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Citroen 'lost its way', says CEO

Citroen's CEO has made it clear that Citroen’s brand identity has regained its strength, even if the product range has morphed from a hatch-heavy line-up to SUVs.

French brand Citroen “lost its way” in recent times, according to the brand’s CEO, Linda Jackson.

Ms Jackson made the comments while speaking frankly with Australian media at the 2018 Paris motor show, where she discussed the company’s plans to celebrate its centenary year in 2019, including relaunching the Citroen brand in Australia with a range of new products.

Ms Jackson made it clear that Citroen’s brand identity has regained its strength, even if the product range has morphed from a once hatch and sedan-heavy line-up to a more SUV-strong array of models - that’s where the buyers are, after all.

But even with a couple of SUV models - the C3 Aircross and all-new C5 Aircross - as well as the regular C3 (which is almost SUV-like itself) and the genre-bending C4 Cactus, there’s a level of distinction and individuality on show.

“When we tried to be like everybody else, it was our least successful [time],” Jackson says of years gone by. "When we try to be different, which is what we’re trying to do with the brand now, we will be successful. And we are being successful, our results are giving us that growth."

Ms Jackson made reference to the brand’s plan to up its sales from 1.1 million in 2017 to 1.6 million in 2020, and the way that will be achievable doesn’t just mean adding new cars, but adding market depth where the brand already exists with its ‘modern, fresh and disruptive’ model range.

“I don’t just do that by replacing vehicles - I’ve got to get much stronger in all of my markets,” Jackson said, before referring directly to what needs to be done in Australia in order for the brand to make a real go of things.

For some context, Citroen has been in the doldrums in Australia since 2007. In that year, the company managed 3803 sales - less than the Toyota Corolla regularly does in a single calendar month. And the numbers have been in decline ever since, with 2017 resulting in an almost embarrassing 735 vehicle sales.

Jackson has a plan, and as you might have guessed, it has a lot to do with offering cars that people actually want to buy.

“First of all we need to have the right vehicles that are relevant to the Australian market, and I would say that's SUVs - the C3 Aircross and C5 Aircross - we tick the box for relevance.

“I think we’ve got something different to offer with our SUVs - they’re like MPVs inside, and they give the best of both worlds,” Jackson claimed.

“We are really working on increasing the awareness of Citroen, but also increasing the quality, and that’s both the quality of products and the quality of service. That’s something we’re working on that’s very important - we have to make sure that when we launch the vehicles we do it in the best possible way, the vehicles are of the best quality, and we’ve got the after sales service to be able to support that.

“I’m not stupid - I know that in the past we may have had problems in terms of quality and what have you - you have to be honest with yourself. We need to make sure that when we launch the new models we have the best possibility to prove we have quality vehicles and quality service.”

Citroen has introduced a sort-of Trip Advisor app for its after sales program, known as Citroen Advisor. It works to allow customers to complain about issues and express their opinions about experiences with Citroen service centres. Then the brand works to “re-satisfy the customer”, as Jackson put it.

“If we make a mistake and we can correct it, and we can re-satisfy our customers, that’s the most important thing. It’s about treating the customer like you’d like to be treated. We need to address it.

“I could have the most fantastic cars. But if I don’t have the quality and the right customer experience, I’m dead,” she said.

Do you think Citroen can get it right this time around? Tell us what you think in the comments below.