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C5 fleet push driven from the top

Date: 19 October 2007   |   Author: Hugh Hunston

Citroen's unprecedentedly strong fleet emphasis for its new C5 saloon and estate car is driven by the company's managing director Gilles Michel, who said that early exposure to fleet executives and value guide analysts was a vital strategic element.

Speaking at the Paris unveiling of the longer, wider and lower C5 saloon Michel said: "Fleet is the key to the UK and northern European markets. We have a particularly structured effort to move towards fleets in the new way we present the car."

He added: "It was my decision to alter the way we work with the business car sector because it is vital to building volume in the contracting upper medium sector, particularly through the estate car. We organised early previews [in March] and recently guide and fleet people drove the cars with encouraging responses."

Michel was fully aware that anxiety about heavy discounting and its detrimental effect on RVs, but explained: "I have told our dealers this is forbidden territory for the C5 because it damages RVs and fleet image. We can impose penalties."

Citroen will not follow Renault's example with the new Laguna by extending warranty mileage for the C5, which goes on sale next Spring.

After "talking to fleet managers and guide pundits", Michel said: "When the function and reliability of the car is superior you don't need token gestures."

Fleet sector influence on the C5's format is also illustrated by offering a conventional "Germanic style" suspension as an alternative to the signature hydro-pneumatic system traditionally applied to larger Citroens.

Vincent Besson, products and markets director, said corporate clients were central to "reaching out to new, conquest customers" and he admitted "the old C5 did not really match the expectations of fleet customers, who did not want hydro-pneumatic suspension. Even the choice of having seats with more side support rather than the wider, softer seats shows we take this seriously".

Ian Hughes, Citroen UK's fleet and marketing director, claimed the new C5's "Teutonic-like levels of quality, styling and handling" qualified it as a "credible alternative" to VW's Passat and the company planned to follow the strong RVs generated by the C4 Picasso.

He said: "I would hope to be as close as a bundle of pound notes to Passat on RVs and look toward the Mondeo and VW for price positioning. Our previous C5 had no sector identity which is great because it is like bringing a new series to market."

Privately Citroen believes the C5's business car split could climb above the ongoing level of around 60%, supported by the estate car expanding to half of overall sales, compared to one third of the outgoing range's volume.

With an unsaid swipe at the new Laguna's conventional styling Hughes said: "There are manufacturers who focus purely on quality and warranties but choose not to embrace styling. We have gone full on for quality and good looks."