Grapefruit and girls: Euro brands fight for mojo
PEUGEOT Citroen Australia managing director Ben Farlow has a vision for his French brands.
Citroen, he says, is a beautiful woman attracting admiration from men who watch from a distance.
Peugeot is grapefruit; divisive, comparatively expensive and perceived as niche product.
Neither are picked up as frequently as he would like.
"Over the past few years we've lost our mojo as a brand, been somewhat invisible, lacked courage and conviction of our brand proposition, and hence have not captured consumers' attention," Farlow said at a gala evening for dealers, advertisers and the motoring media this week.
"Our performance in the last decade has slowed in Australia, though we have such potential."
Peugeot sales have fallen from a 2007 sales high, when it outsold the likes of Jeep, Volvo, Lexus and Audi. Those brands at least doubled its tally last year.
But new commercial vehicles loaded with safety kit, a fresh 208 city car and range-topping 508 sedan will inject fresh metal into showrooms in coming months.
Farlow has faith in the future.
"I know my grapefruit is a better product… it's not as common and it's a distinctive purchase," he said.
"Grapefruit is desirable, delicious fruit, perceived as more expensive - and this is mostly true - and available in most places, just not everywhere like other citrus."
The 508 will lead the charge. Priced from $53,990 plus on-road costs, the svelte sedan will only be available in full-fat GT form home to a comprehensive suite of driver aids, beautifully trimmed cabins and a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine cheekily described by the brand's product expert as having "225 brake horsepower".
Which might be because that figure equates to 167kW of power, considerably less than the similarly priced Skoda Superb's 206kW, or the 224kW of a loaded Toyota Camry V6.
As for Citroen, the current C3 hatch will be replaced by a mildly revised model with new safety tech for $26,990 plus on-roads, its high-riding cousin in the Mazda CX-3-fighting C3 Aircross for $32,990, and a larger RAV4-rivalling C5 Aircross priced from $39,990.
Farlow says motorists should finish their drink, stride across the room and introduce themselves.
"She seems unattainable at first; different, not real," he said of the brand.
"But when you approach her - if you dare - you quickly realise she is intelligent, open-minded, makes you laugh and inspires you."
At the risk of mixed metaphors, Citroen's hot-and-cold presence in Australia might have been too much for buyers to bear.
"For the past two years Citroen has been in hibernation, in part due to necessity, but largely because the product the market desires was on its way to Australia," Farlow says.
"We must and will deliver Citroens that our customers will appreciate.
"We are dedicated to the acceptance of artistic beauty and as such some models will be replaced as a result."
The C4 Picasso people mover is off the menu, and the Berlingo commercial van is in run-out. Citroen's high-end DS spin-off is on ice in Australia as new importer Inchape takes a pragmatic approach focusing on SUVs and the cute C3 hatch.
Dealerships will create a "little house" for Citroen within showrooms in line with Farlow's "nonconformist" and "artistic" intention for a marque which should become more visible in coming months.