Why the C6 failed and what’s next

Citroen has given a preview of the Metropolis, possibly the replacement for the now aging C6. It’s designed in China, where Citroen is focussing efforts after a hefty sales climb in recent times. The powertrain of the concept car is interesting:

The Metropolis’ hybrid drivetrain incorporates 2.0-litre V6 petrol power mated to an electric motor to deliver 460bhp, while emitting 70g/km of CO2.

The bottom line is that it looks like an Audi A8 with a double-chevron glued onto the front. It’s bloody well disappointing when taking into account the car that it’s supposed to be replacing.

The C6’s main appeal is that it looks so different from the German norm for big executive cars. It could be argued that the fact by consciously setting itself apart from the big BMW-Merc-Audi offerings, is also reason it failed. This is true to a point, since most people think “it’s French so it’ll break down all the time”, and “it’s a Citroen so it’s not as flashy at parties as an E-Class or 5-series”. But Citroen also cocked it up with their whole marketing strategy from the very start, in my opinion. Now it’s easy to snipe when you have the benefit of hindsight, but since the C6’s run is winding down, it would be silly not to try to analyse what went wrong. If anyone from Citroen were to read this, let it be clear that it’s not me saying “you got it wrong, you stupid bastards”, since I’d muff it up even worse.

First and foremost: the choice of engines and transmissions. When the C6 came out, you could either get a 205bhp 2.7l V6 twin-turbo diesel, or a 215bhp 3.0l V6 petrol, both with only automatic gearboxes. Performance-wise, there was little to distinguish between the two. Money-wise, there was a world of difference regarding running costs, which meant that buying a petrol version was completely insane. As a consequence, the petrol’s pathetic sales led it being quietly dropped from the range. Had they strapped on a turbo or a supercharger, and offered a proper gasoline-powered multi-centennial horsepower model, that would have given the C6 a whole lot more pizzazz and credibility as a high-end car.

On the other hand, the entry model engine, the 173bhp 2.2l diesel, was introduced long after the car’s launch. I’m not one to know the complicated ins and outs of market dynamics and target-sectors of the population, but I do know that not having an entry model when the car’s still a novelty at launch can mean missing out on a considerable customer-base. Recently, Citroen replaced the 2.7-litre powerplant for an excellent 3-litre V6 with lower emissions and consumption, but with 240 horsies making the wheels go round. Good move. But now the entry model is only available with an automatic gearbox. Bad move. Very bad move. Automatics are for Americans and old people who have grown too lazy to shift gears with their hands. I’ve dreamt of having a C6 since it came out but the absence of a manually-shifting version has caused my passion to wane.

In a nutshell, Citroen have been staggeringly short-sighted in terms of customers could choose to make the car move. To have little or no choice worsened by having to choose between ok an ok-ish is halfway down the path of failure.

Then it was Citroen’s approach on how to market it. There was no disguising the frenchness of the car. Yes, they did an ad where the German national anthem plays and then gives way to the French anthem in an allusion to the quality of German cars as opposed to the French history of unreliability, but Citroen weren’t attempting to fool anyone. To me, one thing that seems to have gone wrong was a sort of lack of ambition. “Wait a minute,” you might say. “Citroen had high ambitions! They were hoping to sell 80,000 units a year! (and ended up selling a mere 15,000)” Yes, but from the start they started warbling about ‘exclusivity’ and ‘depreciation’, and how they planned to not let the former happen. By saying the car will be “exclusive” is a diplomatic way of saying “this car won’t sell”. Not heartening stuff that’ll make you want to spend money on one. A clever strategy would have been similar to how Citroen launched the DS3: a limited run to start off. “Exclusivity” would’ve been perceived completely differently, as if it were one of those supercars that only have a few hundred models built. What happens with in the case of the supercars is that the brand that makes it finish their initial run, then make another limited amount of the exact same car but say it’s 20 grams lighter and call it a poofy name, and then that sells out and they make another few hundred of the same car, this time with a stripe and that sells and so on. Had Citroen thought along these lines, people would have been tripping over each other to get one, since nothing becomes more desirable than someone saying “you can’t have one”. And such a strategy would also have taken care of the depreciation problem.

But if you do have a C6, I suggest you hang on to it. It’s a definite future classic, with all the requirements of becoming a legend. It’s rare, because it’s been selling poorly, it’s beautiful and it’s interesting, because among other things, no other car of its class went so against the norm (apart perhaps from the Lancia Thetis). And people like me, who unjustly can’t afford one now, will be eager to buy one once we can.


One Response to “Why the C6 failed and what’s next”

  1. colin humphries Says:

    I love the c6 and would love to own one

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