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