At last, Peugeot and Citroen have a shot at success in Australia

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À propos du temps! That’s French for ‘about time!’, in reference to the fact that Sime Darby is no longer the Australian distributor for Peugeot, Citroen and DS.

The news that Groupe PSA, the company that runs the three French brands, has moved on to a new local distributor – Inchcape, the same guys who have transformed Subaru from an odd-ball outsider to a properly appealing ‘household name’ car brand – is excellent for all parties. Except, presumably, Sime Darby.

We might finally see cars from Citroen, DS and Peugeot sell in the numbers they deserve to. Kinda like how the used to, actually, before Sime Darby got its hands on the brands.

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Under Ateco Automotive stewardship, aka pre-Sime Darby, Citroen was singing. The company saw record sales of (just) 3803 units in 2007, and while things dropped away a bit towards the end of its tenure, there were other elements at play as Sime Darby was appointed as the local distributor in early 2011.

The global financial crisis hit: costs were cut, strategies changed. There was a push from Paris for things to be done differently, and things did indeed take a turn in a different direction globally. Product tie-ups with Mitsubishi came along, platforms were shared, design was centralised.

Things didn’t change for the better in Australia, though. There were sales dives ahead, odd structures to come and questionable product planning tactics to boot.

Here’s a rundown on how Citroen dipped away over the years from 2007 (and DS, from its 2010 introduction: it was sold under Citroen, so I’ve done the maths to separate those sales figures), to when Sime Darby took over in 2011. Peugeot has been under Sime Darby control since 2001.

Year Citroen sales DS sales Peugeot sales
2007 3803 8807
2008 2703 7254
2009 1602 5744
2010 1513 90 5649
2011 1212 203 5220
2012 1366 336 5071
2013 762 418 4413
2014 1019 288 4394
2015 923 183 4000
2016 890 75 3129
2017 year-to-date 155 41 745

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You can see that Citroen has been in struggle town for a while now – the most disappointing element of which has been the dismal results of the utterly impressive C4 Picasso and Grand C4 Picasso. I, for one – but there are plenty of us – love these quirky French MPV/people-mover models, and in 2016 just 77 examples were sold. At least DS was in good shape, or appeared to be, up until 2013.

Since then there has been uncertainty around the direction of DS here: should it be set up as its own brand and push up-market, rivalling premium marques like Mini, Audi, BMW etc? Or continue as Citroen products, going it alone against other markets around the globe? The answer was obvious, but it pretty much wasn’t going to happen under Sime Darby.

A lack of direction hasn’t been the sole domain of DS, though. Citroen was mainly selling Berlingo vans as its bread-winner in recent times, and while Citroen had other vans that could have also helped it get more sales, and it did sell the larger Dispatch here, but then it was pulled, further muddying the commercial vehicle plan for the French brands. New vans were revealed in Europe, and Citroen confirmed it would offer a larger model, and that would (and maybe will) be good for the company.

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Peugeot – which should always have just been a passenger car brand here, such was its niche appeal – also offered vans. That was silly. It’s a company with some really good cars, and they should have been allowed to shine. My long-term Peugeot 308 was a very charming car to own for a few months, but, anecdotally, there needs to be better plans for long-term ownership peace of mind for customers.

In short, I, along with plenty of other people in the industry, thought the brands were a mess.

The way I see it, the following product strategies should be put in place for the brands:

Citroen should sell vans, including the Berlingo (but with standard passenger and side airbags, which aren’t fitted right now), new Dispatch and the people-mover variety of Picasso and Grand Picasso models. It should also have the C4 Cactus, but some money should be spent on marketing it, because its new petrol-auto drivetrain will help it sell.

Peugeot should be a passenger car brand, with no commercial vehicle offerings. It should keep its impressive 208 and 308 models, but the 508 should cut its losses and bugger off into the sunset: that market is dead anyway. Its SUV range needs to expand with the brand’s new models, the 3008 and 5008, and the 2008 needs more market presence – it’s a good thing.

DS should be its own thing, but this is more of a global concern than a local one. The DS 3 is a shining light, and the DS 7 Crossback is the luxury brand’s next best chance – or any other proper SUV that comes around. The DS 4 and DS 5 aren’t right for this market. Bye.

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All three need improved pricing and positioning, dealerships in locations where potential French car customers live: like, did you know there’s no Peugeot/Citroen/DS showroom on Sydney’s north shore? That’s nuts.

All three brands need long warranty plans and capped-price service campaigns – I’m talking Kia-beating, meaning Peugeot’s headline-grabbing promotional eight-year plan as a mainstay. Hey, that might be a dream, but if you want people to buy a French car, they will want to know they’ve got backing.