By on May 9, 2018

Citroen DS, Image: Wikimedia Commons

While French automaker PSA Group’s newly created North American headquarters resides in the warm, sunny South (Atlanta, to be exact), PSA North America CEO Larry Dominique’s mind often turns to that frosty land to the north.

That’s where PSA, maker of Citroën, Peugeot, and DS vehicles, feels it can gain a firm foothold once it begins shipping its vehicles to North America. A decade-long re-entry plan is already underway, but French car aficionados must first make do with the company’s mobility services. Real, actual cars will follow, and Dominique sees Eastern Canada as key part of the company’s plan.

Quebec separatists haven’t managed to sever their province from the rest of the country, despite several attempts, but they can at least look forward to thumbing their noses at the federal government through the purchase of a bonafide French car.

If you weren’t already aware, Quebec, Canada’s second most populous province, is pretty French, and Dominique feels his company’s cars could go over like hot poutine and a nicely chilled bottle of Fin du Monde. Neighboring Ontario and New Brunswick also harbor large francophone populations.

“Canada to us is a very important market,” Dominique said during an Automotive News roundtable in Detroit. It’s not just the assumed acceptance from French-speaking citizens that enamours Dominique with the Canadian market. The country recently dropped its 9.5 percent tariff on vehicles built in European Union nations, and its franchise-protection laws aren’t as robust as those in the United States.

Currently, the U.S. imposes a 2.5 percent tariff on European-built cars, but President Trump has threatened to even the playing field. (Europe imposes a 10 percent tariff of U.S. vehicles.)

“From a distribution perspective, it’s more flexible than the United States,” the CEO said.

Tariff threats aside, PSA is determined to return to North America, though the cost of building a dealer network from scratch doesn’t appeal to the automaker. It would prefer going a more modern route, similar to Tesla, though that could see it run afoul of protectionist laws in various states. In the interest of cost savings, Dominique said the automaker may partner with other companies for some parts of the business.

[Image: Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)]

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33 Comments on “If and When French Cars Return to America, Thank Canada...”


  • avatar
    TwoBelugas

    “Currently, the U.S. imposes a 2.5 percent tariff on European-built cars, but President Trump has threatened to even the playing field. (Europe imposes a 10 percent tariff of U.S. vehicles.)”

    Even the playing field? That’s xenophobic isolationist racist talk. Next thing you know he will want race-blind admissions policies in public universities.

    /s

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Trying way too hard, ironically, like the folks you are lampooning.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Maybe.

        But why would anyone buy a French car in America given their stellar track record of the past?

        For that matter why would anyone buy a Fiat?

        I am certain that an immeasurably minuscule percentage will always buy something because of exclusivity. But main-stream buyers?

        Nah.

        It’s Toyota. It’s Honda, And maybe even a French-inspired Nissan.

        • 0 avatar
          sportyaccordy

          I agree that this seems ill fated. I’d be especially spooked after Ford’s recent play. With all the capital needed to build out the dealer/service network the margins seem nonexistent for PSA.

          Smarter play to get French cars here would be for Nissan to rebadge some Renaults and send them over as Versas and Sentras. Risky I guess as I imagine the Clio/Megane cost more to build, and Nissan seems to have doubled down on the fleet market. But if they want to have any kind of success with those cars in retail….

          • 0 avatar
            Asdf

            It all makes sense once one realizes that it’s in all likelihood financed by a Chinese automaker.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          “But why would anyone buy a French car in America given their stellar track record of the past?”

          True, but then again, that was a long time ago. Cars have become far more reliable across the board in the last 25 or 30 years, and that includes ones sold overseas. It’s not like they don’t sell Japanese cars in Europe.

          • 0 avatar
            sportyaccordy

            Cars have become more reliable, but reputations remain. Between that and building out the dealership network, in a transitory + shrinking market, is mission impossible. PSA must be desperate.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            “PSA must be desperate.”

            I don’t think PSA is desperate (yet), but I do think their motivation is driven by financial concerns.

            In Europe and Asia, the national governments and national treasure are deeply entrenched in national industries.

            In the US failed public and private companies like GM and Chrysler are bailed out by the tax payers and the financial losses of the government are subtracted from the balance on the books of the US Treasury.

            Purely a paper exercise, IOW.

        • 0 avatar
          TwoBelugas

          “But why would anyone buy a French car in America given their stellar track record of the past?”

          If they prove to be a good value and reliable, people would buy it. The people who remember the last time they owned Peugeots and Citreons are slowly existing the car market. The French built Yaris seems to do rather okay here, well, at least still on the menu.

      • 0 avatar
        TwoBelugas

        “Trying way too hard, ironically, like the folks you are lampooning.”

        You clearly put way more effort thinking about it than I did.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          The French track record: Bugatti, Delahaye, Traction Avant, 2CV, Citroen DS, Renault Espace.

          All vehicles equal to, or superior to, or more technically advanced, or innovative than what North American manufacturers were producing at the time.

          • 0 avatar
            romer

            I lived in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe and South Africa in 70’s / 80’s and we got all the French cars, yes they were weird but tough and well liked – Renault 4,6,8,10,12,16,17 and 18 plus Peugeot 404 , 504 and the big Citroens. We got parts even with sanctions and mechanics had no problems. I had a Renault 12 which was a plain but good car, also 404 diesel pick up which was cow to start when cold and cracked steel injector pipes. I kept a supply under the seat. 404’s had a column shift, 4 speed but it was back to front in shift pattern compared to other makes.
            I think the big difference between North America and Africa was a higher service level and the dealer networks were very professional. I would like to see these levels of efficiency today but sadly this is unlikely to happen.

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    If you think that Quebecois will buy a car just because it’s from France, you don’t understand the Quebecois. It’s a little like expecting Americans to buy a British car because they also speak English over there.

    It’s also possible that people remember the French’s difficulty in producing cars that stand up to a cold, salty climate and mechanics who aren’t well-versed in quirky Gallic engineering.

  • avatar
    Asdf

    PSA’s return is merely an attempt by Chinese automaker Dongfeng to gain foothold in the American marketplace. It’s hardly a secret that the Chinese own a significant percentage of PSA, and even some of PSA’s cars built in Europe have engines manufactured in China.

    Should PSA succeed in establishing a meaningful presence in America, by that time PSA will most likely be a 100 % Chinese-owned company, at which point it would make no sense whatsoever to call Peugeot, Citroën or DS French cars, just like it’s now utter nonsense to call Volvos Swedish cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Advance_92

      Volvo’s are still designed and mainly built in Europe, though. They’re using Chinese money with as much or more freedom than Ford allowed.

  • avatar
    Boxerman

    will I be able to buy a new Alpine?

  • avatar
    BunkerMan

    +1 on the Fin Du Monde reference. Love that stuff.

    • 0 avatar
      namstrap

      The name Fin Du Monde fits. I like it too, but you have to be careful with it. I think it’s something like 9.5%.
      Truly the End of the World.

  • avatar
    cdnsfan27

    Forty years ago Quebecois bought Renault 5’s, Citroens and Peugeots as culteral/political statements but since those cars have gone it has been a few generations of Civics and Mazda 3’s. You can’t go home again.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Or, blame Canada? :-) But actually, I am a Citroën fan, going back to my childhood in the ’60s, and the interest was rekindled when Sebastien Loeb was dominating WRC in the Citroën Xsara.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      LOL my immediate thought as well. Now we know who to blame when broken down, weird looking French hatchbacks are everywhere. South Park was right – blame Canada! j/k

  • avatar
    conundrum

    PSA is in a mess. Its China joint venture sales fell by 50% in 2017 compared to 2016, 746K to 358K. Dongfeng owns 14% of PSA, but so does the French government.

    PSA bought Opel and cannot get its German workers to retire early or take a pay cut or close factoriez – labor costs are double those in France. Buy your Regal Sportback with care.

    Their renewed startup in Iran is threatened by the world’s number one intellectual. But so is Boeing and Airbus. Exports of Jaffa oranges are expected to surge in recompense

    PSA flogging a few vehicles in North America, er Canada east of Saskatchewan, on the supposition that Francophones will come flocking into their arms, is about on the same level as the UK making noises about running the Commonwealth on British terms following actual Brexit and expecting their former “subjects” to welcome them as saviours. Good luck with that.

    • 0 avatar
      Erikstrawn

      Hmm… risk trying to enter the US market, or be the only car manufacturer in Iran…

      They were supposedly selling parts under the table before the sanctions were lifted. I wouldn’t be surprised if they closed up their Atlanta headquarters, but then again, I don’t know how much they have invested in either venture. I think a lot will ride on how successful the Europeans are at keeping the nuclear agreement alive.

  • avatar
    Omnifan

    They could always use some Jerry Lewis material in their ads.

  • avatar
    Pierre

    Looking forward to that day. The more choices, the better. That new Peugeot 508 is a stunner :) Would love to see and be able to buy a Megane or a Grand Scenic too.

    • 0 avatar
      HotPotato

      Good choices!

      (I could also see the Dacia Duster offered as a compact CUV for a subcompact CUV price, perhaps rebadged as a Renault like they do in Brazil…)

  • avatar
    WallMeerkat

    Renault could easily sneak in via Nissan dealers. In Europe they already relaunched Dacia by having them sold from corners of Renault dealers.

    PSA would need to pair up, why not Buick – they are effectively building their Regals for them…

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    They better be planning on buying or building some beefier engines, because most of those frenchies have less displacement than a sixer of bud.

  • avatar
    "scarey"

    I could go for a DS model. They look like a Studebaker Hawk stretch limo.


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