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19 September 2014

"We won't walk away from cars like this"

TG's Paul Horrell on the 500bhp Quartz SUV concept and the future of Peugeot

Paul Horrell
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"This is a message to the world. We won't walk away from cars like this." says Peugeot's director of product and strategy Xavier Peugeot (yes he's a descendant of the founding family).

He's talking about the Quartz concept car. Now you might ask what he means by 'walk away from'. When last I looked Peugeot had no 500bhp hybrid off-road coupes. I think what he means is that Peugeot isn't going to retreat into small cars, despite the fact you seldom see a 508.

"You can't have an upmarket strategy without this type of car," he goes on. Yes, Peugeot is finally fleshing out an upmarket strategy - a contrast to its recent years of discounting and retrenchment. Right-oh, what exactly is this strategy? "We need 'boosters', either dedicated products [like the RCZ and eventually a biggish crossover hinted at by this Quartz] or versions of the mainstream cars [like the 208GTI and soon the 308R]."

We're experimenting with the next step. This form language is potential for the whole brand.

With those halo cars in place, he says, the whole range can go upmarket. We're not talking about Audi prices here, but they do want to lift themselves clear of the middle-market morass, their lunch being eaten by the likes of Kia. En-masse, he says, "buyers are splitting away from the middle-market. They want distinctiveness. People are expert."

It's true that for years you wouldn't find many expert buyers in a Peugeot showroom. But recent cars are changing that. According to Peugeot-Citroen's dynamic new boss Carlos Tavares, "we have success stories, the 2008, 308 and 308SW. We have to hold onto that. We need discipline, not to let it slip into discounting. We are discounting less, and less. We're improving retail share, moving away from toxic [discounted fleet] sales and making profit." Profit which can be re-invested into better cars.

One of which will be a crossover, because those things are selling like hot cakes. Let's not get over-excited: it won't be quite like the badass 500bhp scissor-doored coupe-backed 23-inch-wheeled Quartz. For a start, though the official spiel mentions that the EMP2 (ie 308) platform sits under the concept, that's stretching the truth, because the Quartz is far too wide.

"An SUV coupe concept has to talk loud," design boss Gilles Vidal told me. "This is hyper-expressive, a caricature. To build it, we'd have to go back to buyable proportions."

But it isn't just an early alert about Pug's crossover plans. "It's about explaining an evolution of our form language and the front end of Peugeots. You can see the nose of our SR1 concept on production cars now. We're experimenting with the next step. This form language [it has strong, edgy, faceted volumes] is potential for the whole brand."

They've identified two strands for the future top-end Pugs, says Xavier Peugeot. One will be the sporty ones, which will be feature lightweight materials inside and out, and high-tech lighting.

The other is more novel, and they're calling it 'sustainable premium'. It will use more natural materials that wear with age - think worn leather, denim-like cloth, untreated woods, bamboo. Extreme versions were shown in the Onyx, with its copper skin and compressed-newspaper dash. Those buyers, says Xavier Peugeot, will be willing to pay extra for highly efficient powertrains.

Sounds to us a bit like the BMW i3 and its recycled cabin materials. We'll get more detail about these ideas at the Paris show, too, because besides the Quartz, Peugeot will have another concept car showcasing those materials.

Tags: peugeot, quartz

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