As we celebrate the entrepreneurial genius of André Citroën on his birthday today, February 5, (he was born in 1878), and the innovative company that he started over 100 years ago, the showcasing this week of the SM at the Salon Rétromobile in Paris, by DS Automobiles, takes on a metaphorical tone that must have André rolling over in his grave. One of the most prestigious models ever produced by Citroën will be on display with all reference to Citroën (the company) removed.
This stems from DS Automobiles officially becoming an independent brand within Groupe PSA on June 1, 2014 and, as a result, PSA had three separate brands – Citroën, Peugeot and DS Automobiles. At that time, DS Automobiles mantra was to revive the tradition of French premium vehicles, largely inspired by the original DS introduced in 1955 and the SM in 1970. By the time the DS 5 was introduced in 2011, all reference to Citroën branding had been eliminated.
The flaw that PSA made when they created the DS brand in 2009 was that they tried to capitalize only on the DS and SM models, putting them an elevated cache in their marketing while taking measures to eradicate the DS and SM from the Citroën brand. They could have positioned the DS brand as a luxury division of PSA that was founded on the incredible innovation, engineering and design of the Citroën company through the years. They should have embraced the DNA (rich heritage) of Citroën (the company) and not with the restriction of just two select models.
By doing so, the DS and SM models could have been prominently featured in DS Automobiles’ brand, and in any market they wanted to promote prestige, without the need to cleanse them from the history of Citroën, as shown in this screenshot of the Citroen website from July 2016, where both the DS and SM models were not present – a move that got many Citroën devotees upset at the time.
On 7th February 2017 – the French version of the site reinstated the DS and SM; with the English language version following a few weeks later with ghost images of the DS and SM and captions saying they had moved to a new place.
If PSA really wanted to create a premium brand, they should have done what Honda, Toyota, and Nissan did by creating Acura, Lexus and Infinity. Those three companies took the reputation and goodwill of the initial brands and elevated them into a new premium market while not choosing to ignore their roots in one specific area, as did DS by trying disassociate the DS and the SM If PSA was smart they would have permitted both Citroen and DS brands to savour the rich history and elegance Citroën offered from pre-war through to the modern era.
Many people have contacted us over the years about the DS cleansing issue and almost all of them cite that move further strengthened their belief that the takeover of Citroën by Peugeot was pretty much the end of Citroën models and as a company that we have come to historically appreciate.
Arguably from a financial standpoint, Peugeot was in trouble for decades after the take-over of Citroën. Other than pride, it made little sense to keep Citroën alive when most of the Citroën models produced from the 1980s onwards have just been re-badged Peugeots. And think of the cost it has been to the PSA to maintain both dealer networks when in most cities in France both Citroën and Peugeot dealers were (and still are) selling essentially the same vehicle!
Regardless of what has transpired to date with Citroën being a part of Peugeot or how the company has transformed into Groupe PSA/FCA, it is sad that the directive in the DS Automobiles brand these days is to take iconic Citroën models like the DS and the SM, and mask their true heritage. In reality, it discredits both Citroën and DS brands rather than enhancing them. And now the DS brand will be doing it again with the SM at Rétromolble in a couple of days – in front of people who are well aware of the SM’s genesis.
Update – Feb. 7, 2020: DS Automobiles chose to exhibit the SMs at Rétromobile without altering Citroën on the body side badging and on centre tail lenses. License plate space fillers were just labelled “SM”.