Like any other automaker, it is evident that DS Automobiles – and the PSA Group for that matter – is disappointed about the cancellation of the Geneva International Motor Show. But, as DS Automobile CEO Beatrice Foucher tells me, the show must go on.
I was supposed to meet with Foucher in person but, for obvious reasons, this was simply not possible. However, she was kind enough to suggest a call from Geneva, as she had already arrived for the show earlier in the week. As I wasn’t flying out until Monday, I remained in London.
“Although it would have been great to show you our new products in person, we have decided to showcase our vehicles set for Geneva online, which is a new and interesting approach for us,” she explains to me.
“In Geneva, we wanted to show the new DS9 as the latest model in the DS lineup, the highly-powerful and hybrid 360 horsepower E-Tense SUV and a new concept which provided a glimpse into the future of the brand.
Through this, says Foucher, DS would illustrate its commitment to provide plug-in hybrids, mild hybrids and pure electric cars over the coming years. Although it has been unable to deliver these messages in Geneva, it is clear that DS is a brand with a plan.
It is unfair for me to say that this was the year – and event – for DS’ electric offensive, as the brand has already been focusing in this area with the DS 3 Crossback E-tense, which is already available to the public. However, Geneva was a chance for Foucher and her team to make their mark on the global stage and let the industry know that DS is, first and foremost, an electric brand.
“We wanted to share and demonstrate that DS is focused on electrification,” adds Foucher. “All the cars we were exhibiting in Geneva were electrified in some way, aimed at different customers and countries. DS has the intention to adapt to all customers we target and provide them with an environmentally-friendly powertrain.”
Hybrids: Here to Stay
Speaking of electrification, there is a divide in the industry to whether or not automakers should start manufacturing fully-electric vehicles or work on hybrid models during the transition over to a zero-emission future to provide more options for customers.
DS is choosing to follow the latter, with a clear message that hybridisation has a place in the French premium brand’s plans. Foucher believes that this is vital for the industry’s transitional phase. Yes, electric vehicles are here today but, in many places, there is a lack of infrastructure and rules in place that make hybrids attractive to consumers.
“We always have to come back to our customers’ expectations and the way they use their car” Foucher adds. “First of all, you have to look at the purchase model. Will they buy it outright, rent it or will their company give them the vehicle?”
“Then you must look at the operational side and the barriers that come with it, such as charging the vehicle.”
Foucher understands the EV market and its customers well and knows that many are still worried about how they will live with these vehicles. Fundamentally, it is a huge jump for most; despite the rapid growth of fully-electric vehicles and the acceptance of them, they are not the only way forward.
“In addition to these purely-electric cars, we have to make sure that our customers have peace of mind when traveling long distances, such as from city to city. For this, plug-in hybrid is the answer to this,” she continues.
“Compared to what we did over the past 100 years with the internal combustion engine, we are seeing more diversity that allows us to tailor our vehicles to different customer expectations.”
Channeling Flow – The DS Way
I would be lying if I was to say that I didn’t still have some form of attraction to the traditional automotive industry. In fact, every year I try and get some time – which is extremely difficult – to take a look at some of the classic cars on display. In terms of DS, I was excited to see the original Citroen SM from the 1970s; one of the most iconic cars of all time.
Returning to the future of transport, as one must, DS wanted to contrast the SM with its latest concept, named the Aero Sport Lounge. This concept couldn’t be more different to the SM, sporting a futuristic design and aimed at a completely different customer base.
Unlike many concepts ahead of Geneva, I could actually see this being sold in the future, especially with the success we’ve seen in the popular luxury SUV market.
“The concept integrates what DS will deliver to customers in the coming years,” says Foucher. “I’m convinced that SUVs will not die out because they answer the needs of customers based on protection, roominess and comfort.”
“But, more importantly, we need to work on energy efficiency, which can be significantly improved through aerodynamics. The Aero Sport Lounge is one of the answers to achieving this based on the way we manage the airflow of the vehicle, focusing on the shape and weight of the design.”
This kind of innovation stems down from Formula E, which has provided DS with success both on and off of the race track. For example, two times world champion Jean-Eric Vergne – who I will be talking to shortly after writing this – finished third in the latest ‘E-Prix’ race in Marrakesh with only 0.4% charge left in his battery. By optimising his airflow and monitoring his energy levels, he was able to achieve a podium finish from 11th place.
“DS is using Formula E to show our engagement with electrification,” adds Foucher. “Everything we learn in the series is useful for our entire brand, especially energy management. It’s a win-win situation for us.”
“The work which is done by the DS Motorsport team is great, and we appreciate all the research and development that they do in order to integrate it into our vehicles.”
So it is evident that Foucher and her team are focused on a different approach to the automotive industry which, coincidently, is reflected in their choice to go down the virtual press conference route. Maybe once the industry is back to normality, it will look at new ways to exhibit, design and reach its customers.