Paul Barker grabs a cuppa and a chat with one of fleet’s most influential figures – PSA Group fleet and used vehicle director, Martin Gurney
It was a busy 2018 full of new product for Martin Gurney, whose role is to head the fleet operation for the three French PSA Group brands – Citroen, DS and Peugeot.
QSum up 2018 across the three brands you’re responsible for
From our perspective, it’s been a very satisfactory year. We’re on, and continue to be on, a significant period of product renewal so as you can imagine most of last year was spent launching DS 7 Crossback, continuing to bed in Peugeot 3008 and 5008, which are obviously still new products, and continuing to bed in new Citroen C3 Aircross and new C4 Cactus. Then towards the back end of the year new Berlingo car and van, Peugeot Rifter, which has proved phenomenally successful since launch, and the new Partner van.
PSA GROUP: ON AN EV CHARGE
The big news in the second half of the year from the PSA Group is the moves into electrification, starting with the biggest launch of the year in volume terms, the new 208, coming with an electric version as part of the range.
The premium DS brand gets a plug-in hybrid DS 7 Crossback and full electric version of the new DS 3 Crossback before the end of this year, both under the brand’s E-Tense banner, and Peugeot will also launch plug-in hybrid versions of the 3008 and 508 fastback and SW models early next year. Not long afterwards will come Citroen’s first PHEV, when the C5 Aircross is fitted with the technology, and by 2025 all Citroens will have an electrified option.
Peugeot has stated that by 2023 every one of its cars will be available with either an electric or plug-in powertrain. “In terms of the Peugeot range going forward, you buy your Peugeot and then choose your powertrain,” said a Peugeot spokesman. “The 208 will be the first car launched with diesel, petrol and fully electric. We’re not going to build [specific] electric cars, our cars will all be compatible with plug-in or electric technology.”
From 2025, all new DS models will be exclusively plug-in, either PHEV or full electric, and prior to that date, all of what will eventually be a six-model line-up will be offered with a plug-in alternative.
QHow were sales across the three brands over the course of last year?
In terms of the numbers, we’ve talked a lot in the past about our desire to grow our sustainable business and cleanse some of the less desirable tactical shorter-cycle business as we continue to grow, and we did that again last year. Across cars and vans, Peugeot grew a tiny bit in a market down 6.8% and Citroen was down 5.8% in a market down 6.8%, but that really doesn’t do justice to the progress we’ve made. Citroen sales to true 50+ fleets were up just over 6% in a market down 6.8%, and Peugeot up nearly 5%. Where we slipped back to offset some of that growth was in those less desirable sub-segments of the market. Plus, at the last count we had added 220 new 50+ customers to our book last year.
QAnd next up is establishing the new 508 in what is a quite tricky upper medium marketplace under pressure from the move towards SUVs?
There is definitely a place for people who are either not interested in an SUV or have had an SUV and preferred the driving characteristics and styling of a D-segment vehicle.
It’s about having a credible and interesting alternative if you don’t particularly want an SUV, and to look at the saloons that are on offer at the minute, having something that is so visibly different and enticing is undoubtedly going to create lots of interest.
The 508 has got cracking residual values, the like of which we’ve not seen on a French D-segment saloon before. It’s extremely well-positioned from a cost-of-ownership perspective, right up there with the best in the marketplace. There’s also a sub-100g/km WLTP model if you’re going for the Allure diesel automatic, so everything is right and we’re not going to ruin that fantastic proposition by overtrading on that car.
QThen Citroen is about to fill a big gap in its range. How important is the new C5 Aircross?
Citroen is the last of our family of brands to join that C-segment SUV. So again in a similar vein to the Peugeot 508, it gives us a great opportunity to generate some renewed interest in the Citroen brand. We had a slower start to last year with Citroen but we started to see interest in and orders of new C3 Aircross accelerate as we moved through the year; it was the same for revised C4 Cactus. So, C5 Aircross is coming at the perfect time for us to capitalise on what is now a well-established C-segment SUV market with a vehicle that is arguably a little bit different in terms of Citroen advanced comfort and all the things that the Citroen range brings to the party.
We’ve done extremely well in terms of the job-need requirement and public sector with C3 Aircross and new C4 Cactus, but the C5 Aircross gives us a whole new level of opportunity because it sits right in the sweet spot of the market at the minute.
PEUGEOT 205 GTI 1.9
I never owned one but wish I had: 130bhp in a car with kerb weight of less than 900 kg! The closest I got was my first car, a 205 Style 1.8 diesel with a thunderous 59bhp.
CITROEN C5 AIRCROSS
Hard on the heels of the Peugeot 3008 and DS 7 Crossback, Citroen is the latest of our brands to offer something really special in the C-SUV segment. This new flagship model is all about stand-out design and Citroen Advanced Comfort.
DS 3 CROSSBACK E-TENSE
The all-electric E-Tense will be here this year, with top-end features and a stylish appearance, which are sure to generate huge interest.
QWith the rapid moves towards electric, where does that leave you on diesel?
We’re still extremely positive proponents of diesel, and particularly new diesels as a technology. The current demonisation of diesel, particularly with regard to Euro6.2, is inappropriate; we still find there are fleet customers out there that are making the wrong choices about the vehicles they run because they’re worried, and understandably so, about Government policy and what might happen to diesel-engined vehicles from a residual-value perspective.
I was looking at the NOx emissions of the 508 range and in some cases we’ve got diesel engines with lower NOx emissions than the comparable petrol. At some point, there has got to be some sort of recognition that not only have we got to do what’s right for public health but we have got to do what’s right for the environment, and a low-CO2 strategy is exceptionally important.
So I don’t beat the diesel drum because we’ve got lots of diesel that we must sell, I beat the diesel drum because I think for the environment, and for public health, it’s the right thing to do in many applications, and the short-term demonisation of diesel is not doing anyone any favours at all.
QAre people understanding the DS brand yet, and how much work is there in getting people to recognise that DS even exists and what it stands for?
Awareness is definitely the biggest challenge we face. We’ve over-invested significantly in terms of DS 7 Crossback fleet demonstrators, for one example, to get the car out there with our customers and prospects. The feedback we get on the product is fantastic, when people have experienced it. But because we’ve said we’re not going to put loads of these vehicles on the roads and risk distressing it, the challenge remains awareness.
We’re building a new brand from scratch and the things we’re not going to do are push hard, overtrade or seek to achieve a number that’s written on a piece of paper just for the sake of it. We’re in it for the long-term, we’re five years into a 30-year journey and absolutely determined not to undermine any of that longer-term opportunity by doing things in the shorter term.
PSA Group’s 2019 market prospects
“With all of the exciting stuff going on with new models launched and to be launched, we’re pretty confident about this year. We think the market is going to decline a bit, whether that is by 2% or 10% who knows, but we think the market will be under a little bit of pressure. I see within that context modest growth for us. Assuming we have a soft Brexit of course…”