Jackson worked through the final years of the calamitous British Leyland empire, Austin-Rover, BMW’s ownership of the Rover Group and the Phoenix Four’s ‘rescue’ of the company in 2000, ending her long years in the British car industry when she was head-hunted by Citroën in 2003.
It has been a very fractious few years for PSA Peugeot-Citroën. In 2012 and 2013 the company lost £6 billion, which resulted in a multinational rescue plan for the ailing car maker earlier this year.
A deal brokered with the French government and Chinese car maker Dongfeng brought investments of about £470 million from each and existing investors stumped up another £1bn or so. The upshot is that the Peugeot family found itself in a three-way ownership mix, with just 14 per cent of the company, along with the French government and Dongfeng owning stakes of the same size.
The future of PSA's brands
Former Renault number two Carlos Tavares joined PSA in April and quickly set out his ‘Back in the Race’ plan. Under this, the two brands will become much more well defined, with Peugeot aiming for the ‘upper mainstream’ as a Volkswagen rival and Citroën competing in the mainstream but defining itself by distinctiveness.
DS will now be a stand-alone premium brand and pushed heavily in China, where Peugeot, DS and Citroën are expected to triple combined sales volumes by 2020. Globally, PSA will reduce its combined output to just 26 models. Perhaps the best illustration of just how hard pressed PSA is today is that a profit margin target of just two per cent is pencilled in for 2018.
Tavares had been in the chair for only a matter of weeks before he appointed Jackson to oversee the reinvention of Citroën. She arrived on 1 June and is talking to Autocar after less than four months in charge.
“I’ve taken time to understand what’s coming [in the product pipeline],” says Jackson. “I’ve been meeting the team, the people who are already in position, taking account of what’s happening. I’ve been to China to meet our people. It’s important because one out of every four new Citroëns are sold in China.
“The Cactus is the first product that illustrates where the brand is going. It is modern but also has the basic Citroën DNA that combines creativity and technology.” Jackson points out that this seemingly innocuous combination applies as much to the original DS or CX as it does the Cactus.
“The new Citroën is also about the feelgood factor, being at ease and relaxed – feeling relaxed and good about the car,” she says. “A lot of this will come from the way you buy a car and the experience you have in a Citroën dealer.”
Jackson says future Citroën models will have much more modern design and be “innovative” (although she refuses to give any clues about the form of the C4 replacement).
“There’ll be an emphasis on comfort; Citroën has been historically good at comfort. And we’ll only fit useful technology to our cars, like the [Cactus’s] screen that encompasses everything you need to know. Citroën values will be precisely targeted to each market segment.” It seems to be working already with the current C4 Picasso, which is the best-selling car its segment.
Citroën will focus on buyers
But it becomes clear that Jackson’s emphasis will be making buyers feel “relaxed and good” about their purchase from the showroom floor upwards, rather than trying to force the message downwards by advertising.