In Opel We Trust – Analysis of PSA’s Return to the U.S. Plans

Editorial: 

We are dumbfounded by PSA’s recent announcements of their return to the USA.  The most recent stating that they are locating their head office in Atlanta, emulating the decision of Mercedes Benz (PSA’s aspiring target?) to locate there.  Mercedes however had reason because of their manufacturing plant in the south.  PSA said they have no plans to manufacture vehicles in the USA.  In fact, Carlos Tavares, CEO of PSA Group, indicated at the North American International Auto show in Detroit that a plant would eventually be built in Asia).  Other than Atlanta being a hub for airline connections so PSA execs can jaunt about North America, there is little reason for PSA to locate there.

PSA needs to take a distinctly different path to succeed in the U.S.  By the time they are able to offer vehicles in the North American market, the landscape as to how vehicles are sold and what type of customer will be making a purchase will have changed dramatically.

Along with PSA’s HQ location it was announced last week by Tavares that PSA would make extensive use of the German engineers they inherited in the Opel takeover last year.  Tavares outlined his reasoning to be that Opel engineers have the proven expertise (from former GM ownership) to understand North American vehicles and adapt them for the European market.  Therefore they are best suited to take PSA’s future vehicle design and engineering efforts and tailor them for the U.S. market.  Seriously?  Can someone please explain the logic in that.

How can PSA figure they are going to get back in the U.S. market by utilizing engineers that did such a great job for GM understanding their North American offerings that their Opel division was neither profitable for them in Europe or in the U.S.?  Now these guys are supposed to take their finely honed German expertise, apply it to PSA’s creations and outdo the likes of BMW, Mercedes and VW who here, at home in Germany and worldwide are already established with popular global offerings.  Opel engineers are supposed to determine Americans want in PSA designs, and ensure they are an appealing alternative to Asian, German and North American vehicles?  Only the French could come up with a plan like this.  Anyone care to bet that PSA’s planned road to success in the U.S. will be even rockier than Peugeot and Citroën’s past times over here?

Add to this that the Tavares plan calls for some yet undermined PSA brand to be first introduced into the North American market through ride services like Uber and Lyft. (As if every other car manufacturer isn’t vying for dominance in that market).  It’s unlikely Toyota, Honda and Hyundai are going to cede the preference that exists now for their vehicles to PSA no matter where Tavares can build a manufacturing plant.  (He indicated a new one would be forthcoming in Asia).

Tavares indicated in his announcement last week that by 2026 PSA will be offering their ‘tweaked by Opel’ exemplary vehicles in the U.S. retail sales market.  This was followed up by Larry Dominique, President of PSA North America saying that he plans to shortly start recruiting dealers for that eventuality.  That’s a head scratcher…  How do you discuss retail opportunities with potential dealers for vehicles that won’t be in their showrooms for probably at least 6 years?

Meanwhile Larry and his newly established U.S. team, that includes Lynn Blake, V.P. of Mobility and Vincent Noirbent, Vice President of Corporate and Product Planning, will be burning the cash at their Atlanta digs and traveling about the U.S. (perhaps Canada as well?) in the hope of enticing folks to take PSA seriously in their attempt to re-establish themselves in the North American market.  This while brands like Tesla and Genesis (Hyundai’s luxury division) are taking their own new approach as to how cars are retailed in a direct-to-consumer business model.  Lest we not factor in how Tesla might succeed or fail in the next few years and how Hyundai’s Genesis brand seems to be encroaching on Audi, Mercedes and BMW in terms of design, engineering and luxury while significantly undercutting the Germans in price.

Muddled in all this rejuvenation attempt by PSA is Citroën, now merely another corporate brand of the company that hopes its distinction will be sport market appeal and the outfitting of all their vehicles with their newly engineered Progressive Hydraulic Cushions ™ suspension.  Presumably this shows there is still some semblance of innovation that can come from what remains of Citroën’s Bureau d’études.  That is if they aren’t fully engaged these days trying to doll-up the basic Citroën models these days to support PSA’s re-imagined upscale DS brand.  Rather than corporately taking the most original thinking and innovate team in automotive history and applying their expertise to re-define the automobile for 2025 and beyond (with the latitude Citroën engineers had with the DS in the 1950’s), we are to get vehicles that are ‘Opelized’ for the USA.  So much for PSA’s “Push to Pass” initiative as as it relates to the competition.  Seems more like ‘Merge to Crash’.

What PSA needs is something that can appeal over here sooner rather than later as all the automobile manufactures try to figure out what they will offer and how beyond 2025.  Tavares says every move they make in North America will only be with profitability in mind.  Well here’s a comparatively relative and immediately executable suggestion; First establish a means to purvey a decent sized sedan in key urban markets.  Look no further than how Tesla and Genesis (in Canada) are doing so.  Direct sales to a core group of people that want the distinction of owning an iconic french vehicle.  What vehicle at this point? If the stamping molds still exist, resurrect the C6 and offer it here with a few modern improvements that could have (and arguably should have) been done a decade ago when it was in production.  After all, the C6 was originally created with a 25 year life cycle in mind. 

Citroën C6.

Like the Traction Avant, the original DS and the CX, the C6’s basic premise and design has aged very well.  Here in North America where it has never been offered, (and even in Europe with only 23,421 made between 2006 – 2012) the car is a rarity with a lot of potential if an updated version were offered.  When the C6 was introduced claims were made that it was engineered to conform to US DOT regulations.  It was one the safest vehicles in European crash tests.  To make a contemporary offering, a minimal redesign in a few areas would make the C6 an attractive and distinctive contender even today.  And if you think the Citroën name has no brand appeal in the U.S. anymore, then brand it as a Peugeot (which arguably has just as little brand appeal here) or as a DS C6.

What improvements would be needed to the C6?  Leave the overall body design the same and make minor changes to the exterior putting a broader and more contemporary headlight arrangement in the front and work to eliminate the controversial “bump” from the rear tail-lights.

 C6 with revised rear tail-lights.

Suggested C6 revised front end treatment.

Other than these two exterior changes put the focus on doing a contemporary interior dashboard and design the door panels to eliminate the cheesy and impractical sliding bins.  For power-plant offerings take whatever V6 and turbo 4 cylinder gas engines PSA has on the shelf these days and offer those.  They’ll do for U.S. speed limits and until the U.S. can sort out whether electric, hybrids, hydrogen or whatever method of powering a vehicle is viable over gasoline.  Given the major advancements in electrics it should be easy to ensure the C6 is equipped with the latest electronic innovations (many it pioneered) and they be gremlin free.  To ensure ride superiority re-introduce the hyrdropneumatic suspension system originally on the C6 or if the engineers have truly developed the better, lower cost and more reliable ride with Progressive Hydraulic Cushions ™ suspension then fit that to the car.  Those of us who value Citroën’s innovation should be more than pleased with the revamped C6 and its timeless lines.  Meanwhile, the rest of the consumer market will take notice of it as much as any other people moving sedan that PSA Group would be able to introduce (at arguably far greater expense) in the next few years.

As for the engineers at Opel in Germany fitting into the PSA’s return to North America plans, we suggest saying to them not just “Auf Wiedersehen” (until we meet again) but “Abschied für immer” (goodbye forever).

 

7 comments

  1. Yes, it does seem to be a very questionable strategy. The idea of a freshened C6 would, to me, be very exciting. – Michael Barone

  2. As a long time SAAB person – 13 as I recall, the end of SAAB was the introduction of the Opel engineered platform for the 900 in the early ’90’s.

    This platform featured a front suspension with crack prone control arms and the ever popular “crack in the firewall” which rendered the cars unrepairable. My son lost his investment in one this way.

    And then there were engine problems with oil pumps .

    I recall attending the official launch in Toronto and asking one of the GM engineers if they expected to learn anything from their new association with SAAB. I was thinking about engine control systems, recalling SAAB’s famous ( at least to some of us) demonstration of feeding the smoky exhaust from a older 2 Stroke into the intake of a new car and producing an apparently clean exhaust.

    Needless to say the GM answer was “No”.

    Your comments re marketing, naming etc are excellent. Hope somebody listens!

    And perhaps PSA can take over SAAB USA’s old buildings in Atlanta – for good luck.

    – Grant Slinn

  3. Hi George:

    Whew, there was a lot you wrote about in this email! I have to agree that PSA has a big challenge ahead to really be successful in North America. Can they do it? Will they do it? What with the past history of both Peugeot and Citroën, it might seem a bit overoptimistic! (like you said).

    I would love to see new cars from PSA here, but really? There’s a ton of infrastructure that’s required to make it happen. I wish them the best of luck, but I just don’t feel this will be accomplished in my life time.

    Also, the cars from Citroën that I love and cherish are not anything like the new cars coming from PSA. Like so many cars on the road today, you can’t just look at them from afar and know what it is. You have to be close enough to read the badges!

    Thanks for the great write up.

    John Peterson

  4. I just finished reading your commentary on PSA and the USA and I am in total agreement with you.

    Except some of your comments about the C6.
    I love the rear lights, I think they are a unique and distinguishing feature of the car.
    Same for the front end.
    i am so happy to drive a car which does not look like a goldfish with it’s mouth open or the latest interpretation of the Alien creature.
    Some new cars make the Aztec look good.

    As for the interior, I am one not prone to carry a lot of needless stuff and find the bins OK. Out of sight, out of mind.
    The one thing that car needs is better electronics for the GPS. Any system that you can only upgrade by buying the latest CD’s and then having to change them as you enter another country … AAAArtrrgggghhhhhhh!

    But I’m sure the hydraulics are dead, fini.
    But what is to prevent other manufacturers from producing their own version of the new shock breakers?

    Keep up the good work.

  5. Just a tiny bit of moral support from the Netherlands. I totally agree with your editorial on PSA, stating your doubts about the PSA plans for the America’s. I could not agree more with your reaction. I had a “free ride” in a C6 last May at the ‘CitroMobiel’ and enjoyed every second of it. A shame that car hasn’t managed to make a decent break through over here in Europe and I agree with you it would be a perfect fit for North America. People would finally be able to experience what a sophisticated car should feel like and it could give PSA a head start, other starters on the busy american market can only dream of.

  6. Hi George. I think there was some misunderstanding about Carlos Tavares’s comments, probably as a non-North American.
    Opel has experience in producing and adapting cars for North America. Very successful cars. Saturn’s short-lived turn-around had Astras and Aura’s on North American roads, with GM engines and proven hydramatic transmissions.
    Then these Opels became a new generation of Buick vehicles. The first Buick regals were made by Opel before they were built in Oshawa.

    Open/GM knows how to build cars in North America and for North Americans. It’s that kind of know-how that PSA needs to stay on the roads here.
    As front-wheel drive manufacturers for a long-time, they share a design philosophy that can carry-forward Citroen and Peugeot.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Close
Archives

Access further archives on our Archive Documents page.

Close
Citroënvie © Copyright 2021. All rights reserved.
Close