As a part of Groupe PSA’s Indian venture, Citroen is officially making its way to India. Citroen is one of the oldest carmakers in the world and when it arrives here later this year, it will be positioned as a premium carmaker in the country. The detailed information regarding Citroen’s India plans will be revealed on 3 April and ahead of it, here is everything one needs to know about the long and chequered history of the Citroen brand.
Founded on June 4, 1919, Citroen (pronounced ‘si-tren’) is a French carmaker who is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. It was founded by a French industrialist Andre-Gustave Citroën when he decided to convert his modern yet unused armament factory into manufacturing cars. The Citroen pioneered mass-production of three revolutionary innovations which are widely used today – front-wheel-drive cars, four-wheel independent suspension, and monocoque body. Many cars which rolled out of Citroen factory flaunted some kind of technological revolution previously unseen in cars of its time.
As with all post-war cars, André asked his designers and engineers to make a car which was light, of good quality, mass-produced and attractively priced. He also characteristically mandated the car to have 10 horsepower, be better equipped, more robust and less costly to produce than any rival product at the time. And the result was the 10 HP Type A which rolled out from the factory at the end of May 1919.
That same year, André Citroën was negotiating with General Motors to buy out the Citroen company. But that buyout didn’t pan out and Citroën remained independent till 1935. During this period, Citroen produced half-track off-road and military vehicles which were even sold to US Military. Then at the 1924 Paris Motor Show, Citroen introduced the B10 – the first all-steel body in Europe while its competitors were still using a wooden structure for their vehicles.
The Citroen Traction Avant was a revolution in automotive engineering. At a time when vehicles were using body bolted onto frames, rear wheel drives and rigid suspension, the Traction Avant introduced the mass production of front-wheel-drive vehicles which were also monocoque in construction. The name ‘Traction Avant’ literally means front-wheel drive in French. The Traction Avant was also the first car to debut a Hydropneumatic suspension. It was in service between 1934 to 1956 and was adopted by three generations – 7CV, 11CV and 15CV.
The 2CV (also called the ‘deux chevaux’ meaning ‘two steam horses or ‘two tax horsepower’) is an air-cooled front-engine, front-wheel-drive economy car by Citroen sold between 1948 and 1990. The brainchild of Pierre Boulanger, the 2CV was intended to help motorise the farmers of France in the 1930s who were still using horses and carts. It offered 12bhp and was an instant hit because of its low cost, the simplicity of maintenance, an easily serviced air-cooled engine, roll-back sunroof, low fuel consumption, and an extremely long-travel suspension offering a soft ride and light off-road capability. Moreover, Michelin introduced the first commercialised radial tyres with the 2CV. In its total year of service, more than nine million 2CVs were produced across different bodystyles and variants.
In 1955, Citroen introduced the DS – a remarkable car for its era and it had a remarkable sounding name – DS is pronounced as ‘déesse’ in French which translates to Goddess. It was a front-engine, front-wheel-drive executive car sold from 1955 to 1975 in sedan, wagon/estate and convertible bodystyles for over three generations. It was famous for innovations like aerodynamic body and it also set new standards in ride quality, handling, and braking. It was the first mass-produced car equipped with disc brakes and hydropneumatic self-levelling suspension system. In 1968, the DS also introduced directional headlights, which moved with the steering – cornering headlamps, as it is called today.
Crisis in 1970 and merger with Peugeot.
Citroen took a decision to make a mid-range model (because 2CV was small, entry-level model and DS was an expensive flagship) where all the sales were at that time. And the absurd post-WW2 Tax horsepower system in France didn’t help them either. So Citroen made a contract with NSU Motorenwerke to develop the Wankel engine, bought Maserati and took over the French carmaker – Panhard.
But in 1973, Fiat sold its 49 per cent stake back to Michelin. The Citroën and Fiat joint announcement indicated that the benefits foreseen for their union in 1968 had failed to materialise. The company suffered another financial blow with the 1973 energy crisis, and the investment in Comotor and Maserati proved to be a failed venture. Citroën went bankrupt, for the second time after 1974 and lost its independent entity.
So in June 1974, Citroen announced its new partnership with Peugeot. Then in December, Peugeot S.A. acquired a 38.2 per cent share of Citroen and within two years’ time, PSA Group (where PSA is short for Peugeot Société Anonyme) became PSA Peugeot Citroën.
All through the 1980s, PSA progressively abridged Citroen’s ambitious and unique engineering approach and made its model more Peugeot-like. By the late 1980s, many of the distinctive features of the brand had been removed or altered. The only upside here was that Citroen was able to penetrate into newer markets where it could not have entered before.
Formation of DS Brand:
The next couple of decades for the Citroen brand was unexciting. In 2003, the C3 Pluriel was an attempt to relive the glory of the 2CV with its unusual body style. The C6 was a stately looking sedan produced between 2005 and 2012. In 2009, Citroen announced DS premium brand for select models like DS3 and DS5. Although it's an abbreviation for ‘Different Spirit’ or ‘Distinctive Series’, it was also simply a reference to the original DS. The DS then became a standalone marque in 2015 and it still operates under the PSA Group.
Citroen also has a very successful motorsport heritage. Citroen Racing, the motorsport department, has won 101 World Rally Champion (WRC) races and has bagged eight Constructer trophies consecutively from 2003 to 2005 and then between 2008 and 2012. The winning Citroen WRC race cars were Xsara, C4 and DS3. Even the original DS won many championships between 1959 and 1970.
Meanwhile, Citroën World Touring Car Team – the Citroën factory touring team – also had successful runs in the 2014 and 2015 season of WTCC (World Touring Car Championship). The winning race car was Citroën C-Elysee WTCC.
Ace racing driver, Sebastien Loeb, was behind the wheel for most of the wins for Citroen in motorsport, be it WRC or WTCC.
Meanwhile, in Dakar, Citroen took over where Peugeot left in 1990, with Ari Vatanen at the helm. Then Citreon also bagged three consecutive Dakar win between 1994 and 96 with the Citroën ZX driven by Pierre Lartigue.
Citroen’s current lineup includes C1, C3, C3 Aircross, C4 Cactus, Berlingo, C5 Aircross, Grand C4 Spacetourer, Jumper, E-mehari and C-Zero. Of the lot, the C5 Aircross was already spotted testing in India and is likely to be the first vehicle to be introduced in the country. It would be in the leagues of the Jeep Compass and Hyundai Tucson when it hits the streets in the later half of 2019.