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Citroen boss: we need a new big car
But not before more SUVs and a hatch. Linda Jackson tells us Citroen's plans
The big Citroen isn’t dead. It’s merely taking a bit of a repose. So says Citroen CEO Linda Jackson.
“C5 production stopped in 2017,” she say. “We WILL replace it. We want a large car. But that’s not a priority right now. SUVs are.”
Ah yes, SUVs. The C3 Aircross is launching in Britain now, and early orders are, she says, encouraging. Across Europe, where it’s been on sale for three months, it’s leaving the dealers at the same rate as the fastest-selling of all the mini crossover rivals.In China, meanwhile, Citroen just launched the bigger C5 Aircross. and that’s going like a rocket there too. Some 42 per cent of all the Citroens sold in China last year (and Citroen is a well-established brand in China) were C5 Aircrosses. That’s despite the fact it was on sale for just the final three months.
So you can see why getting those SUV crossovers into the world is the priority. The C3 Aircross needs to be launched in China, the C5 Aircross into Europe.
“We have to have a large car for Citroen,” Jackson adds. “To be credible as a global manufacturer you need a range of cars from small to large. That’s why we did the CXperience concept. We’ll never come up with anything traditional.”
She explains Citroen’s position on design. “We’re competing against Koreans, Japanese, Renault and Ford. So we need to go for design that stands out. And we’ll try to be the reference for comfort in the mainstream.”
She says Citroen’s approach, when it clinics upcoming cars, is unusual. “Classically you want as many people as possible to say they like your design and no-one who dislikes it. I accept we’ll have some who do dislike our cars, as long as we have enough who overcompensate and really like them.
“In order to create our difference we must manage that balance. We did that successfully with the C3, C3 Aircross and C5 Aircross.”
Mind you, the C4 Cactus is about to get a little less oddball and move towards the mainstream VW Golf market. Jackson explains, saying the Cactus was launched when Citroen had no crossover, so the Cactus had to aim at the Renault Capturs of this world. But now it has the Aircross.
Meanwhile the C4, a car forgotten by most people, is stopping. “The C4 is now at the end of its life at the same time as the C4 Cactus needed its mid-life changes. So we worked on the Cactus’s design and comfort to attract hatchback customers.”
That means its airbumps are less obvious, its interior materials are better, and it gets important comfort measures such as new soft seats, more soundproofing and Citroen’s exclusive ‘progressive hydraulic cushion’ suspension.
Jackson says the ultimate replacement for the Cactus will also be one of the less-radical Citroens. “We will have a new offer to replace both the C4 and Cactus. It’s a conservative segment so we have to be careful.”
There’s also a certain amount of caution in her approach to electrification. She says there will be no specific EV. Instead certain cars will be offered with a choice of EV, petrol, diesel and PHEV powertrains. A version of the PSA EMP2 platform with these choices is already in development.
Jackson also doesn’t think Citroen should rush headlong into self-driving cars. She puts the date for a full Level 5 Citroen at 2023 or 2024. And she has other worries. “They will be expensive. If there are roads in which only autonomous cars can go, isn’t that elitist?”
Which doesn’t mean she’s a luddite for the digital economy. She introduced Citroen Advisor, a platform where buyers can publicly rate their cars and their dealer. “We have got an average of a 4.5 out of 5 rating. The system also gives dealers a chance to re-satisfy an unhappy customer.”
Citroen has also launched a pilot scheme in France called Earn & Drive. Owners can recover much of their monthly lease payments by allowing their car to be taken by an intermediary company for the day, rented out to public hirers before being cleaned and returned. rent the car for 10 days a month and it covers half the lease fee.