Peugeot Citroen will begin its American campaign by taking on Uber & Zipcar

Peugeot 308 R Hybrid concept, 2015 Shanghai Auto Show

Peugeot 308 R Hybrid concept, 2015 Shanghai Auto Show

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Last month, we heard that French auto group PSA Peugeot Citroen was planning a return to the U.S. What we hadn’t heard at the time was exactly how the company planned to take on such a well-established auto market after a decades-long absence.

Now, we know. And the plan…well, it’s interesting, to say the least.

Winning America, in three easy steps

The plan was unveiled yesterday by PSA Peugeot Citroen CEO Carlos Tavares during a meeting held in Paris for investors and analysts. Called “Push to Pass”, it builds on the company’s successful “Back in the Race” restructuring scheme, and it rolls out in three phases.

Phase one: Take on Uber
Tavares expects to begin Peugeot Citroen’s long campaign to gain a foothold on U.S. soil by becoming a “mobility operator”–in other words, a ride-sharing company like Uber. To do that, it may partner with Bollore, which has created vehicles for a popular car-sharing service in France called Autolib. 

Phase two: Take on Zipcar
After phase one, the next logical step is to put everyday drivers behind the wheels of Peugeot Citroen vehicles. Envisioning a Zipcar-like model, Tavares discussed loaning and potentially leasing vehicles to Americans, though cars would remain the property of Peugeot Citroen.

Phase three: Take on automakers
Once the public has become accustomed to seeing Peugeot Citroen vehicles roaming the streets, it’s likely–or at least possible–that there would be some demand from shoppers. Based on the strength of that demand, the company could begin selling to consumers.

Our take

Tavares’ plan is intriguing, but it won’t be easy to carry out–especially phase three.

For starters, Peugeot Citroen has no presence in the U.S., and it hasn’t for some time. Citroens haven’t been sold in the U.S. since 1974. Peugeot pulled out in 1991. And very few American consumers are even aware of the company’s relatively new, luxury DS brand.

Oddly enough, though DS could provide a leg-up to Peugeot Citroen by boosting demand among America’s upscale shoppers, Tavares appears hesitant to include it in Peugeot Citroen’s return plan–at least for the moment. That could change going forward, but currently, his focus is on mass-market brands Peugeot and Citroen.

Complicating matters is the fact that Peugeot Citroen has no dealer network. Unless it plans to follow Tesla’s arduous path of gaining approval for direct sales to consumers (which in many cases would require the company to sell only zero-emission vehicles), it’s got plenty of work to do on the distribution front.

And perhaps most challenging of all, the automaker will have to make its vehicles meet U.S. federal standards. That’s no small feat. (For reference, none of the cars in the DS luxury line could be sold in the U.S. today.)

Still, there’s something to be said about Peugeot Citroen’s ambition. Can pure drive help it succeed in America this go-round? Stay tuned.

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