Interview: Linda Jackson, CEO of Citroën
Quirky – adjective (quirkier, quirkiest) having peculiar or unexpected habits or qualities – Derivatives: quirkily or quirkiness.
So says the Oxford English dictionary.
It’s a word that Linda Jackson, chief executive of Citroën, believes exactly describes what the brand should be all about. However, when she took up her position in Paris some 14 months ago she found that her French colleagues had no idea what she was talking about.
They do now.
Jackson is seeking to re‐establish Citroën’s reputation for being unconventional, or even quirky, with the aim of pushing global sales up from 1.2 million a year to 1.6m by 2020.
“The time has come to re‐define 96 years of history,” she said. “Citroen as a brand needs to go back to what it was really good at, being creative, audacious and impertinent. I think ‘quirky’ is a brilliant word in terms of what Citroen did in the past. My problem is that no one had the first idea what it meant when I got to Paris.
“I have spent a lot of time now with the design team and engineers and now they know exactly what I mean and they are buying into the concept. You have already seen a return to boldness with the Airbumps we have put on the C4 Cactus’s panels. This was a model originally intended for Europe only but since launch a year ago it has achieved 110,000 sales against a projection of 70,000 and we are launching it now in Australia and Japan. They are really resonating with customers and you will see us start to take more risks with new models coming through.”
Central to Jackson’s model revolution will be the reduction of the current 14 vehicle ‘silhouettes’ to just seven. Citroën currently has different cars for its key markets of Europe and China, but she wants to have global models spanning the A to D-segments within the next five years.
This has already started with the launch of the C4
Cactus and two new models will follow in 2016 followed by one a year beyond that. Jackson said that Citroën is re‐defining itself under PSA chief Carlos Tavares’ ‘Back in the Race’ strategy. Since the 1990s, she said, the brand had become “too mainstream – and it hasn’t worked”. Her design team in Paris is now drawing inspiration from famous old models such as the CX and Jackson revealed that Citroen is currently working with a French supplier on a new suspension system that will come very close to reprising the brand’s famous hydraulic suspension.
This will be introduced on the next generation C5 and will eventually feature on all models. Jackson said: “I would like this suspension to be standard throughout the range and we are working with our partner to bring cost down as much as possible.”
The new system, she added, will be exclusive to Citroen. “While the three PSA brands share a lot of things, each can choose certain technologies that they can keep to themselves.”
Time for change
Some conventions will be discarded as well, she added.
“Research told us that customers were not interested in a temperature gauge so why have one? We will also be looking at how we improve connectivity in future models but not in a gimmicky way. I believe that we need to do everything we can in terms of driver aids but we can leave aside social media. That can be left on the smartphone.
“We will concentrate on ‘useful’ technology while making people who buy Citroens feel different, but good about themselves.”
This will go beyond cars with dealers worldwide being asked to buy into the Citroen revolution, added Jackson. Each dealer, she said, will have advisors to help customers with their choices, vehicles will be cleaned after servicing and consumers will be asked to rate their vehicle and experience online.
Citroën for the US?
While Europe and China remain the brand’s priority, Jackson does not rule out a move into the North American market. “It’s not yet in the mix,” she said, “but if we are to be ‘Back in the Race’ we have to look at all the major markets around the world.
The US is difficult to launch into and distribution is obviously a major issue.
“We constantly have to look at where we might be missing opportunities and as well as North America there are some potentially huge market opportunities in South East Asia and India.”
Car sharing and mobility
As well as new places to sell cars, Jackson is also aware that the traditional automotive business model is likely to change as a new generation emerges which is not necessarily interested in car ownership.
Jackson said: “We have to look at innovative ways of doing things and we are already looking at car sharing in a pilot project in Berlin. We are talking to a lot of potential partners and we recognise that future buyers may be more interested in pay per‐month leasing rather than ownership. We will not just be selling cars, we will be selling mobility.”
PSA, she added, is also developing an electric vehicle strategy across its three brands, Citroën, DS and Peugeot. This includes a plug‐in hybrid which uses PSA technology. However the French company has put its once‐promising Hybrid Air project, developed with Bosch, on the shelf until another major vehicle manufacturing partner can be found to share the high development costs.
The revolutionary process has the potential to reduce fuel consumption in city driving by around 40% by compressing air in the coasting and braking phases and using it for acceleration.
Jackson does see a downturn in the diesel market as concerns grow over NOx emissions. She said: “We are actually seeing (diesel) growth in Japan but significantly there is a steady decline in France. Diesel will reduce but will it disappear altogether? I don’t know. What I do know is that we are spending a lot of money to ensure our engines meet all the emissions requirements for Europe and China.”