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Citroen prepares new models with an eye on China

Release Date:2015/08/31   Sources of information:Automotive News Europe
The Citroen Aircross concept previews a compact SUV to replace the brand's current offering, which is a rebadged version of the Mitsubishi ASX.

PARIS (Reuters) -- Citroen CEO Linda Jackson said the brand is preparing a series of model launches in a bid to reverse a sales slump that threatens to hamper parent PSA/Peugeot-Citroen's recovery from near bankruptcy.

Jackson is also determined to increase Citroen sales in the key market of China despite slowing demand.

The brand is lining up three vehicle launches over the next two years. "Those new models will be volume models," Jackson said in an interview with Reuters at Citroen's Paris headquarters. "I'm not doing a niche strategy."

With sales down sharply, Citroen is a blot on PSA's otherwise stellar rebound. PSA's profit surged back in the first half, a year after Carlos Tavares took over as CEO.

Sales of Peugeot models rose 3.9 percent through June but Citroen's fell 2.7 percent in the same period, and by 14 percent in July.

Much could hang on China, where Jackson hopes to achieve a "slight increase" to 330,000 deliveries this year, despite weakening demand being compounded by the stock market crash. "I'm not sure what's going to happen in China, given the last couple of days," she said. "We're hoping it settles down."

The fall in overall sales has deepened the soul-searching at a brand more famous for risk-taking than clear positioning. Few carmakers have fielded models as eccentrically different as the stately DS and the quirky 2CV, which coexisted between 1955 and 1975.

Linda Jackson: "Those new models will be volume models. I'm not doing a niche strategy."

Citroen has spent much of the past decade pushing upmarket with models such as the C5 sedan and DS range. But last year the DS was spun off as a separate subbrand and a C5 replacement was ruled out. The larger C6 was canned in 2012.

In its hardest challenge yet, Citroen must carve itself a place in the mass market, requiring a sales success from every model in a lineup reduced by half.

"We're in the mainstream and it's getting very busy," Jackson said. "We need to have something that stands out."

Jackson has embraced a quirky aesthetic embodied by the C4 Cactus, sporting exterior plastic panels.

Next year's update to the C3 minicar may follow suit.

A model nomenclature review is underway, she said, and may result in a decision to drop the "C" numbers in favor of names.

Next month's Frankfurt auto show will feature a concept vehicle derived from the Mehari, a plastic-bodied dune buggy. Far more likely in terms of a production model, Jackson has acknowledged, is a compact SUV based on the C4 Aircross shown in Shanghai last year.

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