Carmakers Remain Agile in an Uncertain Technological World, Says Citroën

Carmakers are hemmed into a technological cul-de-sac not totally convinced of what the future consumer will be buying.

However, for that present consumer, the upside is that there is currently a greater choice of powertrains than the industry has ever been able to provide since its beginnings some 130 years ago.

TU-Automotive caught up with Xavier Peugeot, senior vice-president product and strategy for Citroën at the Paris Motor Show 2018 to find out how this brand in the PSA Group was weighing up its future technology options. Peugeot began by highlighting the carmaker’s existing strong showing with its current powertrain options.

He said: “We have developed the PureTech engine which is, for the fourth time in a row, the European Engine of the Year. It’s a progressive ascent and we will be integrating some hybrid or full electric engines [into the range] and from 2020 onwards we will reveal an electric engine for a new electric car.”

We wanted to know whether some carmakers, such as Toyota firmly committing to a hybrid technological future, would be compromised if the market’s long-term taste for the technology wanes? Peugeot said: “Of course with new technologies, speed makes a strong argument. If you are the first to introduce a new technology then you have an advantage. Then the other key question to consider here is the speed of the evolution of the technology.”

Agility: Xavier Peugeot

However, it’s clear that the industry as a whole remains a long way from being in a position to put all its research and development eggs in one particular technology basket. Peugeot explained: “We see this by looking at the September 2018 European car sales figures, the level of electric remains low and more or less stable, for example, in France.  One of these days things will change and a carmaker has to be ready for that change. That’s why we believe that some manufacturers have made some choices, as we have done, and we believe that Citroën will be ready when the market for such technologies will expand and accelerate.” Peugeot admitted, too, that every carmaker has to be agile enough to change course if a technology does not gain traction in the sales market. He said: “You have to prepare for the future because you never know what will happen. We believe that, quite soon, there will be an acceleration in sales for plug-in hybrid and electric but manufacturers who have not chosen the right technologies will not die off but just adapt themselves to those that do accelerate.”

He also said the technologies can’t rely on their own merits alone and require a catalyst within the market to become a mainstay in the auto industry. Peugeot concluded: “There is a customer mindset, government regulations and infrastructure, incentives, lots of ingredients and then, suddenly, as we say in France les étoiles sont alignées [the stars are aligned] and the trend will accelerate. I think that, progressively, things are taking place after a slow kick-off this will accelerate – we see this from our research and we also see some concepts emerging so its clear the future is in this direction.

“As with autonomous cars, we progressively move forward such as with the highway driver assist on C5 Aircross, which is one of the final steps before fully autonomous ways of driving. So, it is just a matter of speed and not that far away, I think.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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