French de­vo­lu­tion

Can Peu­geot claw it­self back from the edge and, like Re­nault, buck SA’S cu­ri­ous Fran­co­pho­bic trend?

Car (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - by Ryan Bubear

I’M a sucker for sales sta­tis­tics. Each month, I’m ren­dered pos­i­tively giddy at the prospect of por­ing over the coun­try’s lat­est new-ve­hi­cle sales gures and learn­ing who sold ex­actly how many of what. As soon as the stu­dious folks over at the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Au­to­mo­bile Man­u­fac­tur­ers of South Africa (Naamsa) drop this de­li­cious data, I start the painstak­ing process of sort­ing the gures into lists of best- and worst-sell­ing ve­hi­cles, and hunt for in­ter­est­ing nuggets to share with Car­ read­ers.

From a broader per­spec­tive, though, these num­bers tell a story. A story of trust in and af nity for the 30-plus mar­ques ply­ing their pas­sen­ger-ve­hi­cle trade on lo­cal shores. And, judg­ing by the lat­est gures, South Africans sim­ply don’t trust Peu­geot. In­deed, the French brand rou­tinely strug­gles to claw its way to 100 units a month and, tellingly, is of­ten out­sold by Porsche.

It’s a shame, re­ally, since the Paris­based group has long of­fered an ar­ray of in­ter­est­ing and ha­bit­u­ally un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated prod­ucts, from var­i­ous Citroën and DS of­fer­ings pulled from the lo­cal mar­ket in late-2016, to its cur­rent hand­ful of Lion-badged ve­hi­cles. The sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion 308, for in­stance, grabbed Europe’s Car of the Year award in 2014, but failed to nd a foothold in SA, qui­etly skulk­ing off the lo­cal stage (al­though a facelifted ver­sion is on the way) as buy­ers in­stead spent their hard­earned money on the Golf, Fo­cus and Mazda3. Sim­i­larly, while the fresh-faced 3008 – the win­ner of the same award in 2017 – is frankly a fan­tas­tic piece of kit, it has yet to make a dent in a seg­ment dom­i­nated by the likes of the Tuc­son, RAV4, Tiguan and CX-5. But it’s like that with all French brands in South Africa, you say. Not so. Well, not any­more, at least. At one stage, every third per­son you met had a hor­ror story from the late 1990s about how the mom down the street was forced to wait 17-and-a-half months for a re­place­ment in­di­ca­tor stalk to be shipped via canal boat from France as their rust-coloured Scénic dis­in­te­grated be­fore their very eyes. But, over the past few years, Re­nault has man­aged to shake this strain of Fran­co­pho­bia and grow its lo­cal oper­a­tions to dizzy heights, to the point that it now reg­u­larly nds it­self on the right side of 2 000 units a month.

So, what’s Re­nault do­ing right? Well, when tough mar­ket con­di­tions (a weak rand tends to hit im­porters the hard­est) started to drive SA buy­ers to­wards more af­ford­able ve­hi­cles, Re­nault re­acted smartly. The lo­cal arm of the Boulogne-bil­lan­court-based brand – run by the Im­pe­rial Group’s Mo­tus divi­sion – shrewdly punted its Da­cia-de­rived prod­ucts, po­si­tion­ing the San­dero and Duster as rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive, value-packed al­ter­na­tives.

The sleekly styled fourth-gen­er­a­tion Clio quickly found favour, too, while the in­tro­duc­tion of stylish crossovers such as the Cap­tur and Kad­jar – and the more re­cent ex­pan­sion of these line-ups to in­clude sharply priced Blaze-badged en­try-level vari­ants – al­lowed Re­nault to ex­ploit grow­ing seg­ments as it with­drew from shrink­ing ones (re­mem­ber the slow-sell­ing Flu­ence sedan?). And, de­spite its barefaced safety short­com­ings, the bud­get-beat­ing Kwid – cur­rently Re­nault SA’S most pop­u­lar prod­uct – proves the mar­ket re­ally does re­spond to af­ford­able cars.

By con­trast, Peu­geot po­si­tioned most of its ve­hi­cles in the semi-premium space – ad­mit­tedly a de­ci­sion largely forced by a global di­rec­tive – un­wisely tak­ing on the Ger­mans. The 107, its cheap­est and once-best­selling of­fer­ing, was not re­placed when stock ran dry (de­spite the ex­is­tence of a new 108 over­seas), forc­ing the 208 to cover this en­try-level A-seg­ment and take on the might of the Polo and Fi­esta.

To­day, un­der new lo­cal dis­trib­u­tors (who have upped sales slightly since tak­ing over) and no longer a wholly owned sub­sidiary of the PSA Group, Peu­geot South Africa’s sta­ble is a shadow of its former self, com­pris­ing a mere three model lines.

That’s not to say Peu­geot hasn’t tried to turn things around. In­deed, the com­pany made a con­certed ef­fort to ad­dress neg­a­tive per­cep­tions around long-term own­er­ship of its cars, cut­ting parts pric­ing and im­prov­ing avail­abil­ity of spares by build­ing a size­able parts ware­house. It also launched a “guar­an­teed fu­ture value” buy-back pro­gramme plus a ded­i­cated ser­vic­ing of­fer­ing for out-of-war­ranty ve­hi­cles, and still of­fers a unique “we come to you” test-drive ser­vice.

Is that enough to re­gain the trust of South Africans, re­cover some mar­ket share and “pull a Re­nault”? With­out the op­tion of of­fer­ing an ar­ray of at­trac­tively priced cars sited be­low its up­mar­ket mod­els, that is go­ing to be tough. The French brand sim­ply can’t chase vol­ume and will thus have to aim for im­proved pro t mar­gins at best.

I hope Peu­geot gets it right, though. As its Euro­pean ac­co­lades in­di­cate, the brand con­tin­ues to make high-qual­ity, air- lled ve­hi­cles that rep­re­sent a wel­come al­ter­na­tive in our mar­ket.

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