By leveraging its French connection, France’s PSA Group — the maker of Peugeots and Citroens — says Canada will play a big role in the automaker’s return to the North American market.
PSA took its first significant step to re-enter the market April 5 by naming former TrueCar and Nissan executive Larry Dominique to spearhead the project.
Dominique, 54, will be senior vice president for PSA North America, in charge of putting the automaker back in Canada and the United States for first time since the Peugeot brand exited in 1991.
“This is a market that, as a full-line automaker, you need to be part of,” Dominique told Automotive News on April 5 as he toured U.S. cities to select a location for the company’s headquarters. “But this is a 10-year project. It’s not about jumping in and creating market share as quickly as possible.”
Dominique previously ran product planning for Nissan and its luxury brand Infiniti. At the time, Canada was his responsibility.
“I know the market really well,” he said.
PSA’s North American strategy, revealed in late 2016 by PSA CEO Carlos Tavares, is to re-enter the market through nontraditional means in the United States first. Under Tavares’ “Push to Pass” global business plan, Dominique’s mission is to first establish PSA as a U.S. mobility company, providing consumers with ride-hailing and car-sharing services.
Plan for Canada
“We have a plan to move to Canada, but we aren’t talking about any dates because we’re still developing the plan for the U.S.,” Dominique told Automotive News Canada in a separate interview. “The idea is to development a market plan for Canada as well.”
PSA will then begin populating those mobility services with its French-brand vehicles. And finally, the automaker will launch its own sales channel.
He said Canada’s French heritage will be considered during the planning north of the border.
Dominique said consumer tastes differ greatly across Canada, from sedans and hatchbacks in the East to pickups in the West.
“For me, especially being associated with a French brand and French manufacturer, Canada is a natural extension for us,” he said. “As we develop the product plan, there’s a tremendous amount of synergy with Canada, especially with eastern Canada. The products we have today and the segments we offer today are well aligned with the eastern provinces of Canada.
“Sometimes, when I visit Montreal and I drive in Montreal I feel like I’m in Europe. For me, the question I have to ask myself is: Do I have to do anything unique for Canada in general.”
Dominique said that PSA has not decided which of its three brands – Peugeot, Citroen or DS – will be launched first in the United States. Nor has it decided whether retailing will occur through a traditional independent dealership-based distribution network or some other way.
He declined to say how much PSA is prepared to spend to re-establish a U.S. foothold.
“It’s going to be a significant amount of money to re-enter the market,” he told Automotive News. “But we haven’t set a number.
“If we can find more efficient ways to market and sell our vehicles -- whether it’s in a traditional partnership with investors or not -- those are things that can heavily influence the cost of coming to market.”
PSA wants a clean-slate approach to re-entering the United States and Canada.
Asked what lessons PSA learned from its past failure that will now guide it in 2017, Dominique reasoned that the question is not relevant.
“The reality is that Peugeot as a brand left the United States 26 years ago,” he told Automotive News. “The marketplace is so different today. What happened back then – what went right, what might have gone wrong, the reasons for the exit – to me are irrelevant now. The brands themselves, the vehicles that PSA produces are so different than their positioning back then.”
He said PSA will study the market as it rolls out its 10-year plan, using its interactions with consumers in mobility settings to learn what they like and don’t like about vehicles.
PSA’s mobility brand, Free2Move, will include various businesses.
The first mobility effort in the United States was through PSA’s partnership with battery company Bollore, which runs an electric car-sharing program in Indianapolis called BlueIndy.
That partnership is now running an electric car-sharing pilot program in Los Angeles dubbed BlueLA, with 100 vehicles and 200 charging stations.
Dominique said the Canadian mobility plan may differ slightly from that of the U.S. one, in part because of Canada’s expansive geography.
“We will be flexibile in how we set up our mobility strategy,” he told Automotive News Canada. “How mobility and alternative transportation fits in our mobility strategy may be a little different in North America than Europe because of way people drive and own cars.”
PSA also owns an interest in TravelerCar, a company that gives free airport parking to drivers who wish to rent out their cars while traveling. The service opened for business on April 3 at Los Angeles International Airport.
“Positioning a brand in the U.S. marketplace – which is very crowded today – is going to take patience, analysis and data,” Dominique said. “And it’s going to take careful execution. That’s why we’re not rushing into this.
“This 10-year plan to come back into the United States is just a timeframe of activities,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to wait 10 years; we want to be firmly established in North America in 10 years.”