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Citroen to expand under new importer

Prime focus: Citroen will focus heavily on the DS line-up under new importer Sime Darby.

Peugeot importer Sime Darby officially takes Citroen reins and targets sales growth

Citroen logo1 Feb 2013

PSA Peugeot Citroen has officially consolidated its two brands under one independent Australian distributor, Sime Darby Motors Group, and has set about broadening the Citroen retail network and reconfiguring the model range in a bid to improve sales.

Former Proton Cars Australia managing director John Startari has been appointed general manager of the newly named Citroen Automobiles Australia, which will operate alongside the existing Sime Darby-run Peugeot operations.

The announcement was made today as the new agreement became effective, although previous Citroen importer Ateco Automotive revealed to GoAuto seven months ago that its distribution rights would cease at the end of 2012 as a result of a global restructuring of PSA operations.

As the Peugeot importer, Sime Darby was always in line to take over the Citroen business as part of a deal that also saw it hand over responsibility for South Korean brand SsangYong to Ateco late last year.

In an interview with GoAuto, Mr Startari said Citroen would have its own dedicated sales, marketing and product-planning team and that it was preparing to rationalise the model range – keeping its core vehicles but reducing the variants within – and would focus heavily on the premium DS line, which he considers to be a key point of difference from Peugeot and other competitors.

A completely new retail strategy is being developed, with all dealers remaining with the franchise put on a 180-day agreement as the company prepares to reveal full details of its proposed transformation at the street level, which will see facilities upgraded and a promised greater emphasis on customer service.

 center imageLeft: Citroen Automobiles Australia general manager John Startari.

There are currently 20 dealers, but Mr Startari said the company planned to grow this to around 30 as quickly as possible, achieving better representation in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne in particular.

In sales terms, the stated aim is grow to beyond 2000 units in 2013 – up from 1700 last year – and in the longer term return to pre-GFC levels of around 4000 new registrations a year.

“I think the market and the industry is ready for someone to do something different,” Mr Startari said.

“I’m certainly not going to stand up there and tell everybody I’m going to lift the volume to 10,000 cars next year like many (others have done). That’s not what we are about.

“We’re about building volume rationally and fitting in with what we can do – not trying to hit a target for the sake of a target.” The new Citroen chief specified that “we want to certainly get above 2000 units in the short-term” and said he was confident the brand would continue on from there and build a profitable sales volume for its dealers.

“We want to build back up to that (4000) mark over a longer period of time, but how long that is going to take is dependent on a few variables – there’s a few constraints in terms of transmission choice and things like that in key segments,” he said.

“But once they are able to be put in place, the volume will grow exponentially.” Mr Startari said he did not anticipate any restrictions in factory supply, and that the premium DS range – DS3, DS4 and DS5 – was “most definitely” the focus of its advertising and marketing activities in the months ahead.

“It’s very difficult to find a sweet spot in this market today – it’s quite saturated – and DS is very different and needs to be exploited for that, which can really give us a point of difference that is relevant to the market,” he said.

“It also sits in that space where there aren’t too many competitors.” Mr Startari said he will also be working to overcome the lingering perceptions of the French brand as being “quirky”.

“Quirky was what Citroen stood for in the past, but the product today has come away from that,” he said.

“There hasn’t been a lot of promotion since 2007-08, and those overriding impressions of the brand are still there. It’s important that we now establish the brand for what it is today.

“The ride and handling, the quality of the fit and finish inside, is where we need to push because there is something relevant there – it’s a cut above many of its competitors. In terms of feature-packed, it’s going to have all the bells and whistles, and I also think the customer has been lost in a lot of this.

“There is a real push at the moment for price points, to push volume, to achieve targets. I believe if you look after the customer, the volume will really look after itself.

“Now, that’s going to take time but we’ve got to put in place procedures and ensure that we stick to them.” Sime Darby Motors Group managing director Rob Dommerson said the Citroen brand had “great heritage around the world” and that “given the connection of Citroen and Peugeot globally, it made sense to bring the two brands together here in Australia as the distributor”.

Mr Startari added that only back-end functions would be shared between the two brands.

“The aftersales area, dealer development, all those things that aren’t forward-facing are shared services and proportionate to the (sales) volumes,” he said.

“Obviously, Peugeot is a much bigger franchise, and there’s no compromise there. But anything that is forward-facing is dedicated to each brand.

“So there is a dedicated Citroen team for sales and marketing, product, all of those things that are ‘brand guardians’ and aren’t shared services, so they are focused on the job at hand.” Mr Startari left Proton in June last year after a decade with the Malaysian car brand, and is sure to draw on his experience in dealing with the Kuala Lumpur-based Sime Darby Group headquarters.

He also has many years’ experience in automotive retail across a variety of brands including Holden, Mitsubishi, Subaru and Peugeot.

Some of these franchises were part of the Bankstown Motor Group, for whom Mr Startari worked as service manager from 1992 to 1997.

As well as handling the two French PSA brands in Australia, Sime Darby is also responsible for light-commercial fleet services organisation Corefleet and its retail operations include the recently acquired Porsche Centre Parramatta.

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