► CAR talks to Citroen's boss
► Linda Jackson on past, future
► ...and that pesky hot C3
Linda Jackson would probably make a bad politician. When asked how some of Citroen's more lacklustre products of the last twenty years squared with the brand's stated values of comfort, design and audacity, the usual response would be to attack the questioner with figures underscoring sales successes. Instead, we get a refreshing mea culpa. ‘We lost our way,’ she admits, hands up.
‘When we tried to be like everyone else, we were least successful. When we tried to be different, we are at our most successful.’ she said. Jackson is explicit in what she wants from the brand. The 59-year-old straight-talking Brit has been at the helm of Citroen since 2014 and is overseeing a renaissance in this historically perplexing marque. 2017 was the first full year for the new C3, the new Dispatch van and the SpaceTourer, but also the year Citroen launched the C3 Aircross SUV in Europe and the C5 Aircross SUV in China. Excluding China, worldwide sales rose 7.5%.
‘I have three objectives,’ she states. ‘The first is to grow volumes, from 1.1 million global sales now to 1.6 million in 2020. The second is to be the benchmark in comfort. We need to be renowned for comfort. The third is to be in the top three brands most recommended by our customers wherever we are. We're on a trajectory to get there by 2020,’ she smiles.
‘Comfort is the absolutely number one design priority, the number one differentiator, but don't get old-fashioned way of comfort stuck in mind. It's more than just suspension and seats. It encompasses air quality, storage space, modularity, connectivity. We believe in a wider approach to comfort and that will be introduced as we go through the core strategy.”
Performance cars are far from a priority
If you’re holding on for a hot C3, you’ll be going blue in the face before too long. Jackson is focused on simply providing the right engine or the right buyer: ‘To be honest, we try to put powertrains in that are relevant to our customers. We could always do performance engines, but does it really fit in with what our core customers are looking for?’
But what about Citroen’s ties to WRC, we hear you ask. Jackson says there’s less of a connection there: ‘I think this link between rallying and performance cars for Citroen is a little weak. Why do we do rallying? We do it because it’s a marketing tool. Sometimes we can take the technology from rallying into our cars, though: the Progressive Hydraulic Cushions suspension was originally developed for our rally car – albeit in a stronger way.’
Citroen’s electrification plans
That core strategy calls for eight international vehicle silhouettes across small, medium, large, SUV, and commercial sectors. Since taking office four years ago Jackson has separated DS from Citroen as part of this plan, and the next stages are to replace C3, introduce a broader portfolio of SUVs, with the replacement of hatches and big saloons to come. She's keen to stress that there's still a place for 'conventional' bodies. “We can't just concentrate on SUVs. We need a broad portfolio to work across the world.”
The roadmap also features a phased approach to electrification. “Where are we going with electric and plug-in hybrid? The C5 Aircross will be our first plug-in hybrid in 2020. Every vehicle that we launch after that – as well as having a diesel and petrol - will also have either an electric or a plug-in hybrid. That means that by 2023 80 percent of our vehicles will have a version that's electric, and by 2025 100 percent will have a version that's electric or plug-in hybrid. E-CMP platform will have electric, EMP2 will have PHEV. All technology within the group is group tech. Each brand then chooses which technology they want,” she explains.
Banging the drum for Brexit clarity
As the UK draws ever nearer to the Brexit deadline, Jackson isn’t alone in her viewpoints: ‘the Brexit question is one of not knowing what’s going to happen. We have a strong brand with Vauxhall in the UK, and my fifth biggest market. But it’s about the instability; we’ve got plans for hard Brexit, soft Brexit but they’re all on hold. I think everybody is just sort of there waiting. The most important thing we need is clarification, because we can then set out our strategy.’