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Citroen CEO Linda Jackson on tough times and the rebirth of the brand

By Andy Enright, 03 Oct 2018 Paris Motor Show

Citroen CEO Linda Jackson on tough times and the rebirth of the brand

“We lost our way”

LINDA Jackson would probably make a bad politician.

When asked how some of Citroen's more lacklustre products of the last twenty years squared with the brand's stated values of comfort, design and audacity, the usual response would be to attack the questioner with figures underscoring sales successes.

Read next: Citroen confirms C5 Aircross SUV for Australia: 2018 Paris Motor Show

Instead, we get a refreshing mea culpa. “We lost our way,” she admits, hands up.

“When we tried to be like everyone else, we were least successful. When we tried to be different, we are at our most successful.” she said.

Jackson is explicit in what she wants from the brand. The 59-year-old straight-talking Brit has been at the helm of Citroen since 2014 and is overseeing a renaissance in this historically perplexing marque.

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Last year was the first full year for the new C3, the new Jumpy van and the SpaceTourer, but also the year Citroen launched the C3 Aircross SUV in Europe and the C5 Aircross SUV in China. Excluding China, worldwide sales rose 7.5 percent.

“I have three objectives,” she states. “The first is to grow volumes, from 1.1 million global sales now to 1.6 million in 2020.

“The second is to be the benchmark in comfort. We need to be renowned for comfort.

“The third is to be in the top three brands most recommended by our customers wherever we are. We're on a trajectory to get there by 2020,” she smiles.

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“Comfort is the absolutely number one design priority, the number one differentiator, but don't get old-fashioned way of comfort stuck in mind. It's more than just suspension and seats. It encompasses air quality, storage space, modularity, connectivity. We believe in a wider approach to comfort and that will be introduced as we go through the core strategy.”

That core strategy calls for eight international vehicle silhouettes across small, medium, large, SUV, and commercial sectors.

Since taking office four years ago Jackson has separated DS from Citroen as part of this plan, and the next stages are to replace C3, introduce a broader portfolio of SUVs, with the replacement of hatches and big saloons to come. She's keen to stress that there's still a place for 'conventional' bodies. “We can't just concentrate on SUVs. We need a broad portfolio to work across the world.”

The roadmap also features a phased approach to electrification.

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“Where are we going with electric and plug-in hybrid? The C5 Aircross will be our first plug-in hybrid in 2020. Every vehicle that we launch after that – as well as having a diesel and petrol - will also have either an electric or a plug-in hybrid. That means that by 2023 80 percent of our vehicles will have a version that's electric, and by 2025 100 percent will have a version that's electric or plug-in hybrid. E-CMP platform will have electric, EMP2 will have PHEV. All technology within the group is group tech. Each brand then chooses which technology they want,” she explains.

Jackson is keenly aware of Citroen's historic shortcomings in Australia.

“No manufacturer is perfect. We all make mistakes because we're human. But if we make a mistake and we can correct it, we can satisfy the customer. It's not rocket science. We need to get quality right. I can have the most fantastic cars but if I don't have the quality and the right [customer] experience, I'm dead. That's as true for Australia as it is for every single market”

The world's oldest startup is anything but slowing down as it approaches its centenary next year.

On its prospects Down Under, Jackson is bullsih. “We are very modern, very fresh and we want to come back to the Australian market with a real freshness. History is nothing if you don't have a future.”