According to sources, Hartwell has lost patience with Citroen because it cannot make its Cardiff operation profitable, despite a string of new models. Edward McCabe, Hartwell chairman, promised a statement but it had not arrived as AM went to press.
Hartwell has Volkswagen and Chrysler franchises at the Cardiff site, which is on a prime location close to two main roads south-west of the city centre. The group also holds Citroen dealerships at Abingdon and Bath, with MG Rover showrooms at both.
Marc Raven, Citroen UK public affairs director, says: “The position with Hartwell Cardiff is sensitive and commercially confidential, but there is likely to be an announcement soon.
“We have some vocal dealers expressing concern but most believe, as we do, that new models over the next few months will bring about a rise in sales. We are introducing more fresh product than any other manufacturer.”
Hartwell’s loss of faith in Citroen is the most high-profile sign of growing discontent in the network.
Five years ago, Citroen set out to build UK market share rather than profit. In AM July 2, managing director Alain Favey admitted that margins could be better, commenting: “Profits last year were below the level we believe they should be.”
Some Citroen dealers say privately that the manufacturer’s marketing strategy – based on “pay no VAT” and other cashback initiatives – is encouraging retail buyers to chase deals that leave little or no margin.
Some dealer groups are more optimistic. One says: “Citroen has never been my favourite manufacturer because it offers bonuses for a while, and then takes them away.
“Fleet registrations are not good, but we have no complaint about retail sales which are making money for us.”
By the end of July, Citroen registrations were more than 11% down on last year (67,030, compared with 75,614). Market share fell over the same period, from 4.90% to 4.29%.
The fall in a vigorous market is discouraging when Citroen has launched the C2 and C3 plus the C3 Pluriel which is intended to mark a return to adventurous design. A replacement for the Xsara, and a revised C5, reach showrooms soon.