Let’s face it: French carmaker Peugeot isn’t exactly popular, here or anywhere outside Europe. It is so obscure in these parts, in fact, that Peugeot Philippines president Glen Dasig’s first order of the day when he got the post last year was to launch a simple (but no less significant) campaign teaching people how to properly pronounce the brand. Imagine that: While the competition was expending energy and resources on social-media marketing and lifestyle events and glossy print ads, Peugeot was busy showing potential customers how to correctly enunciate its foreign-sounding name.
A year has passed, and the marque still isn’t a household name in our market. To be fair, that was never the goal to begin with. Peugeot is an elegant automotive brand that will never appeal to mass-market tastes even if you provide free speech lessons. Its cars are not for everyone, for starters. Only a knowledgeable few—if we’re being honest—will appreciate the exclusivity attached to its Famous Lion logo.
But even if you’re a snobbish European brand, it wouldn’t hurt to sell more. It wouldn’t hurt to see more of your products on the road, actually being used. How would you do it when your cars performed their exploits in WRC, a motorsport that hardly featured hot-selling automobiles? How would you do it if everyone knew your business was so bad as recently as four years ago that you were laying off thousands of employees in your home country?
Thankfully, Peugeot has been able to string together a series of wise business moves the past few years, among them partnering with a strong Chinese carmaker (Dongfeng) and having a solid presence in China. It has also started churning out good-looking (if still a bit quirky) vehicles that customers at least could stare at. If you haven’t read any negative news about the brand of late, that’s because it has managed to right its ship. Slowly, yes, but also steadily.
At this year’s Paris Motor Show—where I was a media guest of Peugeot’s—I met the company’s head of brand strategy, a guy named Jerome Micheron. “So what is your brand strategy?” I asked him.
“Our strategy is to make the brand international,” he answered. “For people to know we exist, and for them to consider us when buying a car.”
It’s the third quarter of the game now, so to speak. It’s way past pronunciation lessons at this point. You don’t become sought-after with anal articulation. You become in-demand if you have something people want. And right now, people want sport-utility vehicles.
If market studies are to be believed, global SUV sales will exceed 21 million units by 2020, and 40% of vehicles sold in that year will be SUVs. That’s a lot of selling and building. And that’s where Peugeot is currently funneling nearly everything it has got. The company wants a sizable slice of that pie—never mind if many people remain unsure of how to say its name. Who cares, really?
And so Peugeot now finds itself with a stable full of SUVs. There’s the all-new 3008 compact crossover, which is expected to reach our market next year. Its first generation may have been underwhelming inside and out, but the latest one is a winner. It possesses killer styling that has Peugeot design director Gilles Vidal gushing over its appearance, but it also has a trailblazing cockpit that is sure to change the way you view the driver seat.
There’s the all-new 5008, which was an MPV in its previous iteration. This transformation somewhat tells us that SUVs are such hotcakes these days that Peugeot would probably convert all its vehicle models into sport-utes if it possibly could. Lumped in the C-segment together with the 3008, the 5008 lurks at the bigger end of the size spectrum. Its 2.84m wheelbase and 4.64m overall length mean it’s 19cm longer than the 3008 (and 11cm longer than the old 5008 model). This car intends to be “the leading C-segment large seven-seater SUV,” the press statement admits.
These are on top of the subcompact 2008. And if you think that’s all there is in Peugeot’s SUV portfolio, you’re wrong. In China, the automaker has launched the 4008, described as “the SUV tailored to the Chinese market.” In this Asian country, apparently, four in 10 cars sold are SUVs. In the first seven months of this year, Peugeot says “around 4.4 million SUVs were sold in China, up more than 44% compared to the same period in 2015.” Think of the possibilities.
So Peugeot wants to go more mainstream, and it’s using the tried-and-tested SUV to hit its target. Should we worry that the newfound obsession with sales volume and global prominence might force the brand to bite off more than it could chew? Would all of this result in a manufacturing debacle in which we’d witness the company recalling thousands of defective units?
Hopefully not. Judging by the quality of the all-new 3008—a separate test-drive article is something to look forward to, dear readers—I say Peugeot knows what it’s doing.
And then there’s the charming, Panerai-wearing brand CEO, Jean-Philippe Imparato, who implores his international distributors to respect the customer. “I don’t care about numbers,” he revealed. “Don’t do discounts. I’m after a robust and trendy brand. The customer is the only boss. And selling a car takes two hours. Tell them to take their time. They don’t have to buy today.”
So there. Peugeot wants to build many, many, many SUVs. Which could well be a recipe for disappointment. Except it would’t be, because the brand’s stewards aren’t in a rush. They are French, lest we forget. They specialize in artful preparation. They do wine, appetizer, main course, dessert. No shortcuts. I learned this after dining in Paris for several days. These guys take as much pleasure in meticulously whipping up your entrée as they do in having you pay for the gastronomic experience.
And seeing the vehicles in the metal, it seems to me the carmaker has everything sorted out as though attempting to beat its opponents at their own game were the easiest thing to do.
It’s not. Hell no. It is, on the contrary, the most difficult task in the world. But such is the fate assigned to Peugeot: Nothing—not even the way its name is pronounced—comes easy. Might as well give it your all and drop the effing mic.