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Paris Auto Show 2014: An exclusive interview with Dacia

Dacia unveiled the Dokker and Lodgy Stepway in Paris.

* See the Full interview by clicking on the title, and all Paris Auto Show 2014 Reports here! *

This is the last part in my Paris Auto Show 2014 series of reports: an exclusive interview with Renaud Pirel, Renault Entry Range Sales & Marketing Director, and Frédéric Favre, Dacia Press Relations Manager. I have never hidden the fact that I am a big fan of Dacia’s brand strategy, that has enabled it to go from 0 to 5 million units sold in 10 years, still posting in 2014 the fastest growth rates of any mass brand in France and Europe. Being French but living in Australia since 12 years ago, I have witnessed the Dacia adventure from afar, getting a snapshot of its popularity in France every year I came back for a visit. An experience I have described in two successive articles: France August 2012: Dacia, king of the countryside and Nice hinterland September 2013: one Dacia in every tiny village.

This is the first time I get to speak with Dacia directly, and it was the most fruitful interview I conducted at the Paris Auto Show. I even got a very open answer to something that has puzzled me for a while: the lack of success of the Dokker LCV in France, and we reversed roles at the end when I got interviewed by Dacia about the potential success of the entry range in Australia. The full interview is below the jump.

The Stepway variant accounts for 2/3 of all Sanderos sold in Europe, 90% in Northern Africa.

BSCB: Automotive News Europe announced recently that the Dacia range was about to be streamlined, with either the Dokker, Logan MCV or Lodgy to be cancelled. Do you confirm?

Frédéric Favre: This is a huge misunderstanding, there is absolutely no intention to cancel any of the models you mentioned.

Renaud Pirel: Not only that, but we also keep investing and thinking about new ideas on each of these 3 models, so they are here to stay.

BSCB: Glad we cleared that one up. Dacia is up 21% in France and up 35% in Europe so far this year. What’s next?

Renaud Pirel: The sky is the limit! No to be perfectly honest, as a principle we never communicate market share or volume objectives for Dacia, only Group ones by our President. But before I address the ‘What’s next’ question, it’s worth taking stock of what’s happened in the decade that the brand has been commercialised in Europe – it launched in France in June 2005 – because a lot of elements that will form our future lie in our foundations. In short, I believe the explosive growth rates we have consistently achieved over that period come from our capacity to always remain in touch with our customers.

The adventure started with the Logan, which wasn’t originally designed for Western European markets let alone France (BSCB note: C-segment sedans are all but dead in French sales charts). The extension of the Dacia range into other segments has always been decided based on customer feedback. The first Logan customers bought into the idea of a new, very simple car with a 3 year-warranty as an alternative to a similarly-sized 2-3 year-old used vehicle often without a manufacturer warranty beyond the few months required by law. On this foundation, we have managed to build the Dacia brand.

The 6th annual Dacia picnic attracted 14.000 Dacia owners in France last June.

Understanding our customers is paramount because they are not the same customers that we were used to dealing with through Renault. They belong to the used-vehicle universe, and we realised that as car manufacturers we actually didn’t have much information about this type of customers. So when we tested their interest for this type of products with the Logan, these customers were actually surprised that a car manufacturer would be willing to communicate with them, they were not used to that. So they weren’t shy in talking with us and we received a huge amount of feedback that we were able to utilise to grow the brand. Based on this, we rapidly launched the 7-seat Logan MCV, then the Sandero, Duster, Lodgy and Dokker.

Full interview below.

Paris Auto Show 2014: Has Renault lost its mojo?

Renault Espace

The Paris Auto Show was the first motor show in the world, established in 1898 by industry pioneer Albert de Dion. This is where French manufacturers are expected to shine, surprise and revolutionise the automotive world. In 1922, an astounding 81 French automobile makers were exhibited at the Show.

Renault Twingo

As the #1 French manufacturer for the past 70 years, Renault has used the Show in the past to make big noise about new and upcoming models. From the 1947 Paris Motor Show where Renault unveiled the first mass-produced French car, the Renault 4CV, to the 1992 Show where it stunned the automotive world by revealing the Twingo which would go on to achieve legendary success for the brand, and 2002 when the doomed yet prestigious Vel Satis was unveiled.

Renault Espace interior, featuring incredibly cramped and windowless third row seats.

In this context, Renault’s efforts at this year’s Paris Auto Show have left me frankly unsatisfied and a little worried. All Renault’s energy at the inaugural press conference on the first press day was spent talking up the new generation Espace, granted a paramount nameplate for the brand, but with very little sales power. Worse, the world class smarts the first generations Espace showcased have all but disappeared to give way to an SUV-esque silhouette with pretentious interior and ridiculously cramped third row seats. Is Renault starting to take itself too seriously?

Renault Twingo

The Espace wasn’t exactly new news as its design and most features were known well before the Paris Auto Show, yet it took complete centre stage at Renault’s stand with no less than 10 examples displayed. The other star model on the Renault stand wasn’t new either: the third generation Twingo had been unveiled in Geneva last March and had already hit French roads (#8 in September). Yet there were 7 of them on the stand. Although I have to say I do like the colour-changing light balls hanging from the ceiling that have become Renault’s trademark over the past few international Auto…

Renault Eolab Concept

Paris Auto Show 2014: The 20 things to remember

1. Lamborghini Huracan

* See the Full Photo Report by clicking on the title and all other Paris 2014 Reports here *

The Paris Auto Show 2014 just closed its doors on Sunday and was another tremendous success at over 1.2 million visitors. There is one more interview I will share with you very shortly, but until then here are my Top 20 highlights of the show outside of French manufacturers, covered separately. Completely subjective highlights based on design, new finds, stand layouts, and my overall experience there compared to the expectations I may have had before coming in.

My first highlight is the Lamborghini stand. Whether it be in Frankfurt, Geneva, Beijing or here in Paris, Lamborghini has brought a consistently prestigious flair into every Show I’ve had the privilege to attend. The Volkswagen-owned Italian marque comes up with new vehicles each time to ensure they make news, models look sexy, somewhat out-of-reach in a playful way and always ravishingly, glamourously and enticingly expensive. I can’t wait for the next Show.

2. Delicious: the Mini Superleggera Vision

Not a World Premiere but what a delightful vision indeed. The line “British Born, Italian tailored” fits this speedster concept that I would love to see produced to the tee. Every detail is spot on, including the rear lights in the shape of English flags and the Como Blue paint that screams “take me on a tour round Lake Como”. Ready when you are Superleggera.

3. Volkswagen XL Sport

I had not been a great fan of the VW XL1, another awkward-looking car sacrificing beautiful design for fuel efficiency. Now eating my words with this sublime XL Sport, with the added guts of placing a 1,199cc V-twin motorcycle engine used in the Ducati 1199 Superlegerra, a donation facilitated by the acquisition of Ducati by Volkswagen in 2012. I love how Volkswagen generates and advertises synergies between its stable of brands.

4. Maserati Alfieri Concept

Although it was already present at the Geneva Auto Show earlier this year, I am not getting tired of the Maserati Alfieri Concept’s muzzle. Never had a white shark with a gaping mouth looked so good at an Auto Show.

5. Toyota iRoad

Toyota reserved a surprisingly large section of its stand to its Personal Mobility Vehicle, the iRoad. A clear message here that the Japanese manufacturer wants us to take this new type of vehicle it came up with with the utmost seriousness. Noted.

6. Opel stand

Right in the middle of a controversial kill of the Chevrolet brand in Europe, General Motors is now putting all its energy into the Opel brand and sent a strong signal this year at the Paris Auto Show. Its stand was much larger than I expected, vibrant, pumping with music while managing a dark, cocktail bar look that conveyed a classy image contrasting with the current perception of the brand most European consumers have. Opel is back and wants you to know it.

7. Tesla stand

One year ago at the Frankfurt Auto Show, the single Press rep at the minuscule Tesla stand confided in me with bright shiny eyes that the Model S had just topped the overall sales charts in Norway. This would end up happening a couple more times over the following 6 months. In Paris, small Tesla is becoming big with a full-scale stand that was more than holding its own against the industry’s traditional behemoths. Always heart-warming to see a brand jumping leaps and bounds towards mass success.

8. Jeep Renegade interior: a good mix of tradition and playfulness
9. Lexus NX interior: as convoluted as its silhouette
10. Only for the fans: Mini interior  11. Fresh but Chinese-flimsy: the Smart ForFour

8-11. Interiors.
I am particularly picky on car interiors, and the Paris Auto Show proved this once again. Only one new interior made me really happy: the Jeep Renegade’s. I liked the mix of tradition (“Since 1941”), typically-Jeep shapes, playful colour mix and down-to-earthness. I can see myself driving this little beauty for days on end through the Australian Outback…
When the first pictures of the Lexus NX popped up on the internet I thought it was all a joke. Just as my eye is slowly getting used to its bleedingly sharp angular silhouette, an overly convoluted, button-heavy interior is ruining everything…
I don’t mind the new Mini 5 door, but as for the standard Mini its dashboard looks unbelievably un-driverfriendly and actually unsafe to keep track of while driving.
Let’s finish on a particularly cringe-worthy experience all-round: the Smart ForFour. Here again exterior design is to me a massive improvement on the first generation. But why oh why do the doors sound like they will remain stuck in your hand if you slam them too hard, and everything on the dashboard, although very fresh-looking, feels like it could get broken off by a vigorous slap? We’re not in China, Smart.

12. Nissan iDX Freeflow Concept

Not a new concept once again but I am absolutely loving the retro-future design and dual colours. I want one. Now.

13. Dongfeng / Giotti Victoria Gladiator

This was a very interesting find at the Show. Did you know that the Dongfeng mini pick-up was assembled under licence in Italy under the name Giotti Victoria Gladiator? More, that it is imported and commercialised in France by a company called MAM Strager (), selling around 100 units per year mainly in semi-rural areas of the south half of France like Le Creusot? Now you do. It doesn’t appear in official stats likely because MAM Strager doesn’t have official connections with the AAA and CCFA which record new car sales in France…

The next highlights are below.

Paris Auto Show 2014: Top 10 Best of Cars & Fashion exhibition

The Cars and Fashion exhibition was on as part of the Paris Auto Show 2014, displaying some pretty spectacular models. My 10 favourites are featured below.

1. Alfa Romeo Montreal Coupé Bertone

This Coupé is based on a prototype designed by Marcello Gandini (who also designed the Lamborghini Miura), while he was working with Bertone. The prototype was exhibited at the Montreal Universal Exhibition in 1967, with the objective being to create and exhibit “La massima aspiration dell’uomo in fatto di automobili”, man’s highest aspiration in the matter of automobile. Bringing this prototype into production ended up being more difficult than expected and had to wait until the 1971 Model Year. 3.925 were produced between December 1970 and July 1974 and the Coupé Bertone was sold until 1977. It remains one of the most beautiful Italian coupés of the seventies.

2. Maserati Boomerang Concept Car Ital-Design

Giorgetto Giugiaro founds Ital Design in 1968 and presents the Maserati Boomerang in 1971, one of the sassiest concepts of Maserati’s entire history. The Boomerang features a cutting or even bleeding-edge line, anticipating a few years early what would end up being Maserati’s style over the second half of the seventies. The future continues inside with an ultra-modern dashboard that features all instruments grouped inside the steering wheel which literately revolves around the meters.

3. Mercedes-Benz C111-II

The Mercedes C111 was unveiled at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September 1969. This “research-car” intrigued at the time, mainly because of its “cornered” lines pushed to the extreme, its scissor doors, incredible metallic orange paint and body made of glass fiber reinforced plastic. 6 months later at the 1970 Geneva Auto Show, a reworked version, called C111-II was unveiled. It featured a larger boot and quad rotor engine. A total of 14 examples were manufactured between 1969 and 1979, including 6 C111-II, but this model was never commercialised.

4. Alfa Romeo Carabo

The Alfa Romeo Carabo was designed by Marcello Gandini and presented by Bertone in 1968. It marked a brutal severance from the curvy and voluptuous lines that were fashionable at the time. With its irised green colour and golden windshield, the Carabo clearly evokes a beetle – especially with its outstretched hydraulically-assisted revolving doors, hence its name referring to a kind of scarab. This prototype was created in record time, despite the technical challenges posed by an extremely fragile windshield composed of two leafs of glass sandwiching a thin gold leaf.

Unveiled at the Bertone stand at the 1968 Paris Auto Show, the Carabo is a real shock for many visitors, but the warm welcome it received had Alfa Romeo trust Bertone once again for a new V8 Coupé: the Montreal (see above). By imposing its brutal and cuneiform design, the Alfa Romeo Carabo, a strange concept car with psychedelic colours remains, almost 50 years after its creation, one of the most important milestones in the history of automobile design.

5. Renault Alpine A310

At the same time the successor of the twice World Rally Car champion Renault Alpine A110 and aimed at competing with Porsche, the Renault Alpine A310 had a tough task ahead when it launched in 1971. The A310 had a more aggressive look than the A110 with its tight line and 6 headlamps, but was however destined more to gentlemen-drivers than pure rallymen. The interior now sports carpet, is a lot more comfortable than the A110 and its features are much richer. The car is much heavier too at an additional 200kg which will attract criticism from the press, handicapping the car’s supposedly sporty status.

6. Peugeot 402 Eclipse

Invented by amateur designer Georges Paulin, the retractable roof first appeared on the 1934 Peugeot 401, the first car series in the entire world to feature this system. The Peugeot 402 offers a ‘Coach’ version with retractable roof called Eclipse as soon as its launch in 1935. 580 examples would be produced between 1935 and 1941.

7. Renault Juvaquatre Fourgonette

The Renault Juvaquatre is Renault’s first frameless vehicle and was born before World War II. It is also the first Renault to be produced when the brand’s Billancourt factory was rebooted after the war. This vehicle is the symbol of a time when France was lacking everything and most of all cars. It was purchased as humble help for a flurry of small crafts (boulanger, plumber, deliveryman) but was also used as improvised family car, making it the ancestor to the current Renault Kangoo.

8. Citroen SM Carburateur

Aerodynamic, fast and nervous but also comfortable, enjoyable to drive with exemplary handling, the Citroen SM, introduced at the 1970 Geneva Auto Show, is one of the most prestigious cars in the history of automobile. It is the result of a collaboration between Citroen and Maserati (for the engine), this FWD model introduces the notion of “Grand Tourism”, enabling high speed driving at a security levels previously unknown for a series car.

9. Prototype Courrèges Bulle

10. Renault 4 Parisienne

Paris Auto Show 2014: Citroen flexing its muscles as the new pragmatic brand in the PSA Group

Citroen C4 Cactus at the Paris Auto Show

* See the Full interview by clicking on the title and all Paris Auto Show 2014 reports here *

After DS and Peugeot, we now explore the third brand of the PSA Group, Citroen, at the Paris Auto Show 2014. A lot less activity on the Citroen stand than say at Peugeot or Renault, but the second part of 2014 has seen the launch of the C4 Cactus progressively in Europe (France and Spain first, then the rest of the continent) and a continuous flow of new models in China including the C3-XR unveiled at the Citroen C42 flagship store on the Champs Elysées just before the Auto Show, a model that will not be sold in France and wasn’t present on the Citroen stand.  I had the privilege to interview Julien Montarnal, Citroen Director of Marketing, Communication & Sport, who struck me as particularly down-to-earth, approachable and articulate, a rare enough feat for a high level French businessman (or should I say French person full stop…). This makes him the perfect fit for the brand’s repositioning.

Citroen C4 Cactus airbumps detail

BSCB: One year ago you announced the repositioning of the Citroen brand within the PSA-Peugeot Citroen Group. What are the first results?

Julien Montarnal: The results of this repositioning can be seen on our stand here at the Paris Auto Show. Our credo is creative technologie at the service of wellbeing. By wellbeing I mean comfortable, in a physical sense but also in the sense of proposing a customer experience that is light and stress-free. Our new products the C1 and C4 Cactus are very representative of what we want to put forward for the Citroen brand. What is creativity, technology at the service of wellbeing for us? Creativity is design. A Citroen has to be recognisable, visible, it’s in our DNA. The C4 Cactus is a good example: it makes heads turn on the street and that doesn’t happen often. The C1 as well is now much more differentiated from its cousins than it was with the first generation. Secondly the technology. We always have and always will inject new technology in our models but now we are focusing on truly helpful technology and offering concrete, pragmatic and positive solutions to make your life easier. Here too the C4 Cactus is a good example with its airbumps. The first thing we do when we buy a new iPhone is buy a cover for it – although I see you haven’t done that…

Full interview below.

Paris Auto Show 2014: Next generation Peugeot 2008 could outsell 208 in France

Peugeot 2008 at the Paris Auto Show 2014

* See the Full interview by clicking on the title! *

After DS, I can now share with you an interview I had the privilege to conduct with Marc Bocqué, World Press and External Relation Manager for Peugeot. I last interviewed Marc at the Frankfurt Auto Show exactly one year ago, and a lot has happened since, notably the tremendous success of the Peugeot 2008 in Europe. The entire interview can be found below the jump. Enjoy!

Original “Bombardier” Peugeot 205 GTi TV advertising and the 208 GTi 30th anniversary reboot.

BSCB: When we last spoke in Frankfurt one year ago, you were launching both the 2008 and the new generation 308. Positive results since then?

Marc Bocqué: Absolutely, we have had remarkable results. Roughly one year after its launch, the 200,000th 2008 has just come out of our assembly plants (BSCB note: let’s make it 200,800th for the fun of it). I’m not afraid to say it: it is a considerable success, way beyond what we were hoping for. The car has a true personality and a lot of differentiating elements, and the public has understood the message we have sent with the 2008. I think the vehicle has its own merits, but beyond that we also had the luck on one hand and the vision on the other hand to launch an urban SUV at a time where there is a relatively quick de-sedan-isation (BSCB note: in French de-berlinisation) of all segments in the market. This silhouette made for people who live in the city and like the city but also like to go outdoors during the weekend with a car that has a more adventurer look has really struck a chord.

Peugeot Quartz Concept Car

BSCB: At the same time the 208 is starting to lose quite significant ground in Europe – less so in France, has the 2008 been cannibalising the 208 as opposed to the Renault Captur which has not dented into Clio sales?

(Full interview below)

Paris Auto Show 2014: DS range will be solely SUV and sedans.

DS Divine Concept Car

The Paris Auto Show kicked off a little over a week ago. I had the privilege to attend it and interview marketing reps from most French manufacturers. This is the first in a series of articles dedicated to the Paris Auto Show. We start with DS, since last June a stand-alone upscale brand aimed at topping off PSA/Peugeot-Citroen’s range. Since its launch in 2010 as a sub-brand of Citroen, DS sold 500,000 vehicles, 90% of which in Europe, but its European sales have started plateauing in the absence of any new model launch. PSA has advertised the brand’s aggressive launch in China where the DS5 along with two China-only models, the DS5 LS and DS6 SUV, are currently produced.

The DS6 SUV just launched in China.

As I detailed in my STRATEGY series “What future for French manufacturers?”, turning DS a stand-alone brand makes strategic sense, but a very consistent and aggressive marketing, engineering and R&D push will be required in the long run to have any chance at seriously competing with Audi, Mercedes and BMW – a long-term goal for the DS brand. I interviewed Arnaud Ribault, the new Global Sales and Marketing Vice President for the DS brand, previously DS General Manager in China. Surprise, what started as a rather standard conversation about the sales performance and future prospects of the DS brand rapidly turned into a bewildering and quite amusing game of reading-between-the-lines guess work, with two main pieces of information somewhat contradicted by DS CEO Yves Bonnefont…

It would appear the DS 3 will be killed in its current form to become a small SUV.

Extracts of the interview translated from French into English below.


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