Citroën's design future: innovation and simplicity

Published: 11 July 2016

► Interview with Citroën’s Frédéric Duvernier
► External designer for Cactus M concept
► ‘Citroën can do luxury cars still...’

Frédéric Duvernier, external design lead on the Cactus M, talks simplicity, romance, innovation… and surf dudes.

'We believe that cars are becoming overcomplicated and overdesigned. The Cactus M is all about the spirit of simplicity. All the best old Citroëns have a romantic feeling to them: the 2CV, the Méhari, the DS. That’s what we’re trying to recapture here.

> Cars are becoming more complicated yes, but don’t assume everyone wants more gadgets. My young designers in their 20s are buying ‘young-timers’ in their spare time - ’80s and ’90s cars like Porsche 944s. They appreciate simple pleasures. If we do add technology like safety features to our range, they should operate seamlessly in the background.

> We’ve designed the Cactus M around the surfer lifestyle: we spoke to real surfers and they loved icons like the VW Combi and our old Méhari beach buggy. But why shouldn’t modern cars slot into people’s lifestyles too? I hope in future we can offer accessories for more niches, so customers don’t have to go to aftermarket suppliers like Thule to carry their surfboards and bicycles. We should be providing for our customers’ needs.

> Airbump is an example of design and engineering working hand in hand. The styling team came up with the concept originally and had no idea how it might work in production. It could have been inflatable or a special material – but the engineers went away and made it work. People either love Airbump or hate it. We will continue to develop the technology, but it won’t feature on every new Citroën moving forwards. It divides opinion too much.

> We love pushing our designs to the limits, but we have to be constrained by economic reality. Headlamps are a case in point: we can do amazing things with LED lights, but one LED costs more than six bulbs. There’s no point designing something that’s going to add €500 to the retail price if it puts the car out of reach of its typical customers.

> Innovation is what Citroën is all about. The DS famously pushed the boundaries and so did the Traction Avant – one of the first cars with a monocoque chassis. It made it 200-300kg lighter than the competition. That’s true innovation.

> Citroën can do luxury cars still – it’s just a different expression. It can be relaxing, like yachting. That’s the French meaning of luxury – it’ll be very different from the German premium way of doing it.

> Depending on the project we’re working on, we occasionally ask the Citroën heritage team to bring up one of the old models from our back catalogue. We can’t drive them, but they do spend time in our studio. There’s no greater inspiration.’

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By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet

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