Citroen’s iconic DS is celebrating its 60th birthday this year, but the French carmaker has more than one cause for celebration.
This week brings the launch of DS Week, intended to honour not only a 20-year production run - which also saw the famous saloon assembled here in Australia - but also the debut of Citroen’s new DS range as a standalone luxury brand.
News of the DS brand’s move toward independence surfaced in 2014, but it wasn’t until this year that the brand dropped Citroen’s chevrons from its European models.
The first was the updated DS 5, debuting in February with the DS badge displayed proudly at both ends. Previously, the badge appeared at the rear only, while the familiar chevron grille design featured up front.
And now it’s official: as Lexus is to Toyota, Audi to Volkswagen, Cadillac to GM, DS is now a standalone luxury marque above the volume-selling Citroen brand.
The company believes it can take on the establishment, going to head-to-head with BMW, Mercedes, Audi and the rest, but brand boss Yves Bonnefort knows it’s in for a long fight.
Speaking with the UK’s Auto Express this week, Bonnefort said the business has a 15-year strategy for setting DS apart as a brand in its own right. And a desireable one at that.
“When you look at the history of the car industry, anyone who has established a new brand has taken about this time to do it,” Bonnefort told Auto Express.
“You can also look at in another away: a typical product cycle in the car industry is seven years; 15 years is only two cycles.”
A key part of the DS strategy is technology and styling that is “ahead of the curve”, he said, adding that great products will have “your customers raise the profile of your brand”.
The luxury brand’s European line-up is set to double between now and 2020.
Bonnefort concedes that the brand will face a long fight in convincing buyers of its worth as a luxury offering.
“Look at other luxury industries and there is always a French brand among the top three or five in the world,” he told Auto Express.
“That is not the case in automotive - we are taking a bet that we can make this happen.”
We're unlikely to see any significant changes in Australia, however, over the short term.
Although the company has specified a need to grow the DS brand globally, the Australian market's small size and hugely competitive nature will make it a challenging project.
Bonnefort has expressed an interest in our premium market, however, highlighting its growth and profit potential. The new Mercedes-Benz C-Class, for example, now figures among Australia's 10 best-selling cars.
There are three DS models available in Australia right now - the same ranges that are offered in Europe, in fact, although without the extra-special 'DS 3 Racing' hot hatch.
At last year's Paris Motor Show, Bonnefort indicated that we can expect to see the DS brand's upcoming models in Australia, although it remains to be seen how that will play out.
Speaking with TMR today, Peugeot Australia's Tyson Bowen could say only that it's "too early to comment on rollout plans" for our market.
Given the segment's appeal here, however, an SUV model would likely be a shoo-in for Australia.
Mr Bowen also confirmed that local DS models will wear the same DS-badged face as their European counterparts.
"In time DS will gain it's own design identity, much like the new-look DS 5," he said.
The intention is that DS will target design and comfort, offering vehicles that are unique in the premium segment."
As for standalone DS dealerships, Citroen has a plan for 200 'megacities' around the world that will host new outlets. If that strategy includes Australia, we can likely expect Sydney and Melbourne to kick things off.
Just when we'll see DS cut the apron strings in Australia is unclear, but with Citroen moving to set its luxury offerings further apart in styling and intent, a local launch sometime before 2020 is likely.
"We will take our lead from DS in France who understand that to launch a new brand is a long term commitment, not an overnight change," Mr Bowen said.
"It will be a carefully planned and considered approach that will take many years."
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