Why design essence is missing at PSA Peugeot Citroën

by George Dyke…..

It continues to astound me why a company like PSA Peugeot Citroën cannot embrace the essence of design that resulted in such iconic automobiles as the Traction Avant and the DS.  Witness Peugeot’s latest Fractal concept to understand the fractured nature of their future aspirations.

Peugeot Fractal 1  Peugeot Fractal 2  Peugeot Fractal concept

Lauded by the media, including Top Gear, as being a leading indicator of where the company is heading, one has to wonder why thoughtful heads don’t prevail.

Styled by Peugeot’s top designer Gilles Vidal, the Fractal is visually supposed to grab your attention.  That it does, but for all the wrong reasons when one considers the designs that Peugeot inherited when they absorbed Citroën in 1974.  Rather than capitalizing on those assets, Peugeot and sadly even the Citroën division itself, have embarked on continual attempts in cutting edge in design, rarely looking back to what made the brand distinctive in the past. (With the notable exception of the Tubik concept, – Citroën’s homage the venerable HY Van that infused a sporty avant garde style.)

2011_citroen_tubik_891x561  Citroën Tubik concept

Peugeot - Gilles Vidal   Gilles Vidal

Vidal recently commented to Top Gear that  “Cars are not just a means of transportation anymore.  In fact moving from A to B for a lot of people is just a waste of time.  So how do we re-enchant that, how do you bring something interesting to that ‘waste of time’?  That’s what design is all about – it’s not just aesthetics, it’s a human experience that you live as a person.  We are not car designers anymore, we are experience designers.”  Really?  Does the experience have to look like it roared off the Hollywood screen of a Batman movie?   How can you have a passion for designing cars when you fundamentally believe that the actual driving is a waste of time.  For God’s sake go work for Google.

With the Fractal we have a series disjointed panels that that try to abut themselves to intersecting planes, tied together with a high belt-line that wraps around the rear and recesses, front back and sides, that are literally carved out of the body in an attempt to give visual appeal.   It’s madness.

Peugeot Fractal 4  Peugeot Fractal front end

The Fractal’s front end looks like is has been in a collision.  The rear as though it has been shunted by a SUV.   Granted certain innovations, like roof extended air extractors show aggressive sports coupe potential, but in the end just add to the fuss of an overall design in desperate need of harmony.

Is Peugeot so dominant in PSA Peugeot Citroën that Citroen can’t take can’t an approach to design that truly reflects their heritage?  Those in charge at Citroën will quickly point their DS brand that they claim does exactly that.  However look at their upscale versions of current Citroën offerings;  They offer nothing in design innovation compared to the inroads the pioneered with the Traction Avant and the original DS.

George 1972 DS21 Jubilee  1972 DS21 Pallas

It has been said by many for decades, but it bears repeating again; Citroën should develop a clean unadorned reincarnation of the DS, – a vehicle with the similar flowing lines, the same interior dimensions (and cushioning) and unfettered outward visibility as the original.  A contemporary Goddess in every sense of the word.  Equip it with a modern drive-train, but keep the DS engineering virtues that distinguish it from all others (except Citromatic-type gear changing).  Specifically KEEP hydropneumatic suspension which is better and less costly in long run to maintain than modern Active Body Control (ABC) suspension systems found in other luxury cars these days.  But I digress… – back to design,

It’s about time Citroën showed more respect for the accomplishments of their legendary designers Flaminio Bertoni and Robert Opron.

Flaminio Bertoni sculpting Traction-  Flaminio Bertoni sculpting the Traction Avant   Robert Opron styling GS  Robert Opron styling the GS

Initiate active design efforts with the obsession these two men had to carefully re-interpret what they penned and sculpted.  Incorporate the benefits of today’s materials and manufacturing processes doing so in a complementary manner that remains core to the innovation brought forth in original DS design.  Anyone that experiences a drive in a 50 year old DS invariably remarks about the comfort, the ride and the surreal experience that is lacking in in cars today.

The challenge for Citroën today should be to show a DS inspired design that will truly wow the automotive press and the public in the way the original DS did at its introduction back in 1955.

DS Introduction in 1955 - Paris Auto Show  DS Debut at the Paris Auto Show

Maybe, just maybe, if Citroën does that, they can get Peugeot stylists to follow suit.


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