NEW C5X. The long interview with Pierre Leclercq, Citroën design director

The first tests of the C5X have taken place and Citroën’s new sedan is now arriving in dealerships. We met with Pierre Leclercq, the brand’s design director, to discuss a number of current issues: the end of production of the small C1, changes in its design teams, the arrival of the C3 in India and Citroën’s position within the group, alongside Fiat-Abarth…

The C5X got off to a good commercial start in China (above). Is this a hope for designers who will finally redesign saloon cars?
Pierre Leclercq: “With the new architectures linked to electric platforms, we can say that saloons will no longer be the saloons we know today.”

Can we imagine that with the arrival of the dynamic crossover and this surge of the redesigned saloon, it is perhaps the announced end of the pure and simple SUV?
P.L.: “Let’s just say that I think that more and more people want to lower their driving position a little and be closer to the road. And from the manufacturer’s point of view, there is a real pressure on the aerodynamics of electric cars in order to improve their autonomy. So obviously, we’re looking for less massive and taller concepts to improve efficiency.

To know Pierre Leclercq better, read our posts https://lignesauto.fr/?p=9330 and https://lignesauto.fr/?p=9344

In contrast to the C5X, there is the small C1 in the A segment which has stopped production. Is there really no more room for such an offer in the near future?
P.L. : “You’d have to ask our product manager! I think we have solutions, very nice products can be imagined in this A segment. But Stellantis has 14 brands and we don’t all have to produce the same thing!”

Within Stellantis, you belong to the ‘Core’ group with Fiat and Abarth. Does the target clientele push you to reinvent sustainable design, products with a longer life span, like Dacia for example?
P.L. : “I would like to insist on the fact that I love the ‘popular’ side of Citroën. I have worked too much for brands which were not premium and which wanted to be premium! That’s a word I don’t want to hear anymore! Designing cars that are accessible to everyone is fantastic. When we manage to produce projects like the Ami and those you will soon see, it’s not just a question of design: I really feel that we are making people’s lives better. Citroën’s management wants to bring products that are accessible to everyone and that’s much harder to do than a premium car!”

Is the design necessarily impacted by this objective?
P.L.: “We design interesting products for the near future, there is no doubt about it! As for design, I often use the example of our parents’ kitchens compared to IKEA’s today. Our parents bought a kitchen for life. Today, for a modest budget, you can have a beautiful kitchen at IKEA and I admire the work of their designers. They make popular products in the noble sense of the word but they execute it perfectly: it’s well designed, practical and creative. It’s the same as our approach. Our role is to design products that are popular, accessible and, in fact, must last and above all be sexy. We’re going to present products that will make people dream.

Pierre Leclarcq insists on explaining that “our ambition is to design popular, accessible products which, in fact, must last and above all be sexy.” Just like the IKEA kitchens…

Do you meet your alter-ego from Fiat-Abarth, François Leboine, in this “Core” division?
P.L.: “Of course we talk to each other. He is in Italy, we are in Vélizy and he has to rethink an entire range…”.

Has the arrival of Fiat-Abarth in your division forced you to change your design strategy?
P.L.: “No, we are not changing anything! Jean Pierre Ploué* has always driven brand differentiation, and he does it very well. Each brand has its own identity, its own values, its own key words, and this is a strength of the Stellantis group. This is something I have not seen in other groups. When there is a problem with things that are similar or that could lead to a kind of cannibalism, we talk about it and he makes decisions in line with the identity of each brand.”

*The design directors of the Peugeot, Citroën, DS, Opel-Vauxhall and Fiat-Abarth, Alfa-Romeo brands are under the responsibility of Jean-Pierre Ploué. The latter also adds to his functions that of Lancia design director.

THE NEW C5X CHALLENGES THE CITROËN CX, ROBERT OPRON’S LATEST CREATION FOR THE BRAND. THIS IS HERE https://lignesauto.fr/?p=24792

The integration of all the brands within the Stellantis group gives the impression that the pace of new product launches at Citroën has slowed down…
P.L. : “No, not at all. I can even tell you that we are very active and that we will surprise you!”

You are still not present in the dynamic crossover segment and the C4 above has only one silhouette for the moment whereas the previous generation had a saloon, a coupé and two MPVs.
P.L.: “Could we go any faster? I would say that we would all like to go faster. I would like to make cars in a year and a half! But the design is part of the job, and when we have finished, we still have to make the tools, the tests etc. We have a C4 which is already very good. We have a C4 that is already very dynamic! Don’t worry, we have some great projects coming up, but this is not the time to talk about them. And when they come out, you will see that only Citroën could design them!”

Let me put my question differently: Carlos Tavares presented the first 100% electric Jeep on the e-CMP platform during the Dare Forward 2030 strategy plan, below. This is a brand that is not lagging behind and that is going to go ahead of you?
P.L.: “No, we are not lagging behind. What is true, however, is that some of the group’s brands have had to move very quickly on known bases in order to renew their products. They are the ones who have gone faster than expected, but it is not us who have slowed down! The only projects that were delayed were concept cars, because of Covid, but no production cars were delayed.”

Our survey on designer transfers (http://lignesauto.fr/?p=24293) shows that the Citroën team has changed, particularly with designers who are more “product design” oriented.
P.L.: “Yes, we have a young Indian woman in our team who has shown us a portfolio that is completely non-automotive, and I admit that it’s double or nothing! But I don’t want her to do cars, she designs incredible projects in product, that’s what I want, because Citroën designs different products in the end.”

So many departures, including three to Dacia, is it surprising ?
P.L. : “I have seen your survey, which is rather well done. But I’m not going to speak for the designers who left, two of whom did six months with another manufacturer before moving again. In three years, the teams have evolved enormously, but there is a majority of people who have left internally in the Stellantis group, like Frédéric Duvernier (ex-responsible for Citroën NDA concept cars) at Lancia.”

On the right, Frédéric Duvernier, former head of concept cars at Citroën and now in charge of Lancia design. On the left, Pierre Icard, designer of the Ami One concept car.

“When Jean-Pierre Ploué reorganised the teams with the design directors, everyone helped in this respect. And it’s also very good for those designers whose careers evolve internally at Stellantis. At Citroën, I found myself with lines to compensate for, and I wanted to hire people from abroad (Land Rover, BMW, etc.) even though two Renault designers joined us (Pierre Sabas and Yang Fu). I had a five-year plan with a precise goal, to have a war machine, with young people who are very strong in the field of 3D. There is an extraordinary atmosphere here!”

When you talk about 3D, are you talking about digital or physical models?
P.L.: “A designer who leaves school is creative and knows how to draw, but I want to see this beautiful drawing quickly in volume, in front of me, whether in 3D or in physical form. These young people must have the chance to make their models and be trained in this field. What I want is for every young designer to be involved in making their model. I want all our designers to be able to go as far as possible in their CAD work to quickly put their creations into volume.”

To find out all about the genesis of the Citroën C5X, read our quarterly LIGNES/auto#04.
Order here: https://lignesautoeditions.fr/?p=790

Is it to bring a new Citroën design language?
P.L. : “We are going to keep our design language which is, for example, softer and rounder than a Peugeot. There will always be very “automotive” cars, but also others that we want to be more “technical”, more iconic, with more technical front ends. To express what we want, look at the new C5 Aircross with its new front end (below) which is more of a product design, with precise details and sharp lines. And it will be the same for the interior design, with very soft surfaces and, in contrast, elements that I want to see coming out of the FNAC rather than an automotive product.”

William CROZES-Continental Productions

To conclude, let’s talk about Citroën’s 2021 novelty with the arrival of the C3 in India, below. Are Indian tastes comparable to those of Europeans? In other words, will the future European C3 be a copy of the Indian C3?
P.L.: “No, Indians and Europeans do not have the same demands in terms of design. I have had the opportunity to study the Indian market a lot and the customers’ demands are very different from ours. So no, it won’t be a copy and paste.”

Has the B segment, in which the C3 and C3 Aircross and the Indian C3 operate, become the most important for Citroën?
P.L.: “No, I don’t think so, because it’s all a question of markets and everything is linked to the countries we are targeting. We have Europe of course, but also India and the Latin American markets. We have to become more international and this is a great challenge. In Latin America and India, we must be well represented in the B segment, whereas in Europe, we will probably push more towards the C segment.”

To better understand where Citroën fits into the Stellantis nebula:

The ‘European’ brands of Stellantis are all under one roof and each has a clearly defined place. The access is composed of the “Core” pole in which we find Citroën and Fiat, with Abarth. The “Mainstream” division includes Opel/Vauhall and Peugeot, the latter being more “Upper Mainstream”. The “Premium” division includes Alfa Romeo (Sport), DS (French know-how) and Lancia. Finally, Maserati is alone in the “Luxury” unit.

Watch our exclusive video: Citroën C5X: the heiress. Where we talk about DS, CX, XM, C5 and C6…

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