Exclusive: DS CEO and UK boss detail 2023 growth plan

DS 4 2022 front quarter tracking

The new DS4 has contributed to the brand’s market share growth in 2022

Autocar speaks to Béatrice Foucher and Jules Tilstone for insight on the French premium brand’s future

It’s now eight years since DS became a standalone brand, having previously been a part of Citroën. Now it has a range of four models that it can truly call its own.

However, the French premium brand is much smaller than now in the UK than it was when selling models like the Citroën DS3 supermini, which at its peak accounted accounted for around 0.8% market share on its own. It now sits at 0.24% UK market share.

DS sales in the UK as a standalone brand peaked at 15,898 in 2016, dropping to 2379 in 2020 after the DS 3 went off sale in 2019.

It has returned to growth in 2022, with sales up by more than 70% to the end of November off the back of the launch of the DS 4 family hatchback, and next year it will bring revised versions of the DS 3 crossover and DS 7 SUV. Its dealer network is growing, too. 

The goal remains for DS to make itself a credible alternative to the established German premium brands – and to do so by growing profitably, rather than chase volume.

Since its 2014 launch, it has sold more than 500,000 models globally. 

We recently sat down with DS CEO Béatrice Foucher and UK boss Jules Tilstone (who in January will move to head up Jeep UK) to reflect on the progress the brand has made both globally and in the UK, and its plans for 2023. 

How would you rate the UK performance of DS to date?

BF “We did a lot. What has been delivered during the last years is creating and increasing the awareness of the brand. As these increased, the sales increased, the percentage of LEVs [electrified models] increased, reaching more than 50%, and we increased the market share by 50%. We still have a lot to do, because when you’re here [in the UK], you don’t see so many DS cars. We have to increase the awareness and increase the consideration for the brand. So yes, we did a lot. But we still have a lot to do in the market.

JT “We know that the UK market is a complex market. It’s the second-largest premium market in Europe, outside of Germany. The German brands dominate. But actually, you see that there’s demand for alternatives to the German manufacturers. Lexus is strong in the UK versus other European markets. So we know that there’s a demand there for something different to the established premium brands, and what we’re seeing now is that we’re delivering something that resonates well with an audience in the UK. We’ve grown organically in terms of the line-up. We’re at a point now where we’ve got four cars that cover more than 50% of the premium market in terms of the segments.”

You say you have a lot to do. What specifically do you want to do?

BF “We have in front of us a big potential in the UK premium market, so we have to take a piece of the cake. We did already, but as you see, we’re very little, so we have to be humble. But we need to grow. We have the cars, but how do we get people buying the cars? It’s very important to really illustrate the brand awareness and the brand attractiveness.”

JT “I think it’s important that we grow every year. That’s key. The more customers we bring in, the more referrals we get, the more cars we have on the road, the greater visibility [we have] as a brand.”

What shape is DS in going into 2023?

BF “Globally, 2022 has been a good year. The first indicator we have is the market share: versus 2021, we increased by more than 40%. So we sell more cars in a market that’s dropping a little bit. We also increased the dealers to more than 400 in total in the world. We expanded the line-up; we have four new models now and two new fresh ones to come through [the DS 3 and DS 7 facelifts] in the UK. We increased the attractiveness of the brand. We increased something very important in the LEV mix we have.

“We have great success for example in Argentina, which isn’t a big market, because the premium cars are very, very expensive, due to taxes. But we’re the second [best-selling] premium brand in Argentina this month, and from the beginning of the year we’re third. So we’re able to get great success in some territories. France remains the biggest market for us, at around 40% of our sales, which is great, but I would like it to be stronger.”

What about in the UK going into 2023?

BF “We’ve had great progress. Market share is increasing. Profits are okay. LEV mix is increasing and awareness is increasing in the UK. So all is moving in the right direction. The UK is obviously the second-biggest market for premium cars, but also for me, it’s the toughest one in Europe, more than in Germany. I think that people [in the UK] are willing to buy a car because the car is a social marker. And then they want to have the brand showing their success. And if you want to show in an obvious manner, you buy a car which will be admired by your neighbours. So we need to find a way to create the interest, the attractiveness, in order to be considered as a credible brand when you want to buy a premium car. What I want to do in the years to come is to systematically be in the basket of a buyer when they want to buy a premium car. This is the ambition we have.”

JT “We don’t really talk about market share, because we’re not here to just achieve market share; we’re here to establish the foundations for the brand in the longer term. But we will double our premium market share this year. Importantly, we will increase our orders by 50% year on year, and our order bank coverage at the end of the year will be somewhere between three-and-a-half to four months’ worth of coverage. So we’re operating above the 1% premium market share level, [which is] good solid growth. Obviously the new DS 4 has contributed to that.

“Through last year, we went through a rationalisation of the physical [dealer] network. Unlike some other new entrants into the market, we still see the physical network at a regional level a key factor for UK consumers, and that’s what we’re being told by our customers. There are some that are happy to order online, but actually the majority still want that security of going into physical space and talking to someone who understands the brand and can give them the right information to make a choice. So this year we’ve been recruiting new investors [and] we’ve got a number of new projects. The first one that has gone live is in Norwich. It’s one of nine new projects that will go live between now and late next year.”

DS has been pooled with Alfa Romeo and Lancia in Stellantis’s ‘premium cluster’. How does that work in practice?

BF “You have different teams, different brand positioning, different sales, management and so on and so forth, but we’re all together in order to be more of a voice and to get what we need in a big company. It’s better to have a three when you’re little, to have a big voice in the room. That’s the rationale behind it. It works well. What we’ll never do is have any common showrooms or any [external] communication between the brands. Today I think that we have a close connection. We’re working closer together each and every day.”

JT “From a UK perspective, we have 78% of consumers coming to the DS that aren’t currently owning another Stellantis-brand product. It’s important for us that we’re reaching our target audience for which the brand is developed and the products resonate with and that we’re not cannibalising purely another brand of the group.”

How will the agency sales model that’s coming to DS change the brand?

BF “Everybody knows that the retail experience will evolve for all the brands. It will probably be more omnichannel, customers willing to look at the brand online and going to look at the cars [in a dealer] to check the seats or whatever, and then they go back home and order online. So we need to get the flexibility and give it to the customers in order to do what they want when they want.”

Is DS still waiting for its breakout moment and model?

BF “[The] DS 7 for us is the pillar that we have. This is the model that sells best in all other countries but the UK. That’s it. So we need to find a way in order to make DS 7 into a success [in the UK].”

JT “[The] DS 7 has huge potential. The awareness piece is key for us. We now have an opportunity. We’ve now got four cars in the range, we’ve got a greater footprint of retailers and visibility through the fleet side of the business. We had limited foundations when we launched [the] DS 7 originally.”

It feels like DS has been through several launches or relaunches already since the Citroën DS3 first went on sale. Are buyers sensitive to that, and has that perhaps limited your progress in the UK?

JT “We were very successful with DS3 under the Citroën brand, more successful than I think in all of the other European markets. And you don’t suddenly switch [customer perceptions] just because we’ve decided to make DS into an independent brand with an independent network and with a brand-new model. That doesn’t change overnight in the minds of consumers, and we’ve seen how long it’s actually taken to convince the likes of yourselves about our credibility as an independent brand. And you guys are in the know, so consumers are going to be behind you in that journey.

“What’s important now is that we’ve got four models which are, I think, considered credible alternatives to existing premium brands. The product is the reality of what we are as a brand, and then the customer experience is the second layer. The third layer is our communication of that position.”

What opportunity does electrification give DS in order to alter perceptions about the brand?

BF “The brand decided to go electric right from day one. We decided to join the Formula E [single-seater racing] championship in order to support our knowledge of electrification, to support the technology and to demonstrate that we’re able to be the best in electrification, where we’ve been two times world champion. So the decision has been taken to move to electrification very fast. We did it well, and we have very good technology.” 

How is DS responding to the chip shortage? Are order times improving?

BF “The average today is six months. This isn’t only related to the chip shortage, but it’s also related to logistics. Today, the biggest pain point is logistics, because of [a shortage of] truck drivers.”

Source: Autocar

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