Citroen is a very disruptive and quirky French brand. The DNA has been aggressively maintained right since Andre-Gustave Citroen set up his avant-garde automobile company a hundred years ago, through the years of Pierre-Jules Boulanger till today.
Citroen is not just a French automobile brand. It is actually far greater as an expression of the spirit of challenge and inventiveness that has defined French engineering and design over centuries. Then again, like most French engineering brands, it is fairly reclusive in its approach to sharing its story with the world at large. It leaves the talking to its products and word of mouth.
PSA Group [now called Stellantis, post its merger with FCA] took a clever call to introduce the Citroen brand in India after its third attempt at launching Peugeot did not work [the last was in 2011]. Indians do not know much about French automobile and engineering brands, leave about Citroen.
In fact, France is more associated with fashion, wine, cuisine, art, literature and movies than technology, engineering and things left-brain. We do not realise that brands like Airbus, Alcatel and Areva are French. The Rafale jet has done some good on that front in building awareness.
Citroen has been at the forefront of automobile engineering and design over its lifetime with the Traction Avant, DS, 2CV, Mehari and now the electric Ami. They have stretched boundaries with high-pressure hydraulics and aerodynamics. They have conquered all terrains with their half-track vehicles using the Kegresse system. Their vehicles have done robust duty in the inhospitable climes of Africa, Australia and South America. They have been present in the Chinese market since 1984 [a year after Suzuki came to India as Maruti Udyog].
They have manufacturing plants across the world, from Argentina, Brazil, Iran, Turkey, Russia, Japan, China and now to India. They have more than 90 wins in the World Rally Championships. They have not only thought outside the box. They have taken the box and redefined it many times over. The brand has used disruptive advertising right since Andre Citroen used the Eiffel Tower as an advertising medium from 1925 to 1934!
Citroens used to be sold in India too through an importer called French Motor Car Company set up in Kolkata [Calcutta] in 1905 by a French Armenian diamond merchant called Michel Sevadjian. As a piece of trivia, a Hindi movie on the famous Chittagong Armoury Raid of 1930 had a Traction Avant playing its role!
So, when such a brand announces they would be introducing electric and flex-fuel vehicles in the India portfolio, it comes as no surprise to me. Years of being in the Brazil market has given them the expertise in flex-fuel vehicles. The BioFlex solution has been perfected by PSA engineers over the years. In fact, Citroen introduced the C4 BioFlex in Europe in 2007 after being hugely successful in South America.
The electric Ami launched in June 2020 as a 2-seater quadricycle is a clear indication of their intentions of moving on to affordable cutting-edge mobility solutions. This is a well thought out two-pronged attack by the brand with the double chevron logo. It has already ruffled feathers and made the industry and media sit up and take notice.
Citroen is not the ‘typical’ French business organisation that is over-cautious and risk-averse. Andre Citroen always wanted to challenge convention and stand out as a rebel that the masses loved. That deep-down DNA remains…
(Avik Chattopadhyay is co-creator of Expereal India. Also, he is former head of marketing, product planning and PR at Volkswagen India. He was associated with Maruti Suzuki, Apollo Tyres and Groupe PSA as well)
(This article is the first part of the ‘Citroen’s Traction Inde‘ series. The next pieces of the puzzle will be made available in the coming weeks)
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