Special Coverage

Frankfurt Auto Show

SOCHAUX, France – Automobiles Peugeot anticipates production next year of 350,000 new 3- and 5-door 308 hatchbacks from its French Mulhouse and Sochaux plants.

Output of the 5-door version began here in April and at Mulhouse in May. The two facilities are located an hour’s drive apart.

Frederic Saint-Geours, Peugeot general manager, says installed capacity at the two plants will increase from 720 units daily in September to 1,530 in January as new engine options and trim levels are added to the mix.

The 308 by next year will offer 1.4L and 1.6L gasoline engines Peugeot developed with BMW AG, as well as 1.6L and 2.0L diesel mills shared with Ford Motor Co.

In its drive to improve quality, the French auto maker for the first time will allow workers to stop the assembly line to prevent a defective vehicle or part from reaching the next station, says Saint-Geours, “so that cars will arrive at the end of the line with zero defects.”

The 308 follows the successful 307, for which the best production year was 570,300 units in 2003. The best year for the earlier 306, which was reined in the 1990s, was 306,300 units in 1998.

A total of 3,177,000 307s have been built since spring 2001 in France, Argentina, Brazil and China.

The 307 was offered as a 3- and 5-door hatchback (65% of sales), station wagon (30%) and coupe convertible (5%). The 308 will be built in all those body styles, as well as others, although Saint-Geours does not elaborate.

A concept car that reveals the shape of the 308 station wagon will be unveiled at the Frankfurt auto show this month, along with a diesel hybrid concept that PSA Peugeot Citroen plans to introduce by the end of 2010.

Saint-Geours says Peugeot is making progress on its diesel hybrid, and that the concept to be shown at Frankfurt uses 30% fewer unique parts than the 307 hybrid concept shown in early 2006.

The 308 hybrid-electric concept will have a robotized 6-speed manual transmission, 110-hp 1.6L HDi turbodiesel, and 22-hp electric motor linked to a 200-volt nickel-metal-hydride battery pack. Peugeot rates the concept fuel economy at 69 mpg (3.4 L /100 km) and 90 g/km of CO2.

While 54% of the 307s sold were diesels, Peugeot expects the 308 to hit 60%, with the 1.6L HDi turbodiesel the best seller. Sales start in Europe Sept. 20 and in other markets in December.

The conservative auto maker changes the 308 very little from its predecessor. In style, it sports what Peugeot calls a “semi-high” design that raises the driver’s position slightly higher than that of competitors in the lower-medium segment.

The new model is 0.5 ins. (1.2 cm) lower than the 307, 2.9 ins. (7.4 cm) longer and 2 ins. (5.3 cm) wider. Peugeot says the length and width were needed to beef up safety, while the height was lowered to improve aerodynamics and enhance design.

Safety equipment adds 88 lbs. (40 kg) to vehicle weight, compared with the 307, while the 308’s slightly larger size contributes another 44 lbs. (20 kg). Additional weight is from noise and vibration control.

Saint-Geours says PSA is sticking to its goal of assuring successor cars are not larger or heavier than their predecessors. The 308’s growth in front and back results in an architecture that will meet future crash tests without the vehicle having to be stretched longer. The extra length and width also result in more interior and trunk space.

Even with the weight increase, the 308 is roughly 10% more fuel efficient than the 307, due to what Peugeot says is the best aerodynamics in the segment (Cx 0.29) and new tires from Michelin Group that have 20% less rolling resistance, while losing no adhesion. The tires, alone, save 4 g/km of carbon dioxide. Over a lifetime, the 308 will emit 4.4 tons (4t) less of CO2 than the 307.

The 308’s styling is more feline than ever, with a huge front mouth and cat-eye headlights that are as long as the supplier, Automotive Lighting, can make them.

The upper-medium segment accounted for 32.5% of sales in Europe last year, at 4.8 million units. Demand for cars of this size – think Volkswagen Golf, Renault Megane and Ford Focus – has remained fairly steady for a decade.

However, competition is increasing, Saint-Geours says, with 50 models this year, compared with 32 in 1998.