PARIS – Automobiles Citroen, the French brand with the best growth record in recent years, is on the verge of change.
On Feb. 5, Citroen will present a new prestige model and a new strategic image. In addition, the auto maker soon will have a new general manager, which likely means it will lose more of its autonomy and share more vehicles with sister-brand Peugeot.
As with competitors, Citroen’s sales suffered last year. But the auto maker held onto its market share in France and Western Europe, even setting a few records: best-ever share in Germany and best-ever volume in France.
Citroen sales in the domestic market have grown 10.6% since 2006, against declines for Peugeot andSA. In 2008, the Citroen C4 Picasso minivan was the leader in its segment in Europe; the Berlingo was the leader in the compact/utility wagon segment; and the C5 upper-medium sedan sold better than expected.
At the same time, parentPeugeot Citroen wants to conserve cash by reducing costs. CEO Christian Streiff already has brought the two brands closer together, and there are signs this will continue.
Citroen now needs a new general manager, after Gilles Michel left his job Dec. 19 to work for the French government’s strategic investment fund. His functions have been filled since then by Streiff. Because the state pays less than private industry, Michel may have been pushed out of, rather than lured away: Just before he left, Citroen’s communications chief Veronique Larrieu-Pelegry resigned.
PSA this month hired Michel’s probable successor, Nicolas Wertans, former boss ofFrance and a BMW AG vice president. Wertans, who has an MBA from the Insead business school in Fontainbleu, is to join PSA in early February, just in time for the launch of the new Citroen brand image.
L’Usine Nouvelle, a French industrial magazine, reports Wertans will be a member of Streiff’s inner circle, which includes Jean-Philippe Collin, the general manager of the Peugeot brand; chief engineer Roland Vardanega; and product-planner Gregoire Olivier.
According to the French business magazine Challenges, Streiff plans to continue to have two distribution networks in France, but purchasing, promotion, distribution in other countries and back-office functions will be shared.
Streiff in October promoted Citroen’s chief designer, Jean-Pierre Ploue, to oversee design at both brands, and earlier moved all employees, except the brand managers, from Citroen’s payroll to PSA’s payroll.
Jean-Martin Folz, Streiff’s predecessor, brought the engineering and manufacturing sides of the two brands together after about two decades of parallel systems.
The new car to be introduced Feb. 5 may well be a cross/utility vehicle based on the Hypnos concept car Citroen unveiled at the Paris auto show last October. At the time, Michel said the top-of-the-range Citroen C6 would not be replaced with another big sedan, and the brand would have something new.
The Hypnos is a hybrid CUV, powered by a 200-hp, 2.0L diesel engine and a rear-axle 37- kW (50-hp) electric motor. Combined city/highway fuel economy was given as 4.5 L/100 km (52 mpg) for carbon-dioxide emissions of 120 g/km.