Vive le Difference!

After a busy few days over the weekend I now have a full week of work before I get a mini-holiday with a whole 6 days off! That will be the longest continuous break I have had from work in well over a year, and possibly since I started at M&S (excluding holidays abroad). However before this, tomorrow I have an actual job interview! Although there are lots of ins and outs of it, I will plainly state now that I will not be getting a new job. This is not through a lack of self belief, as although I have not been a car salesman before I feel I would be excellent at the job, but more the fact that it is not a job which I particularly want-being too far away and 6 days a week.

This brings me onto the main point of this post…PSA (or for those who don’t know, Peugeot-Citroen). Yes that’s right the job i question is for a Peugeot dealership, a manufacturer which is in severe times of turmoil at the moment. In fact the whole French car industry is; but whilst Renault has a light at the end of the tunnel in the forms of its Dacia budget brand, partnership with Nissan and a future tie up with Mercedes Benz, PSA seems to be dangerously teetering towards implosion.

anyone notice what’s wrong?

For a long time French car companies seemed to be content doing their own thing and were all the better for it; Citroen made its name making technologically advanced vehicles with futuristic styling, Peugeots were sporty and handled like rally cars, and Renaults seemed pretty mainstream but nonetheless smooth riding as with their kin…and of course all of the brands seemed to break down second only to Italian cars in terms of reliability. The fact that Peugeot and Citroen joined forces to become PSA in the mid-70’s did not much change this philosophy of offering cars which whilst distinct from their competitors and each other, did share some technologies and mechanicals. However towards the end of the 1980’s and beginning of the 90’s, the waters between the two brands became seriously muddied and has somewhat contributed to the financial mess which the company is now in.

The problem is that both companies, in an attempt to emulate the European competition, have lost their key brand characteristics and have ended up competing more directly with each other than rivals such as Volkswagen, Ford and even Vauxhall, who themselves have tried to push themselves upmarket (with dubious success in the case of the latter two). PSA vehicles, often cited as a factor of flagging sales, have in fact come on in leaps and bounds over the last half decade and indeed have returned to a more ‘French’ style; in that they are good handling, smooth riding cars packed with innovative features, but the branding still remains an issue, even more so given the approach that the company has taken in regards to the models they are releasing.

To be fair, the Peugeot brand has always attempted to maintain its position as the French version of Volkswagen, cars handled well and whilst the brand’s larger models were favoured mainly by French politicians, cars like the 205, 306 and 406 were attractively styled and sold very well across Europe. However the ill-fated grille which was introduced with the 407 in 2004 (and has only just been eradicated from its lineup) proved to be disastrous for sales, as did some quality issues as buyers turned more to premium marques especially in the all-important company car market. Whilst recent product launches such as the 208, 3008 and RCZ have been well received  it remains to be seen whether this translates into sales.

questionable…

It is Citroen which has had a more troubled recent history and has ended up as a dual tier line up which arguably makes the Peugeot brand redundant. From the early 90’s till the mid 00’s, Citroen models were often criticised as not only poorly made, but bland to look at and unexciting to drive, whilst they still sold in decent numbers this was often because of the financial incentives which were offered. However, a renewed range of platforms and engines meant that by 2004 the brand was beginning to produce interesting alternatives; and by 2010 this culminated in the launch of the successful ‘DS’ line up of cars, more radically styled than regular Citroens and as a result priced more highly (arguably adding to their desirability). The problem that faces Citroen now is that in order to make their DS lines more popular, they have had to ensure that their regular cars are not quite as good or at least stylish, whilst at the same time making sure that either line up does not clash with the renewed Peugeot models!

classic Peugeot style with the 205 GTi

In essence this has become very much a branding issue as opposed to anything to do with cars; a marked distinction between the two marques is crucial to ensuring PSA’s long term success, and with the success of Renault’s Dacia brand it has been mooted that one of the brands be reshuffled as a budget offering. Personally I feel that this might be a step too far, as both brands (and the DS line) have a history stooped in cars which buyers remember fondly as class leading and unique, but the opposite approach of shifting Peugeot upmarket seems equally unwise given its reputation as a mainstream manufacturer.

The success of the DS line up, whilst remarkable, should maybe be looked at in context; Citroen needs to focus on offering value and simple style, as it has done in the past with models like the 2CV. From this the DS line can be developed as offering more luxury and speed whilst still retaining the Citroen feel. A move upmarket for Peugeot is undoubtedly needed to give Citroen more space, but this can be done with sleeker styling and increased differentiation  in model ranges from both DS and Citroen models. Cars like the C3, DS3 and 208 are always going to compete, but as the Volkswagen Group manages with its superminis PSA can learn. Arguably we have seen the beginning of this move, and hopefully the future of PSA is secured…although I still won’t be applying for another job there anytime soon!

the sharply styled DS line up

PS Yes I am aware the names in the picture at the top of the post are the wrong way round 🙂

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One response to “Vive le Difference!

  1. Pingback: Second time’s the charm | readingandwrighting·

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