The End of Hydropneumatics for Citroën

On June 4, 2015, Reuters France issued a release stating that the decision has been taken by PSA Peugeot Citroën to abandon hydropneumatic suspension:

Peugeot scraps DS-era hydraulics in cost-cutting drive

Hydraulic suspension, once key to the iconic Citroën DS limousine’s appeal, is to be scrapped by PSA Peugeot Citroën as the French carmaker cuts costs, sources said.

The technology, manufactured at a Peugeot plant in northern France, will die with the current Citroën C5 sedan, according to several sources close to the company.

A spokesman for Paris-based Peugeot declined to comment on company product plans, which remain confidential.

Combining a hydraulic pump with nitrogen-filled pneumatic spheres, the Citroën suspension system brought an almost unmatched level of motoring comfort in 1955 and contributed to the space-age mystique of the DS model launched that year.

It was also credited with saving General Charles de Gaulle from assassination seven years later, when the presidential DS was able to escape from an ambush even with two tires shot out.

More recently, however, electronically controlled alternatives such as Volkswagen’s DCC adaptive suspension have beaten Citroën’s hydraulics – or more accurately hydropneumatics – on handling and price.

The decision to scrap the in-house suspension comes as Peugeot slashes costs under Chief Executive Carlos Tavares by cutting inventory, headcount and production of components that can be sourced more cheaply elsewhere.

“Tavares has made it clear that there are now other systems that can do just as well,” one of the sources said. “Hydropneumatics cost a lot for not much benefit.”

Ironically, however, the phase-out comes just as Peugeot is developing DS as a stand-alone luxury car brand, playing on the new models’ connection with their famous ancestor and the Nouvelle Vague heyday it embodied in French popular culture.

None of the new DS models use Citroën’s hydropneumatic suspension, and the newly upgraded flagship DS5 is supplied with “preloaded linear valve” shocks by Germany’s ZF Friedrichshafen.

“We still aim to be best for comfort,” a Peugeot company source said, “but in future we’ll do it with technologies other than hydropneumatics.”

Among Peugeot’s European peers, hydraulic or pneumatic systems are limited to ultra-luxury Rolls-Royce models or higher-end offerings from Mercedes and VW’s Audi.

Sales of hydropneumatic Citroën C5s dwindled to about 10,000 last year, and their suspension accounted for a small share of overall production at Peugeot’s component plant in Caen, Normandy. The factory still supplies pneumatic spheres to Britain’s Rolls-Royce, owned by BMW.

Of course this is not the first time that we have heard of the impending demise of the system.  Prior to the launch of the BX in 1982, the company invited its French dealers to discuss what they would like to see in the new model.  The vast majority rejected PSA’s proposal to use steel springs (what Citroën calls ‘classic suspension’) citing that this was a core technology at the heart of the marque’s identity.

Citroën is not alone in abandoning such core technologies – Porsche and Volkswagen abandoned air cooling years ago; Ferrari dropped manual gearboxes; BMW (via its MINI brand) dropped rear wheel drive; and Mazda is about to drop the Wankel rotary engine.

There have been subsequent rumours which have always been denied.  This time, no such denial has been issued.  My sources tell me that the decision has not been finalized but that ‘new technologies’ are being planned for the DS marque.  Where this will leave Citroën is anybody’s guess.

Given the low volumes of hydropneumatic cars being built (and sold), the unit cost inevitably rises.  Had Citroën taken the decision to equip all its cars with the system, the unit cost would have fallen.  Of course, the decision would have been made by PSA whose track record indicates that they were never that keen on the Citroën marque.

The Citroën Car Club has around 2000 members and well over 50% of them own hydropneumatic cars.

There is an online petition at

We could easily add 1000 plus signatures so go on line and sign it.  I am not sure that it will do any good but it certainly will do no harm.

The author of the petition explains his intentions as follows (albeit that this reinforces P.B. Medawar’s contention that it is written in that “…tipsy, euphoric… …prose-poetry…  …[which is] characteristic of the more tiresome manifestations of the French spirit…”when he critiqued Teilhard de Chardin’s ‘The Phenomenon of Man)  but perhaps that is what is needed for PSA’s management to treat it seriously:

Petition against the ending of the PSA Citroën hydropneumatic system
Mr. Carlos TAVARES Director PSA Peugeot-Citroën
With the creation by Citroën of the DS of 1955 , the hydropneumatic system revolutionised comfort, grip, ride and vehicle safety . It was so obviously a superior system from the outset, compared to all competing cars’ suspension systems. And with the addition of electronics, such as in the C6, we achieved a quality never before seen in wheel/road surface communication.
And it is at this moment in history that the Directorate of PSA has decided to end this wonderful invention that has made Citroën known worldwide and given the company its legendary reputation! How can you erase 60 years of original art creation, which made Citroën “manufacturer of the century”?
At this point, can the demands of financial and stock requirements which are manifestations of the perversity of the economy, supplant human intelligence and genius?
How can you make such an unacceptable decision to regress given that the marque has surpassed the competition with its spectacular innovations in road safety? (According to insurance statistics, Citroën is the marque least involved in accidents).
It would be a shame if the leaders of PSA were to forget that Citroën is the only manufacturer who managed to give the various components of vehicles (suspension, braking, steering, lighting, etc. ) intelligent cybernetic behaviour systems.
And how dare you leave in disarray all owners of Citroën hydropneumatic cars – from the DS 19 to the C6; cars which have marked the history of the automobile by their avant-garde qualities?
What will current Citroën owners do when they need to replace their current hydropneumatic vehicle, knowing that they no longer have the choice of metal springs of (an anachronism from the time of the ark)? This is a betrayal; an insult to the innovative engineers and designers of this technology; and a denial of scientific progress.
In addition, this decision is a strategic mistake, for, without this hydropneumatic system, Citroën models will lose their specific character and will just fall in line with their many competitors, becoming no different from all the others!
Many customers will leave the brand out of spite. Why continue to buy Citroën since nothing fundamental will distinguish this manufacturer any longer!
Do not erase this long and distinguished intellectual and industrial adventure of hydrotech and reconsider this absurd and desperate decision.
Personally take the time to study and objectively compare the qualities (especially ride comfort and handling) that Citroën models offer.
The hydropneumatic system must actually qualify for the best invention in automotive history and the fruit of genius and passion should not disappear!

© 2015 Julian Marsh – reprinted with permission.

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