Yesterday (Thursday) was Citroen’s 90th birthday and, co-incidentally, the birthday of company founder Andre Citroen.
It was also the day that the car maker declared:
“Citroen is turning a new page in its history, and begins a global brand project that encompasses a new visual identity, a new relationship with its customers and an exciting new line of automotive products.”
As well as unveiling a re-working of the company’s double-chevron logo and a new brand message (Creative Technologie), Citroen also announced the new DS line of three, more upmarket, models the smallest of which will look very similar to the DS Inside concept.
New-wave Citroens will be “practical, but stylish” and offer “motoring pleasure and pride of ownership.”
The first description will cover mainstream Citroens – such as the C3 Picasso – which will “address fundamental mobility needs” as well as “addressing customers who have downsized and want more economical and more intelligent products.”
The second is aimed at “customers here are looking for outstanding products that confer status and bring them an all-new automotive experience. They want prestige, thrills and refinement, without the rigid codes of traditional upper-range models.”
This “new page in history” is a fascinating attempt to simultaneously build on Citroen’s success in building inexpensive practical cars such as the Picasso and Berlingo MPVs, while simultaneously trying to re-gain some of the brand’s prestige with the new DS line.
Cynics might say there’s a strong whiff of Renault’s – ultimately unsuccessful - lunge upmarket under the Createur d’Automobile tag.
However, the C6 and, particularly, the C5, prove that Citroen can engineer cars with a genuine upmarket feel and deliver on styling that is distinctively French without being self-consciously individual.
Steve Cropley’s news story on the DS Inside reveals the business thinking behind the DS brand.
“Some people will see this as a risky concept,” said a Citroen marketing source, “but we believe a DS model could achieve 25 to 40 per cent of the sales of its corresponding mainstream model, without harming it, because it will target different people.”
Today, Citroen is known for value. But volume carmakers are desperate to drive up the prices they can charge. A few years ago Louis Schweitzer, then boss of Renault, complained to UK hacks that VW could command £1500 more for a Golf, than Renault could for an equivalent Megane. This figure marks the difference between survival and prosperity for a carmaker.
If a DS models can sell in significant numbers with, say, a £1500 price premium (while still undercutting traditional premium-badge cars) the profitability of Citroen will be transformed.
In the wake of the great global recession, the idea of an affordable ‘premium’ car may be very much in tune with the times.