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Citroen's audacious long-term plan

Citroen boss points to more affordable EVs, such as recently announced Oli

17 Oct 2022

CITROEN may have adopted the credo of ‘everything old is new again’ as they recalibrate to accommodate a world moving inexorably to EVs.


Citroen CEO Vincent Cobee last week outlined the brand’s long-term plans and much is centred on electric small and microcars made at an affordable price through various means – vehicles like the Oli and Ami Quadricycle.


These and other proposed Citroens have similarities to older designs like the Citroen 2CV, the C2 and other makes such as Goggomobil’s T and TS and the more recent Smart ForTwo and a swag of Japanese Kei cars…all ‘size optimised’ cheap-to-make cars from an earlier era.


Mr Cobee said in a media interview that the French brand's target is: “To build affordable, sustainable electric cars that exude freedom.”


Reported in publication AutoNews Europe (ANE), Cobee said a series of crises that have rocked the automotive industry in recent years represent an opportunity for the 100-year-old French brand “to be extremely relevant again”.


With the Ami electric quadricycle and the new Oli concept, Citroen is seeking to offer a pathway to affordable, responsible and fun electric mobility.


Mr Cobee speaks from authority having held international executive positions with the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance before joining Citroen.


When asked about the rationale behind the unconventional Oli, he replied: “At Citroen, we want to be accessible, we want to support well-being, and we want to be audacious. When you do a concept, you are not only trying to make a statement, or place a flag, but you also want to show a way to get to the flag”.


“We are in a place where freedom of mobility is important – COVID-19 was proof of that – where economic tensions will increase and where the energy transition is a reality. We have only one planet and resources are constrained.


“So, we put that on the table and said, ‘let's not solve every problem’. With Oli, we are not intending to make an emphatic statement on aerodynamics or on future body types. We want to make a statement on affordable, responsible electric cars that exude freedom.”


Mr Cobee said Citroen chose a utilitarian design for Oli rather than a sports car or a sleek design because: “Life is not made of grey pods that are moving anonymously in the city; and Citroen is not a sports car brand”.


“Citroen designer Pierre Leclercq and I share one thing, which is the relationship between form and function. I'm a civil engineer by training, so to me form defines function and function defines form.


“We wanted the Oli to say ‘recycleable, affordable, attractive and efficient’ so that leads to form-equals-function. For example, the vertical windshield glass makes a statement: Great visibility, less material, less weight, very easy to manufacture. If it comes out in a polarizing way, that's fine.”


Regarding Citroen’s best-selling C3, an old design based around ICE architecture, Mr Cobee said the replacement would be shaped by affordability considerations as it moves to an EV.


“We recently looked at how much a car costs versus people’s spending capability,” he said.


“The average car in France is 17 months’ worth of minimum salary. For the C3, that has decreased to 9.5 months from 11.5 months in the last five years. Why? Because of efficiency of production, and it has become more affordable over its life cycle. So, that is the role of the C3 - we participate in accessible mobility.”


Mr Cobee said the C3 will be replaced ‘very soon’ potentially with a model made in India.


The company is embarking on their so-called Smart Car project to address the heart of the market in fast-growing markets: India, Asia-Pacific, North Africa and South America, with which Citroen has a long history.


“The average transaction price in India is less than 10,000 euros which is a challenge, but it also widens Citroen’s book of capabilities. Those cars can't be homologated as they are in Europe because of specifications but also customer expectations,” he said.


“However, they provide Citroen with a library of knowledge, of cost base, of suppliers for us to build our entry offer in Europe.


“We look at the Smart Car project as we have broadened our skills, and those skills will be used to fight a different battle with a focus on greater penetration into the sub-continent.”


Regarding Citroen’s international market aspirations, Cobee says 78 per cent of Citroen sales are in Europe, down from 85 per cent so penetrating other markets is necessary and that means volume sales in markets Brazil, Argentina, India, Turkey, then Egypt and Morocco with more targeted premium vehicle sales into places like Japan.


According to Mr Cobee, China has potential in volume and luxury markets.


“We have doubled sales in China this year, in very different conditions from the rest of the world. China will probably enter the top 10 again for us in volumes,” he said.


Mr Cobee has a cautious view of Citroen’s prospects in the European market saying regional volatility is an impediment along with on-going effects from COVID-19 and the micro-chip shortage.


He said that if Citroen were to expand in Europe, it would be as a hedge against a European market trend downward.


“It's not unreasonable to expect that the European market will go down by 30, 40 per cent in the next 10 years,” Mr Cobee told ANE.


“Expansion is a way to protect the brand's volume and our employees. Also, trying to be competitive in more than one region provides valuable lessons.”


Mr Cobee said that regardless of demand, with overfull Citroen order banks and a level of profitability back in cars, the possibility of a European recession is a reality in nine to 12 months from now.


“You could imagine we will be in recession, at which point the private sales channels are going to collapse and B2B channels are going to be more price – and sustainability –sensitive, which will raise a massive question about how we will finance the shift toward electrification,” he concluded.

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