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Market Insight: French brands not surrendering

Brand recognition no barrier to BEV sales, could benefit struggling French car brands

11 Sep 2023

IT HAS been a tough decade for Peugeot and Citroen in Australia, with sales respectively plummeting 59 per cent and 83 per cent during that time and salt rubbed into the wound by Spanish newcomer Cupra, which so far this year is outselling both French brands combined.


With just four models on the Australian market, Cupra’s 2109 deliveries year-to-date outstrip the combined total of Citroen’s 164 units – divided between four models – and Peugeot’s 1649 sales – across six passenger and three commercial offerings – by more than 16 per cent.


Quasi-European electric-only brand Polestar, with just one model on the market, is also ahead of Peugeot by 29 units year to date. Both Cupra and Polestar only launched in Australia last year and both have taken a digital-first approach to sales rather than the traditional dealership model.


Against these upstart brands, it seems provenance counts for very little among Australian buyers, for whom brand recognition for both Peugeot and Citroen is low, potentially due to both brands having been variously represented here by three different independent importers – Ateco, Sime Darby and now Inchcape Australasia – in the past 10 years.


This is despite Citroen having the longest continual presence of any car brand in Australia – the first model was privately imported 100 years ago – and Peugeot proving its worth Down Under with victory in the 1953 Redex Round-Australia Trial followed by a win at the 1956 Ampol Trial.


Homologating and marketing 13 different models across two brands in Australia represents a significant overhead for Inchcape, especially compared to its other car brand Subaru which has notched up almost 31,000 sales YTD across just six models (not including the outgoing XV small SUV that was replaced by the Crosstrek in May).


Despite this, Inchcape executives at the recent e-2008 electric small SUV launch in Sydney were emphatic that representing the two French brands remained worthwhile for the importer.


They agreed that the willingness of Australians to embrace new or lesser-known brands in pursuit of electrified options – three of Cupra’s four models are available as a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) or are a dedicated battery electric vehicle (BEV) while Polestar is BEV-only – presented an opportunity for Peugeot and Citroen.


Peugeot Citroen Australia managing director Kate Gillis told GoAuto the phenomenon of these successful new brands was related to “the disruptive nature of what electrification is in this market of people who are trying to understand and do their own research and discovery to determine what is the best choice”.


As well as the recently launched Peugeot e-Partner small electric van and this month’s arrival of the e-2008, the brand will next year add the e-Expert medium electric van and e-208 electric light hatchback.


Peugeot began introducing PHEVs last year with the 3008 medium SUV and 508 mid-size passenger car – the latter line-up recently made PHEV-only with the addition of electrification to the wagon variant – and the arrival of a PHEV flagship for the 308 small hatch in March will be complemented by the PHEV-only 408 crossover in 2024.


From Citroen, the C5 X PHEV has just made its Australian public debut ahead of initial deliveries in the first half of 2024, while Inchcape reps coyly suggested more electrified Citroens could be in the pipeline.


Among the choices currently available overseas, the C4 crossover is available with the same electric drivetrain as the e-2008 for example, although Ms Gillis did imply that more electric vehicles are in development globally for potential launch in Australia.


Ms Gillis agreed that building a greater electrified vehicle offering will aid Peugeot in building brand recognition, awareness, and a stronger presence in the Australian market.


Inchcape Australia national corporate affairs and public relations manager Chloe Fraser added that Peugeot's responsiveness to consumers by bringing electrified options to market had been positively received.


Asked whether anything could be learnt from the success of brands like Cupra and Polestar that have swept in and outsold Peugeot and Citroen, both Ms Gillis and Ms Fraser said they would be very much staying in their lane.


“If we were to do something different to what we're doing now – and what we're doing is very much focusing on our customers both new and retained – then it wouldn't be authentic as a brand,” explained Ms Gillis.


“I'm not going to look over the fence and go, ‘we should have done that’. What we've done has been based on how we bring this brand to market to satisfy the needs of our customers.”


Ms Fraser added that neither Peugeot nor Citroen ever “aspired to be mass-market brands” in Australia, pointing to the large number of makes and models available here and that “not everyone can be in the top 10”.


“There will always be a Peugeot and Citroen customer in Australia and that is what we are here to do – to serve them.”

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