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Citroen eyes 'double digit' growth

Not just hot air: Citroen's Concept Aircross is likely to join the C4 Cactus in Australia when it transitions into a production model.

C4 Cactus, C3 Picasso, Aircross will 'reinvent' Citroen Australia

7 Aug 2015

UPDATED: 25/08/2015CITROEN is predicting a bright future in Australia, led by a strong complement of new models that will “reinvent” the brand and drive growth from modest expansion into “double digits”.

While the French car-maker is managing to keep its head above water with a steady 5.6 per cent sales growth to the end of July thanks to vehicles such as the Berlingo van and Grand C4 Picasso people-mover, its Australian distributor says new models will boost that figure beyond 10 per cent.

Citroen remains only a small player, with 750 sales for the year to date, up from 710 at the same point last year.

In 2014 the company managed 1307 sales, an improvement on the previous year’s 1180-unit result – its lowest mark in many years – but still at the bottom end of a sales downturn that took hold around the time the global financial crisis hit in 2008.

Crucially, with the arrival of the C4 Cactus early next year, and the C3 Picasso and all-new Aircross expected to follow, Citroen will at last be able to compete more effectively in Australia’s lucrative and burgeoning SUV/crossover segment.

It previously had the C4 Aircross representing the brand in the all-important SUV sector, although this only lasted two-and-a-half years, ending late last year, and elicited just 254 sales in total.

Citroen Australia general manager John Startari told GoAuto that the current line-up would look after its existing customers, but accelerate growth with a broadening range.

“Citroen is looking to reinvent itself through a product-led strategy,” he said. “The new products coming through will give us a wider appeal so we’ve got to look after our traditional owners – we don’t want to neglect them, but we’ve got to prepare ourselves for the future and the new product will certainly appeal to a wider demographic.

“Cactus is the start, and those that have seen it and driven it say it is like nothing else. I think it will give a pretty good foundation for double-digit growth.

“I think C3 Picasso, Aircross and Cactus will be the foundation of future growth.”

Of the three models, the Cactus compact SUV is the only one officially confirmed for Australia, and Mr Startari said the high-rider would attract a more youthful audience to the brand and take over as its number-one seller.

“I would not be surprised to see that as the top-selling model in the range in the short term,” he said. “It’s different. The unfortunate thing with the car industry globally is they are all building vanilla cars.

“Cactus is unlike any other small SUV. It’s in a growing segment, it is a standout and I think it’s going to appeal to young people who want to be individuals.”

Unveiled at the Shanghai motor show in April, the larger, possibly mid-sized Aircross SUV is officially still a concept, but Mr Startari alluded to details that suggest it is further into development than just a show car.

“I’ve just returned from a product conference with Citroen, and they really are pushing the SUV line-up and the Concept Aircross was there,” he said. “Based on history, all of PSA’s concept cars in some shape or form make it into production.

“All in all, it will be a two-wheel drive but have the capability to go off-road. I’d like to see that weekend warrior type of buyer being satisfied by that car.”

While new SUV and crossover models will target a new audience, the company is not forgetting its loyal and longstanding customer base, and Mr Startari said the company’s future strategy considers existing customers.

“If you look in the past, yes, a more mature clientele were purchasing our cars,” he said. “It takes a long time and I think others have alienated their existing client base, and we are certainly not doing that.

“Citroen C4 is a testament to that strategy. We certainly want to look after our current owner base because they are brand loyal, but we need to grow as well.”

Citroen Australia PR and communications manager Tyson Bowen said a new Customer Care service was vital as part of the strategy.

“We’ve created a customer experience department, and it’s the first time we’ve done that,” he said. “There will be an increase in that customer focus and those touch-points that we need to address during the lifecycle.

“You can go out and get new customers all you like, but it’s a very expensive way to grow a business if you’re not retaining what you already have.

“It’s a slow burn, and I think others aren’t patient with it, but we have committed the budgets to see this through and develop a customer-focused organisation that backs up what we say.”

The new service includes a newly introduced six-year warranty, roadside assistance and capped-price servicing deal for all new Citroens. Mr Startari said the plan was essential to change customer’s perception of the brand.

“Non-owners for the future are something we really need to look at and find out how to get their consideration,” he said. “They’re not rejecters, but they are not considerers at this time. One of the things that could drive them away from European cars, and French cars in particular, is perceived reliability and servicing costs.

“What we’ve tried to do is take those worries away with a six-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and six-year capped-price servicing, so that they know exactly the costs for the next six years and there are no surprises.

“It’s a huge challenge changing perceptions. To grow and get conquest sales we’ve got to overcome that perception in the market. It starts to have the strategy in place to reinforce the fact that we aren’t unreliable. We couldn’t offer a six year unlimited warranty if we were.”

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