Kris Cholmondeley has spent 15 years with the PSA Groupe, joining initially as an undergraduate before holding a series of roles, for eight years with Peugeot then the past six with Citroen. He took his current position last summer, concentrating on the small business sales network of 65 dealers and increasing business sales to SMEs across the whole dealer network.
QHow is the new role going, having taken over from Jeremy Smith, who had been doing it for the previous four years?
It’s going well. As a fresh set of eyes, it was a great opportunity for me to come in and give that fresh impetus, and also at a time when we are becoming a bit more medium-term in our outlook and planning. I think if we’re honest and we look back, our car sales had historically – in line with the industry – been driven by a little bit too much short-cycle and tactical business. We’ve made the bold and brave decision that we don’t want market share at the cost that brings. So we’re going through very much a transition period where we don’t want that short cycle business, and we do 80-90% two-to-three-year business with an eye on protecting residual values in the medium term. That will drive more retail business but, just as importantly, will drive more fleet business and the platform for the business model for the next four years.
NEXT UP: CITROEN C5 AIRCROSS
Citroen and DS head of business sales Kris Cholmondeley describes Citroen’s next all-new model as “hugely, hugely important”, with the new C5 Aircross crossover arriving on UK roads by the beginning of 2019. “You look at the product and it’s one of the reasons I love working for the Citroen brand, because in an industry that is becoming increasingly homogeneous, Citroen has gone back to its core strength brand values and is about being a little bit different,” he tells Company Car Today.
“The competition is increasingly fierce, but they all look the same. And that’s not to be dismissive of the competition, but more to talk of what makes us unique. And more importantly for me as well, it’s the start of the next 5-10 years. If we’re honest we would have liked that product five or six years ago, but it’s very much reflective about where we are versus where we were as a brand, the investment we’re now making in product and what we’ve got for the next five-10 years,” he declares. “We will have the strongest product line-up over the next 2, 3, 5 years, so that’s what really excites me looking beyond even C5 Aircross.”
QFrom a fleet perspective, how are sales, and where are the strengths across the range?
With C3 we have to control how many we sell because we could sell one-and-a-half times that many and again it’s resisting that itch for the medium-term management and getting that balance of sales; so C3 has been a success. And C3 Aircross is our current opportunity. In terms of retail, that’s gone very well, but being candid, it’s been about changing the network’s attitude because they’ve been so successful at selling vans, and they’ve been used to having offers that you can take orders from, so getting them to identify new ways of going to market and do so with confidence is something we need to translate to C3 and C3 Aircross.
And then of course I look forward being able to talk in the future about the success of DS7 Crossback, which has literally just come out, so it’s very much early days.
QWhere is DS as a brand, and where would you like it to be?
It’s at a hugely exciting point. It’s off the back of four years’ hard work, and we’re at the point where we’re moving to its network being fully separated in June. By that I mean our 175 Citroen DS dealers will only be able to sell Citroen, and then we’ll have our unique DS network.
The second key point is that we’ve just launched our first new-generation product in the form of DS7 Crossback, which is the first real statement of what we think DS luxury and French luxury should be in the automotive market. So it’s a period of huge excitement where the foundations have been built, and we then have the next new product coming later in the year; it will be on sale the start of next year. That will turn people’s heads in a big way.
The challenge we’ve got in the real world is transforming people’s opinion of the brand; there’s a mixture of ambition that we need to have but we very much recognise that it’s not an overnight journey.
QHow are people responding to the brand – do they know it, do they not yet see it at the same level as the premium German brands? How does it sit?
The reality is that we still have a huge job to do with awareness, but that will come as we build our network rapidly through this year. We’ve currently got 25, we’ll be over 50 by the end of the year, and what I can say with absolute confidence is the network we’re building and the set-up that you go into, you will get a wowed experience. So people that are immersing themselves in the brand; they get it, they’re buying in, in terms of the journey, the service we’re offering, the products. We just need to increase the awareness. So awareness is definitely the biggest challenge. But again it’s to be expected.
QHow do you counter that, apart from the new independent showrooms? How do you build that awareness in terms of the company car market? Presumably you have fairly modest fleet goals?
I agree that we have relatively modest ambitions yes, certainly relative to the market opportunity. What we want to do with DS is we’re not chasing volume, we’re chasing quality. That’s why we’re absolutely keen to lay the foundations for the 30-year ambition for the brand in the way that we sell today. It would be very easy indeed to flood the marketplace with cars on the road and try and to chase that customer awareness too quickly. What we’re absolutely not going to do is put cars on the road through the wrong channels with high discounts, just to get cars on the road. Our plans are very much about quality and word-of-mouth.
QWhere do you want to build the brand towards?
I’ll ask the question rather than make a statement because I don’t want to be arrogant – to what extent is German luxury any more? And also, to what extent are German offerings seen as premium when they have such high market share and therefore so many on the roads?
All the research we’ve done before taking this commercial decision and all the customers I have spoken to, they want something different, they want something that is unique but which still delivers across all the pillars. So I think it’s about exploiting that opportunity, about doing things better in terms of customer service and differently rather than simply following the Germans. Also, it’s about really highlighting our credibility in terms of the luxury market. There’s this awful bias within the industry about French cars. The DS7 Crossback proves it’s nonsense, so we can myth-bust that, but when you step back and look at the world’s top 5 luxury brands, three of them are French – Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Chanel.
QBut the industry is not renowned for being patient with long-term evolution. Will the patience still be there a decade down the line if you’re at the same sort of level as Lexus, or is there a growth curve that will see you become more mainstream?
I would say we want to be more niche than the Germans, we don’t want that market share. We want to deliver French luxury and we don’t think that’s done through volume. Through its very nature of being niche and premium, there has to be a limited volume because that’s what creates the desire.
But there will be a full range of vehicles in the not-too-distant future; I’ve had the privilege of seeing them and that’s why I can stand before you so confident, because it is a different proposition.
Citroen’s comfortable direction
It’s asking rational questions and daring to be different. What do you really need from a car, how long do you spend driving long journeys, especially as a business user? How many people in your company and management have bad backs? I think it’s a very smart move the way we’re going with the focus on comfort.