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DS Automobiles is here to stay – but it’ll probably take us 20 or 25 years to build the brand

Time 10 months ago

DS Automobiles may seem like a minnow in the waters of the automotive industry but it’s determined to grow.

Alain Descat, who took over as managing director of the UK division in 2018, was in no doubt at all about the brand’s strength and its future when he appeared on Car Dealer Live on July 29.

DS is a relative newcomer, having been launched as a standalone brand in 2015, founded and developed from Citroen, but it’s now the premium offering in the Groupe PSA portfolio. The DS network split from Citroen’s in July 2018 and currently has 35 retailers in the UK with plans to continue adding to that figure.

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Chatting with host James Batchelor, Descat extolled the virtues of the ‘French luxury knowhow’ embedded into the vehicles that made them unique – an example being the quality of the leather that is crafted by a saddler workshop at its design centre in Paris.

He also discussed the brand’s virtual showroom, and Batchelor wondered if DS envisaged a totally end-to-end online service or was it trying to push people into dealerships to experience the vehicles firsthand?

‘I think we need to do both,’ replied Descat. ‘I think today the way we approach selling online as a whole is a must-do, because we’ve seen that across various sectors, and again it’s been enhanced in the last month.

‘So I think as an industry we are all moving towards that, but the point in there is that it doesn’t have to undercut the retailers.’

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He continued: ‘I am a believer that most of the time the customer wants to go to the retailer to feel the car for himself, test-drive the car as well,’ adding that being in a showroom gave a bricks-and-mortar reassurance to the mechanics of the car.

Descat agreed, though, that since things had been made so easy now for people at home, the showroom of the future had to be more of a destination, offering a different experience to give customers a reason to visit a retailer.

He said DS was working on expanding the services delivered by retailers ‘the same way as a manufacturer we are transforming ourselves from delivering products to delivering mobility services’. Examples included subscription services, ‘so it’s about innovating in services and innovating into the retailer experience, cutting off from the traditional setup which is a lot of cars and nothing else’.

The DS 9

With the shock news earlier in the week of Mitsubishi’s withdrawal from Europe, attention turned to brand survival, with the possibility of some of the smaller players disappearing, leaving just the big brands.

Descat said: ‘The market is tough for sure, so to build long term you need to be strong. Clearly, DS is here to stay, there is no doubt about that, in Europe and the UK.

‘Groupe PSA has invested billions in creating the brand to be the brand that addresses the premium market globally.

‘We have a six-car product investment plan…and you’ll have seen that the PSA group results for the first semester are good, we are turning a profit – as reported by Car Dealer – and that has been on the back of making the right decisions, having a group that has been kept agile with platforms used across five brands, and we are also technology-proof because we have the right platforms.

‘We also released the news today that we are investing in a new platform which is called the eVMP, which is basically a vehicle modular platform for electric vehicles for the C and D segments, which we will start delivering in 2023.

Stellantis

‘So as far as PSA is concerned, we have set the right structure with the platforms we have and the leverage of the power of the group.

‘We’ve invested in and are continuing to invest in technologies, and we’ve got a further step with Stellantis, which is the future entity that will be the result of the merger between FCA and the PSA group, which is obviously a great perspective for us, because the group will be even more solid and even more able to invest more in technologies, and we need those technologies to be brought to DS to stay relevant in the premium sector.

‘So yes, we’re here to stay, the group is strong, so we are confident.’

With a current market share of 0.14 per cent, what was DS’s long-term sales goal?

‘The goal is to grow, clearly. We had strong growth – seven consecutive months until February. We were one of the fastest-growing brands in the UK market and then the crisis hit and we found ourselves at a standstill in terms of volume like our competitors,’ said Descat.

‘We’ve kept our market share, though, which is not the case for everybody, and we’ve progressed in pretty much all channels.’

But rather than push for market share and running behind volumes at all costs, DS wanted volumes to grow for its retailers with each new car, so that those who had invested in DS could build a profit in the long term.

‘We are reinvesting now in marketing [having halted it because of the pandemic], we are also accelerating our go-to market, and we are getting close to our retailers to help them market DS to the right audience. We need to collectively find those customers who are looking for a status car which is different to the rest.

‘And again the profit of our retailers is absolutely key because we are investing for the long run. I think if you ask pretty much all of them they’ll tell you that they’ve invested for the long term with DS. They also need a premium brand in their portfolio of brands, and we know it will take probably 20, 25 years to build this brand.

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‘So we will build up. Right now this is a tough moment for sure but we are building up, we’ve got new cars arriving, and we are investing to market our cars.’

Watch the interview in full by clicking on the main image.

You can see all of our Car Dealer Live interviews by clicking here

John Bowman's avatar

John has been with Car Dealer since 2013 after spending 25 years in the newspaper industry as a reporter then a sub-editor/assistant chief sub-editor on regional and national titles. John is chief sub-editor in the editorial department, working on Car Dealer, as well as handling social media.

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