Peugeot’s new-model drive saw the 5008 luxury SUV introduced in SA last month. Picture: SUPPLIED
Peugeot’s new-model drive saw the 5008 luxury SUV introduced in SA last month. Picture: SUPPLIED

Xavier Gobille was recently appointed MD of Peugeot Citroën South Africa (PCSA), tasked with reviving the two French brands in a market that has largely shunned them.

Citroën stopped selling cars here in 2016 due to slow sales, while Peugeot remained but idles along selling an average of 90 cars a month for about a 1% share of the local new-car market.

Xavier Gobille, the new MD of Peugeot Citroën South Africa. Picture: SUPPLIED
Xavier Gobille, the new MD of Peugeot Citroën South Africa. Picture: SUPPLIED

French-born Gobille helped mastermind the turnaround of rival Renault SA’s fortunes a decade ago, turning the troubled brand from an also-ran to SA’s sixth-largest vehicle brand with a nearly 5% market share and monthly sales of about 2,000 vehicles.

Denis Droppa quizzed him on how he plans to win the hearts and minds of SA car buyers with Peugeot and Citroën.

Denis Droppa: When you were appointed to run Renault a decade ago you said you’d arrived in the midst of a perfect storm. Is this a similar situation?

Xavier Gobille: Yes it’s similar but perhaps a bit more difficult because I have to fix the full ecosystem from distributor to network. But there’s also far more opportunity. This is a strong group with quality products, and PSA [representing Peugeot, Citroën, DS and Opel] is the winning group in Europe with an 18% market share.

Now the pressure is on the local operation because there’s absolutely no reason why PCSA should have a 1% market share here. I want to grow Peugeot alone to 2.5% market share by 2021.

DD: We know the product is good and PSA cars have won many awards, so what was broken that they are performing so poorly here?

XG: There was an attitude issue and expertise issue. Peugeot was one of the lowest ranked on the DSI (dealer satisfaction index) which showed there was a disconnect between the network and the distributor.

I brought a lot of new people and expertise into the business. You give everyone a purpose and tell people where you’re going and everything aligns. My network and staff are more motivated than ever. From shareholder to staff to network to customer I’ve realigned the system.

I’ve trained staff at Peugeot dealers to improve customer relationship management and after-sales efficiency. Today is a brand relaunch, and PCSA is back in the race.

DD: How do you plan to grow Peugeot sales?

XG: I have discontinued slow-selling models, including the entire 308 range and a number of derivatives from Peugeot’s other ranges. The focus will be on the strong-performing SUV and A/B passenger-car segments, and we have launched the new 108 subcompact hatchback and the 5008 luxury seven-seater SUV. We will also introduce a luxury pickup later.

We have introduced a new Peugeot Pride five-year/100,000km warranty and service plan across the whole model range - it was previously a three-year/100,000km warranty with an optional service plan.

The service plan and warranty are only the tip of the iceberg. Peugeot Pride will take the customer experience to another level. It is a 360º service which includes roadside assistance, courtesy car, licence renewal reminder, and My Peugeot App.

DD: Aren’t there too few Peugeot dealers?

XG: Not really. What I’m judging is the right attitude and motivation. I’ve cut 30% of the dealer network, those that didn’t match the expectation of the brand, but by year end the network will grow from 25 to 30 dealers.

DD: Are these multifranchise dealers?

XG: Some will be multifranchise with a common back office and workshop to increase the profitability of the dealer, but each brand will have its own dedicated sales force and showroom.

DD: How does Opel fit into the picture?

XG: Unitrans currently has the distribution contract. It is part of the Steinhoff group and is in the final stages of being sold to French group CFAO. I can’t disclose too much but as soon as the legal process is finished, the plan is for Opel to join the PCSA team.

PCSA will have four brands — Peugeot, Citroën, DS and Opel — and I don’t want to be arrogant, but when I see what I have in our hands, we can be bigger than Hyundai, Kia and Renault.

DD: Can you talk a little about future Peugeot product, including the one-tonner?

XG: We have a new 208 hatchback which has just been launched in Europe, and also the new 2008 crossover. The one ton Peugeot pickup will come later, perhaps 2021, as it hasn’t been launched yet.

DD: You are relaunching Citroën in the country later this month. Which models can we expect.

XG: They will be the C3 hatchback, and the C3 Aircross and C5 Aircross compact SUVs.

DD: How do you plan to market this reinvention and get more people into your dealerships?

XG: We have a marketing plan and we’re going to make some noise with advertising, and activations at shopping malls. Also we have a small but very motivated dealer network. I’m also very fortunate that the cars are so sexy. I’ll give you an example: when we held our first dealer convention in a hotel, I just parked the car in front of the hotel and we sold two cars there. People saw them and wanted them.

Three weeks ago the same thing happened at a dealer road show when we parked some cars in front of a venue and some cyclists came past and asked to sit inside the cars. We also sold two cars there. When the people see and touch the cars, they find them appealing.

For every customer clinic we’ve done, we were ranked first or second. We just have to expose customers to the product. I’m very confident.