromise’. It needs to be, and can be, fun and appealing.”

He added this was better than imposing harsh laws, such as hypothetical limitations on the amount drivers could travel per day.

“​​Of course [I could]  tell you things you don't like, like you can't drive more than 400 kilometres [in one go]. So I wouldn't get my education, I wouldn't get my job, I wouldn't get my family, I wouldn't get my life if I was not having individual mobility. 

“And anybody thinking individual mobility is not important; you want to go back to confinement [in Covid]? In reality, [at the time] everybody was asking for [their freedom/mobility].”

He added: “You will not motivate 7 billion people by telling them you should not travel you should not eat you should not enjoy yourself. And by the way, it's going to be sad and hard. But with a bit of luck you will survive. That does not work.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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sabre 7 February 2023

Citroen boss declares that cars should be lighter, smaller and more fun. But, a Citroen manager would never mention "more reliable", it is not part of its tradition.

TStag 7 February 2023

They have to say that. It's not like Citroen as a brand would work on a big heavy expensive SUV. BMW is having huge problems making mini profitable as an electric car. That's hardly a brick.

cambuster 7 February 2023

Autocar shouldn't really be a mouthpiece for Original Equipment Manufacturers' PR. My first though is "hey, you guys have relentlessly promoted SUVs because the profit per unit is massive. They drive awfully and because they are un-aerodynamic give low EV range. So I tell you what, let's go back to what cars were like - but now that SUV prices have become embedded let's sell them at those prices so that we can continue to hose car buyers to make HUGE profits"  

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