Special Coverage

Frankfurt Auto Show

PARIS – PSA Peugeot Citroen’s C5 Airscape concept car is more than a prelude to the body shape of the Citroen C5 replacement due at the Geneva auto show in March.

It also foreshadows the end of some internal rules setting the two brands apart.

Up to now, PSA has kept its two brands separate, even though they share platforms, by letting them have different halo silhouettes: Peugeot got the convertible franchise and Citroen the monospace, or minivan, shape.

But because competitive marques such as Volkswagen, Renault and Ford can offer every silhouette, both Peugeot and Citroen are preparing cars that cross the old lines.

“We will work to differentiate the brands,” PSA CEO Christian Streiff says at this week’s press conference outlining his strategy for the next eight years, but that does not mean allocating models or segments.

“We need to develop for each (brand) marque models that are positioned in the growth segments,” he says.

The brand-unique silhouettes of the past have had some success: the Peugeot 206CC coupe-convertible changed the open-air segment by putting a folding hard top on a popularly priced car. The idea spread to the Peugeot 207CC and 307CC and will arrive in a year or so as a 308CC.

Meanwhile, the Citroen Picasso has been a huge hit in the midsize monospace segment, trailing only the pioneering Megane Scenic. Citroen has had the better part of the deal volume-wise. Last year, it sold 198,000 Picassos, while Peugeot delivered 65,000 coupes and coupe-convertibles.

Both brands previously have made small incursions into the other’s sacred zone. Peugeot has the micro-minivan 1007 (22,000 sales last year), and Citroen has the C3 Pluriel (13,000 sales), which can be turned into an open car by removing the aluminum side arches. Neither is a commercial success.

With nothing more to go on than the photos released ahead of the Frankfurt auto show next week, the French press already is enthusiastic about the C5 Airscape, calling it “seductive” and “simply magnificent.”

The official company line is that the car, with its glazed carbon-fiber roof that folds neatly into a low rear end, only is a concept, letting the designers show what they can do.

“We don’t have any intention of putting (the car) into production,” a Citroen spokeswoman says.

However, when a journalist presses Streiff to prove Peugeots and Citroens look different, he points to a slide of the 308 RC Z performance concept and C Airscape and says, “Look at them, these cars are different,” in a way that conveys both are in development.

Gilles Michel, the Automobiles Citroen boss in the front row, gives a little “the cat’s out of the bag” smile to his colleague.

Meanwhile, there have been official hints that Peugeot will get to enter the monospace arena, or at least come close. Peugeot’s 308, the size of the Citroen C4 Picasso, will have more body styles than the 307, Peugeot Automobiles chief Frederic Saint-Geours says.

The 307 had 3- and 5-door versions, a station wagon and the coupe-convertible, and Saint-Geours says all those will be made as “other petals for the 308 daisy.”

He declines to elaborate, but there are no body styles more attractive in the segment than something with a big interior, and he admits a cross/utility vehicle would fit the definition of Peugeot entering a new segment.

Analyst Jean-Michel Prillieux, of Mavel SA, says the C5 convertible and Peugeot 3008 CUV are done-deals, already in development. Without these products, he says, Citroen and Peugeot dealers would be penalized against the competition.

“To avoid cannibalization, Peugeot and Citroen won’t go head-to-head,” he says. “The 3008 will be a crossover, not directly in competition with the C4 Picasso. And the C5 coupe-convertible will not be direct competition with Peugeot because the 407 is only a coupe.”

Michel says it’s up to Citroen to “play the chords that vibrate with customers,” while at the same time assuring “we don’t do the same thing” that Peugeot does.

While the C5 Airscape concept car has a folding roof made of carbon fiber treated to look like cloth, Prillieux says the series car will have a folding metal roof. As with the BMW 3-Series, the folded roof will fit into a small rear end, and not create the bulge typical of the Peugeot CCs.

In addition, he says Citroen will have a convertible version of the next C3 that is more practical than the C3 Pluriel but with a unique method of opening that will not remind people of the 207CC.