The next-generation Citroen C3 will take inspiration from the Oli concept and our exclusive images preview how it could look
Citroen CEO Vincent Cobée has revealed his vision for the French brand’s future, which includes inspiration from the recently revealed Oli concept in new models, likely to start with the next Citroen C3.
Although Cobée was tight-lipped about future product plans, Auto Express expects the C3 to be the next new Citroen, and our exclusive images show how the references from Oli and new corporate logo will look.
- The Citroen Oli concept is a £22,000 cardboard car of the future
Auto Express was invited to join Cobée and then-Citroen UK boss Eurig Druce at a business review meeting at the brand’s UK HQ in Coventry, where Cobée outlined how the Oli would influence Citroen’s business – from the cars themselves to how they’re sold.
It was clear from our meeting how highly Cobée rates Druce and the impact he’s had at Citroen UK. Druce’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed by parent company Stellantis’s UK boss, Paul Willcox, either. Within days of our meeting, Druce had been asked to head network operations at a crucial time for the relationship between brands and dealers.
That relationship is at the forefront of Cobée’s mind, too, especially with many brands committing to new agreements with their dealers, where the car company takes more control of direct customer relations.
Cobée was quick to address the important role dealers will play in the future. “Each and every one of us who owns a car sees it as a massive investment that requires maintenance you can’t do yourself. In the UK that means we need to have 150 to 200 points where we can maintain the vehicles. Will an OEM want to do it by themselves? The answer is no.
“We sell tools of freedom which people will still need, want and desire, that will still need maintenance, embellishment and repair. So you need retailers. Why would we want to get rid of people who represent us in the territories? The reality is they need us, we need them, and the customers want them.”
Cobée is clear that car buying will change, but dealers will still play their part. “If you’re an Amazon Prime member, does that mean you never look at a product in a shop? It means you’ve outsourced the administrative and logistics part to a website.
“Now, the question is: is the shop getting something out of it? It’s a question for books, but for cars? There will still be maintenance and there’ll still be resale.”
The compact Citroen Ami has proven his point in France, as he explained: “50 per cent of Amis are sold online, 40 per cent at dealers, but 60 per cent of Amis are delivered at a dealer. And nobody does maintenance except for dealers, so they’re seeing a lot of young people enter their shop that they wouldn’t normally see. They’re getting the business with no effort because it’s sold online – they’re not complaining!”
The future life of Citroens is also something Cobée has a plan for, with the entire life cycle of the brand’s vehicles being ‘owned’ and upgraded by Citroen. “In the future,” he said, “you never own the car. I own the car.
“Let’s say that I lease you a car for, say, £400 a month. You have it for four years, I maintain it because the price includes regular maintenance, you give me the car back, I again check and upgrade it – we’ll design the car so that it can be upgraded; think bumpers, wheelarches, etc. – and sell it, and the second ownership is another four years at £300 a month.
“Then someone gets it for another three or four years at £200 a month – it’s still a fully maintained vehicle, but maybe then with second-hand parts, yet I still own the car. I call it a closed-loop system.
“I maintain the vehicle for 15 years, which is a business opportunity but also an opportunity so my environmental footprint is lower. And by the way, I recycle it at the end. Today, the industry – not the OEMs – recycles 15 per cent of cars. In that model we recycle 100 per cent.”
This is how clever thinking around sustainability and eco-friendliness has inspired a car like the Oli – built with a ‘closed- loop’ system in mind – and how Oli has inspired a new way of thinking for Citroen.
“The society in front of us is moving fast,” said Cobée. “Your kids, my kids talk about sustainability in fashion – it’s an opportunity for Citroen to become stronger.
“Because we have the perception that affordability and responsibility and lighter weight are better, it helps us to create a more resonating and attractive future. For Citroen, generally a crisis with all the weight, the pain and the complexities, is an opportunity.”
Cobée revealed to us how the Oli project evolved, as future models will move on, too. “The original intention was not exactly what it is today. We had discussions about recycled materials where guys came with prototypes. You’re like, ‘Is that recycled? Really? It’s very cool. I would love to be able to do this.’
“It took more than two years. We’ve seen maybe three or four generations of mock-ups, we had a lot of discussions. What is interesting to me is that the story evolves at the same time as the object does, and society evolves as well.”
So, will there be a little bit of Ami and Oli in every future product we see from Citroen? “The short answer is yes,” said Cobée. “We are evolving through what we do, not through what we say. Ami and Oli are an integral part of our evolution.
“This is the beauty of design. It’s not styling; design is a fundamental approach to what is the need and what could be the solution. So, obviously Ami is an impact on us in many dimensions, touching a new generation, having the courage of being extremely different. Having a social mantra, which is electric, urban, affordable.
“Oli is going to be another dimension of this. It’s of the same approach, which is we can be extremely innovative, surprising, fun, and at the same time, responsible – and radically different. And believe me, it’s also going to be in the attitude.”
Does that mean Citroen will put Oli into production, as it did with Ami? “In the current shape, probably not,” admitted Cobée. “We will do something which is heavily inspired. The answer to your question is, what you see in Oli, will it percolate through most or all of our cars eventually? The answer is yes, in different levels. There’s more dimension to what you see in Oli and what Citroen wants to be. You don’t see the touring dimension. You don’t see the aerodynamic dimension. You don’t see in Oli the suspension innovation. There’s more in Citroen than what you see in Oli.
“However, we will try and do something which is a consequence of Oli. Some of the things might be beyond feasible within a visible future. But yes, we will try and do a very affordable, responsible, single car in the family. Because Oli is fundamentally a fun, single-car family, recycled, affordable.”
When it comes to the rest of the Citroen line-up, the C3 is next up for reinvention and is likely to make use of Stellantis’s CMP/e-CMP platform. That means full electrification for the brand’s supermini for the first time, alongside petrol engines that will help to keep costs low. Auto Express expects the new C3 to be revealed during 2023 and go on sale in early 2024.
It’ll also proudly wear the new Citroen badge, which gives a clue to future models’ styling, as Cobée explained: “More and more, the design language of Citroen will be made of extremely smooth surfaces and extremely sharp technical elements.”
Being part of the Stellantis group brings huge benefits, too. “It’s an enabler before it’s anything else,” Cobée told us. “I’ll be able to be competitive on electric technology. And I’ll be up to date with every possible technology and regulation the world will throw at us. Why? There’s only one answer: it’s Stellantis.
“The number one request by [Stellantis CEO] Carlos Tavares is to be different. For us, he says different, but he looks at Citroen as a brand which should have the courage to not do what others do.”
Being different with the spirit of Ami and Oli is perhaps easier on cars like the C3, but what about the C5 X at the top of the brand’s range? How do you Olify the C5 X?
“No more than 30 per cent,” said Cobée. “What you need to realise, and this is not final, is we will cater at the end for three groups. There’s one group which is mostly economically conscious, but which will de facto become environmentally responsible – one will trigger the other. There’s a second group, which is environmentally responsible and very much in resource conservation. And then there’s a third one, which is enjoying life, touring, transporting. And they will have the natural eco elements of Citroen, both economically and environmentally in C5 X, but it will just be more of it.
“The intensity of Oli will be highest in the middle one. It will be maybe 60 per cent in the lower one, and it’ll be 30 per cent in the upper one. But this is a story that’s still in the writing. What I’m telling you is something we have discussed two weeks ago, we are formalising today, we’ll present to the boss in two weeks, and we will implement in the next years. But it’s 10 years in the making. And it’s an assumption about society that might change.”
One Citroen idea that is continuing is Advanced Comfort, with Cobée referring to a car as a “cocoon of happiness”. But this is also evolving. “We’re expanding comfort into wellbeing,” said Cobée. “We want to complement the hardware with the software. The software, if you look at what we announced recently, will be Citizen – responsible services. Citroen is the hardware, and Citizen is the software.”
Under Cobée’s leadership, it’s clear Citroen will be ploughing its own furrow, but one based on the changing world we live in rather than what other car makers are doing. “What I know is two things,” he told us. “Firstly, we’re going to be consistent, optimistic, energetic, and we’re going to walk the talk. Secondly, for me, society is a better indicator than competition.”
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