Despite dozens of attempts, Citroen hasn’t successfully launched a posh car in decades. Now it wants to launch a whole range of them right into the teeth of the most vicious downturn in living memory. Sounds bonkers. So mad, I have a suspicion it could just work.
Here’s the skinny. At the Geneva show in March, the company will launch a concept called the DS Inside. This is a near-production version of a car that’ll hit showrooms next year, badged DS3. On the surface it’s a smart, unconventional-looking three-door supermini. Underneath is the conventional platform of a Peugeot 207 and next-gen Citroen C3.
Nice isn’t it? Clearly it isn’t meant to be a regular supermini. In fact it will sell alongside the new C3 rather than displacing it from Citroen’s line-up. It won’t have a five-door option, or the usual supermini emphasis on practicality. It’s more of a sort of upright coupe. For instance, anyone in the back will have their view blocked by that side pillar, but hey it looks good.
The real car, to be called the Citroen DS3, will be a bit more expensive than regular Citroens, but the company isn’t daft in its ambitions. It will be sold at existing Citroen dealerships and it’ll be usefully cheaper than a Mini or the upcoming Audi A1. Compared with the C3 it will more equipment and (if it isn’t to be laughed out of court) better perceived quality and finish.
Before about 2011, it will be joined by a DS4 and DS5. They’ll use C4 and C5 platforms respectively and again they’ll be additional to the existing C4 and C5 models rather than replacements.
There’s talk inside Citroen that the DS5 will take inspiration from the Hypnos concept. That was a tall but incredibly sleek diesel-hybrid crossover.
This whole sub-brand thing has been a relatively quick project, instigated by Christian Streiff. Streiff took over as boss of Peugeot Citroen only a year and a half ago, and has already shaken up the group to save money and improve quality and the sometimes-lousy dealers and marketing. He could see that Citroen’s image was sagging badly.
He could also see that it needn’t be that way. Citroen’s fundamentals are strong.
After all, as we blogged here, Citroen’s designers are on fire. The cars look terrific. The range is being renewed vigorously. Look at the C5 and the C3 Picasso. Next year there’ll be a new C3 supermini and shortly after something based on the fabulously clever, minimalist C-Cactus.
There’s some smart technology too. Citroen has been at the leading edge of affordable low-CO2 diesel tech, and was among the first to bring in fixed-hub steering wheel, lane departure warning, stop-and-start, and affordable paddleshifts. And they’re still developing Hydractive suspension on the big cars.
The DS cars might well be the vehicles in which Citroen launches its next wave of technologies. For instance, the Hypnos concept has the group’s clever prototype 4WD diesel hybrid system.
But no, they’ll never be as high-tech as the original DS. That launched in 1955 and was an absolute moon-shot car – possibly the biggest step in design and engineering in the history of the automobile.
You might think that plundering the DS name is a ghastly rape of heritage. Yes, I too would prefer they didn’t use that badge. But I have a feeling the decision to make the new generation of DS cars at a relatively small premium, with distinctive but not shocking design, might be right for these nervous times.
At least Citroen is pushing ahead with developing new cars, not just hunkering down. That way when the recession’s over it should be in a stronger position than its rivals.