INTERVIEW: Anne Ruthmann, Citroën C4 Cactus project manager
Citroën C4 Cactus Chef de Projet Anne Ruthmann answers questions on key suppliers, lightweight technology, sales prospects and other topics.
When did you first get involved with the project?
In fact, since last year only. It was a special situation as I was in charge of C4 Picasso but in 2013 the person who was leading the C4 Cactus project left Citroën for personal reasons and I took over.
What does it mean to be the Chef de Projet for a PSA vehicle?
This role means the head of development for a car - you begin with a blank piece of paper, and then it’s the briefing for the designers, the engineers and all other functions. Of course sometimes there are problems - for example you cannot speak about the car for a long time, when it’s still secret, but it’s a great experience. The first time you drive the car, usually one year before launch, it’s a great moment.
What is your background?
I’m an engineer but with PSA there are two people at the top of such a project; one engineer and one business development head, so we must work together. For this car, it was one woman and one man. That’s good because there might be a maximum of differences in some areas of decision making and then we will see the project from all angles.
We all know about the concept cars, but why the name Cactus?
OK, so you remember the very radical concept car in 2007 and we kept this name because it can be understood in so many languages. But more than this, like the plant, the production C4 Cactus is protecting itself and also like the cactus plant, this car doesn’t need much fluid - of course not water, but gasoline or diesel.
Does the C4 prefix mean there will be other Cactus models to come?
In fact, no - the choice to call it C4 Cactus is to show that this car is in the C segment where we have the C4, C4 Aircross and C4 Picasso. This shows the customer that this car has the same roominess as our other models in the segment, even though its exterior dimensions are more compact.
You say C segment but might some customers react negatively when they see it’s not just far smaller than, say, a Qashqai?
No, I don’t think so. When you’re outside, it’s quite compact - 4.16 metres [long] and the C4 is 4.33 but when you are sitting inside, you have the same space as in the C4, both in the front and the back. Also, the width is identical and the boot capacity is typical of the C segment (358/1170 cubic litres VDA). It’s bigger than the Juke.
This model predates the Back in the Race plan. And it appears to go against the new philosophy of cutting Citroën (and Peugeot’s) model ranges. Can PSA make money from the C4 Cactus?
It’s not an expensive car; you have seen the launch prices (€13,950- €23,050 in France).
Is the idea to price low and profit more from the add-on technology?
If the customer wants to have more, such as the 17-inch wheels or leather seats or the more powerful engines, then he can build his own car choosing exactly what he wants. It’s like LEGO, and then you have a highly personalised car. Of course we want our customers to choose the most beautiful car for them, and yes that will also make us more money.
The customer cannot have a sunblind for the glass roof, or a split-fold rear seat, or wind-down back windows. Don’t you risk losing sales?
The point is, we made some radical choices - compared to other cars in the segment the C4 Cactus is extremely light. It weighs only 955kg, so there is very low fuel consumption and also lots of driving pleasure - smaller engines, less wear and tear, and we estimate about 20% lower running costs than a typical C segment hatchback.
For each choice we made, we made a lot of tests with our customers. We saw that OK the car is not for everybody - we know that - and we have a lot of other cars with electric sun blinds or electric rear windows. People who want the C4 Cactus will choose it because they love the design. They will love it for the inside as well as the exterior, and also because they can have it for not too much money. We found 85% of people we asked never used the split-fold rear seat in their cars.
The glass roof, which supplier is that sourced from?
It was developed with Saint Gobain. The glass is multi-layered and it has a high level of UV protection. Light comes through, but not heat and not cold. There is no need for a blind. If we had an electric shade, which is not needed, it would have added six kilos.
And this huge passenger airbag, is that part of the same glass roof module?
No. Because the glass roof is not standard. So for the airbag, which is 120 litres and standard on all cars, it falls down from the top of the windscreen and it covers the dashboard and even the touch screen to protect the passenger. The supplier is TRW.
Some media have reported the Airbumps were developed by BASF.
Yes, BASF developed the material but REHAU manufactures the Airbump component. It’s a special plastic called TPU and this is what was developed with BASF. The Airbumps are like a plastic skin for the car - one layer and then air bubbles and another layer of this plastic skin.
Is Airbump technology exclusive to Citroën, to PSA?
Yes, to Citroën. It’s our innovation.
What can you say about Magic Wash? It seems to be similar to Magic Vision Control on the Mercedes-Benz SL.
It’s a similar philosophy but it’s not the same system. It’s the way to bring the liquid to wash the windshield very close to the wiper. So the advantage is that the washer bottle can be smaller - again, therefore less weight - because less fluid is needed and there are no nozzles on the bonnet either: these are part of the wipers.
Which supplier is behind Magic Wash?
You have C4, C4 Picasso, C4 Aircross and now C4 Cactus. Isn’t that confusing for customers? How soon until PSA can end the supply deal for the Aircross from MMC?
Customers for the cars are quite different, and the market is big enough for several propositions. I think customers will call their car ‘My Cactus’ like we know they do for the Picasso models. For the C4 Aircross, the agreement with Mitsubishi Motors is in place and the car is important to us.
The next C3, C4, C5 - will these cars look like the C4 Cactus?
You know, Citroën is not a brand where a car is launched and then the next model looks the same, or the bigger or smaller car looks the same. No, we are always innovative. Every car has its own personality. You see the family spirit between the C4 Picasso and C4 Cactus with features like the separation of the DRL from the other front-end lighting. What is important is to keep bringing comfort, technology which is easy to use and all for a good price - that is the philosophy for all of our new cars. You see this also on the new C1.
Which markets will be the strongest for the C4 Cactus?
In Europe, it will be France, the UK, Italy, Spain, Germany - as you would expect. But the interesting thing is that in the UK, for example, we think people will buy the car because they love the design - it’s like nothing else. Then in Germany, we think people will be happy to find something like the ‘old’ Citroën from decades ago - 2CV, CX, even the DS - cars with a very unconventional design and with a lot of innovations. German people see this link to the past in our research but in the UK, this was not the case. In Spain and Italy, people want a great looking car but the price is very important.
In your latest tracking, what other cars are prospects researching?
This car doesn’t seem to have any direct competitors. We believe this is because in terms of looks it has some elements from an SUV but not the aggression of an SUV. We see already people who had intended to buy a five-door hatchback or an SUV - maybe a Juke, Qashqai, Captur, 308, Golf, even Mini.
Men and women seem to find the C4 Cactus equally attractive - different colour combinations are some of the reason for that - older people, young people. Lots of interior space and good pricing, this is what matters to most people in the C segment.
Some Japanese OEMs keep the chief engineer as head of a programme all through the lifecycle of the vehicle. Is it that system within PSA too?
For myself I am here from one year ago, but as I explained this was an exception. Now, after the launch, I will change to something else and somebody else will be in charge of all the evolutions that will take place on this car.
So what will you do next?
Ah, that is a good question [smiling]. It’s confidential. But maybe you will see in a few months.