‘We are not going into India to come back out again.’

Our aim is to grow volumes from 1 million to 1.5 million units by 2021-22, says Citroen’s chief executive officer

French auto major Citroen, which is scheduled to make its India entry next year with its SUV, C5 Aircross, plans to launch one new vehicle every year in the Indian market. While aiming to increase the annual sales from the current one million to 1.5 million globally, Citroen CEO Linda Jackson expects India to become one of the key markets in the next five years. Excerpts:

Is the launch of C5 Aircross next year Citroen’s first such event in India? What is your long-term strategy for the Indian car market?

The strategy for India is actually an international strategy. But we start with India and that is, that we start with an image builder, which is the C5 Aircross. And then, we have a programme of vehicles, which we will launch in 2021, 2022, 2023 in India.

And so, therefore, we are not talking about one vehicle, we are talking about three vehicles. And we are talking specifically about the type of vehicles which are SUVs, which are the most popular wherever you go in the world.

So, this is a long-term process. It is a long- term commitment to India, because it is not just going in. We are not just going to come in with one vehicle, and then we’re going to pop out again. No, we are going in with an image builder, but we are going in there with a suite of vehicles.

And obviously, those vehicles will get updated as we go along. And there will be more vehicles. And as we said, it is a new launch every year. And then at the same point we will be refreshing those vehicles. This is a strategy and long-term strategy to be in India. We are not going into India to come back out again.

But your focus would be on SUVs?

Well, to begin with, yes. To begin with, when you are going into a market, you look where the volume is. And right now, the volume is in SUVs. I could say to you 20% of my volume worldwide is commercial vehicles. But I’m not going to go in with commercial vehicles.

India is a fast growing market. Do you think launching one car every year would be adequate? Wouldn’t you ideally want to have multiple products in a year?

To be honest with you, I would rather launch one product per year. And I’ll tell you the reason. And that doesn’t mean that you might not have refreshing of the ones you have previously launched.

But launching more than one product, there are not many manufacturers in this world and I don’t know any that launch more than one and make a success of both of them. The most efficient use of your marketing expense is to focus on that particular product. You need it for your dealers as well, because it is quite complicated for dealers to launch two or three vehicles in the same year. Therefore, I prefer to have one launch that everybody is focused on and make it a success. It means quality for the manufacturing as well because if you are launching two or three vehicles at the same time, coming out of the same factories, there is a danger that you won’t get your quality right, and that’s a killer.

How much would you like to play up the French aspect of the brand while marketing your cars in India?

I think we need to create a balance since we are a global brand. We are born in France. So, I think we need to be make sure that we have that cachet of being French.

But what we need to understand is what does that mean for an Indian customer, because it could mean a very negative view or it could have a very positive view. So for me, it’s important that we keep our identity and we keep being a French company. I want to have a global approach to the way that we come to the market. So, inevitably, we will keep the Frenchness but we need to understand how it fits in with the understanding of the Indian customers. So, we need to find that balance. How do we find the balance between what we do globally and what we do for the Indian market, but I think the Frenchness is an important differentiator.

How do you see the Citroen brand growing globally?

Globally, I have an objective to grow the volumes from one million to 1.5 million worldwide by 2021, 2022. So 1 million to 1.5 million. And a key aspect is I want to become more international. Because what I can’t do is to be totally reliant on Europe. I need to have what I call a balanced portfolio of regions. So, if something goes wrong in Europe, I know that I’ve got a strong region.

Today, roughly 20% of my volume is outside Europe. And by 2021, against that 1.5 million, I want to be 45% outside Europe. So, I need to move from one (million) to one and a half (million), and 20% to 45%.

We believe that with the new range, the new approach there is a real opportunity. We need to improve our situation in China, which we are now working on. And we are going into new markets like yourselves (India), and other markets, and strengthening new products going into some of the other regions.

So post 2021, would it be fair to assume that the growth story could be even more exponential?

Absolutely. We are talking about C5 Aircross going in 2020. Well, clearly that’s about building image. Then we got 2021 and then you’ve got the next in 2022 and 2023. So by 2023-24, we are expecting to see the culmination of that building exponentially. So yes, we believe that the 1.5 million will grow further, but obviously, that totally depends on what the world is. But obviously, by 2021 that 1.5 million is not all India, because India literally would have launched one vehicle by 2021. And then by three years, it will be much bigger as a proportion of the total mix.

Today, France is my biggest market. China is the second one. And by 2023, 2024, India needs to start moving up the ranks.

(The correspondent was recently in Paris at the invitation of the company)

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