How we’ll make DS a premium brand, by Carlos Tavares

Published: 17 November 2014

Citroen is developing its DS line as a more upmarket, standalone car brand – and is confident it can develop into a series that can challenge the Germans on their own front lawn over time. This is the vision of Carlos Tavares, the ex-Nissan head honcho who now leads PSA Peugeot Citroen. In an interview with CAR magazine, he spells out the vision for how the DS brand will develop. Click here to read about the latest Citroen Divine DS concept car

Tavares on making DS a viable alternative to the Germans

‘We are far away from the likes of Audi today, but you need to start the dream. Anybody trying to compete in the premium area thinks they need to fight the Germans with the same weapons. I won’t do that because I will lose. Specifically we want to convey the French touch, sophistication and trendiness in our new DS models; the French way of life, everything that makes the Brits come to France for their holidays. DS is a fashionable brand. This is unique for us, the Germans cannot do this. You will see some concept cars that will represent this.’

Why Citroen’s backing DS for the long game

‘Infiniti was created in 1989. Twenty years later I was in charge in North America and we outsold Audi in the US. Ten years previously we were selling just 150,000 cars a year. It took us 20 years to get there. So we have to be patient. I don’t challenge my brand CEO on volume. I don’t measure success of our premium brand through volume, I do it through per-unit profit, which means each car I sell is very profitable and makes huge margins. The most viable thing about any premium brand is pricing power. Start pushing on volume and you destroy the pricing power. I’ve been saying this is a 20 to 30 year story. We need to be very persistent, we must keep on track. Like Infiniti in its first 20 years or Audi in its first 15 years – it was a very slow process.’

How will DS differ from Audi, BMW and Mercedes?

‘Two target markets we are focusing on are Europe and China. But we need to grow the DS franchise in a healthy way. We need to have very consistent brand positioning and design – and from 2015, make sure there are specific design and attributes for DS which will disconnect entirely from Citroen. From next year you will start being able to recognise DS as a specific brand, with its own particular design signature. The DS products in the pipeline are very exciting. We will grow it progressively through product, but not in the German way. It’s not all about technology and engineering, it’s about artistic feeling and creativity, style, design and sophistication. Why? We are the only French guys who can do it.’

Carlos Tavares on the next generation of DS products

‘You need to have a sportsman’s attitude that you need to progress. I would be arrogant if I told you DS was perfect today. It isn’t. By the way, the Germans are not perfect, either. We have an attitude of improve, improve, do better. We have a consistent vision of what we want to do, we now have a brand CEO, we give autonomy to specific brand teams and design teams and marketing teams – we have a vision of how consistent the models are going to be within the next five to 10 years. You’ll recognise DS through its front face, building consistency, design direction and working on a few more product positioning topics to communicate better the brand and what it stands for. It’s going to be very, very stylish, reasonably aggressive but it’s not about racing cars; it’s about being very elegant, light and at the same time giving a sense of sophistication. The only thing I care about with teams is consistency and I give them free hand on creativity. And those guys are pretty creative.’

On having separate DS showrooms from Citroen dealers

‘My own people ask “are we going to invest in a new network?” We don’t need to. Let’s start with the existing dealers. Show them the next 10 years’ products to champion in the Citroen network, and they will go immediately to the bank to invest. They are starting to have dedicated DS-only stores now in France and China. If the dealer doesn’t take that risk, he can have a duo approach – but he has to separate the two brands. We’re talking about two different entrances eventually, but he can sell with a specific DS lounge inside a Citroen dealership today, although I think they will move away quickly from that because it doesn’t put the brand in the right position to show the power of the new DS products. As I’m not running the brand for volume, I’m confident this will just happen naturally. We’ll focus more on having dealers in big cities than on DS dealers in the countryside.’

How to convert humdrum Citroens into desirable DSes

‘We will impose the style, the touch and feel, to be representative of this French way of life. Citroen is a generalist brand but DS is a premium brand. It’s better if we separate them. We don’t need to have separate platforms, but we will have separate manufacturing standards at some point. In terms of body-in-white accuracy, fit and finish, control. DS should be more expensive than Peugeot and it is: a DS3 more expensive than a 208.’

Can Citroen turn DS into a proper standalone quasi-premium brand? Click ‘Add your comment’ and sound off.

By Phil McNamara

Editor-in-chief of CAR magazine