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GOLDING’S TAKE: Peugeot repaints history and a picture of the future

By Rob Golding | 11 January 2010

To Ebbsfleet for the Eurostar and Paris. The flash across the French landscape to Gare de Nord was monochrome. White sky, white fields, buildings, trees and hedges. It was a seamless, sideways-scrolling of a completely blank canvas.

The natural thing to do in the early-morning tranquillity was to project premonitions onto that long canvas - ahead of the Peugeot presentation in Paris of its new self. Old, boring, volume-car-producer Peugeot was to be out. In would come the self-styled "transport-solutions-provider". Peugeot with a far bigger range of transportation equipment and much more sizzle. In too would come commercially-ambitious-Peugeot with aspirations to outrun rival car makers. So much was certain. But what would it look like?

The presentation didn't start well. It should be a footnote rather than a headline that the Peugeot Lion emblem has been redesigned (he's got fatter) and that the blue of the corporate livery is darker blue. And if the corporate slogan selected is "Motion and Emotion" then that's something best kept to yourself. We have had several years now of avant-garde car makers disclosing that cars need "emotional content" not just a low price, high speed and a long original equipment list. To roll in late in the day with the idea is bad enough. To put it on the headed notepaper is not good.

Remember that Peugeot also makes motor bikes and cycles? No. Not everyone does. But you will from now on. Peugeot now becomes a grand, 200-year-old transportation company with ancient and modern bits added. The story that fills the scrolling pages starts with sepia penny farthings at one end, and goes deep into the next decade with images of three-seater diesel hybrid sports cars at the other.

The BB1 is to be built. This is a four-seater, all-electric city car which ranks as a light vehicle as it weighs only 450kgs before adding batteries. And Peugeot will build the Audi R8 look-alike, the RCZ , as a  hybrid.

It also has a long-bonneted open sports car concept with hard and soft roofs and a more than a whiff of Aston Martin design about it. It's known as SR1. You'll believe that Peugeot is full on its new message when it announces that sports car is going to be reality.

The products do look good, and if Peugeot can take us back to the Seventies when it was second only to Mercedes for ruggedness, and as good as most  for ride and handling, then there is a chance that all the ballyhoo will have been justified.

The plan has been drawn up by Jean Marc Gales who used to run sales at Mercedes and is now Peugeot Citroen managing director. His forecast also contains promises that Peugeot will grow from number ten in the world rankings to number seven. That means being bested only by VW, Toyota, GM, Ford, Hyundai-Kia and Renault-Nissan.

One way of getting bigger is clear enough. Buy Mitsubishi Motors Corporation. MMC has declared that it wants to be bought, but then it declared such a thing exactly five years ago on Jan 11 2005. The plan was ultimately defeated by the complex cross-shareholdings between the huge number of supposedly independent Mitsubishi Group companies.

It might be easier this time with MMC finances very poorly, and with both Peugeot and Citroen about to take a supply of iMiEV electric cars from them - yet another important highlight on the Peugeot scrolling canvas of mobility solutions. However Peugeot has EUR3bn of junk net debt and a prospect of having to stump up more than that for a half share in Mitsubishi.

It's all brave stuff. Both of the last two Peugeot managing directors failed to deliver on their published plans. The Peugeot family must be very aware that third time lucky cannot be an aspiration. It has to be a certainty.

Rob Golding