Seven new Citroën dealers have been appointed, with all expected to be open for business ahead of March’s plate change.
The sites are in Braintree, Brent Cross, Chelmsford, Northampton, Oxford, Salisbury and Warwick. All are said to represent incremental business and based in existing premises. Renault and Saab are believed to make up most of the exiting franchises.
The news means Citroën now has 22 recognised network open points, including five inside the M25.
"We have two in Scotland – South Glasgow and Edinburgh West – as well as Solihull and Wolverhampton, but London is the long-term challenge because of the cost of entering the area,” said Citroën UK managing director Linda Jackson.
With nine dealers currently operating in the capital, plus Brent Cross to open soon, it leaves Chingford, Clapham, Croydon, Ruislip/Uxbridge and Wimbledon/Kingston as the vacant areas.
"We had a few unplanned losses after we renewed the contracts last year, but the majority of our open points are long term. We are very keen to fill them, and if that happens it’s fantastic, but we recognise there are challenges. We believe we will have another six open by the end of 2012."
Filling the gaps would take the current 180 sites to just over 200, but Jackson doesn’t see it expanding beyond that.
"I don’t think it’s appropriate to grow it further with the market share we have. We have aspirations to build market share, but even if we got to 5%, I don’t think it’s right to grow the network."
Jackson confirmed Citroën would continue the move towards strategic market areas started last year. "We obviously don’t exclude new people coming to the franchise, but we already have some operators with two or three sites. It has been successful, for example, Pentons in Bournemouth East are now looking at Bournemouth West."
She said the right partners weren’t necessarily the big groups, but operators who can deliver a fantastic customer experience and are ambitious for themselves and the brand.
Jackson also confirmed there had been more interest from Renault dealers in recent months, caused by the expected shake-up of the UK operation that was finally announced in December.
The design-led DS range of cars has sparked a renewed interest in Citroën. "Anecdotally we are seeing a lot more customers considering us for the first time. It’s a whole new strand to the business, it’s a good brand-builder and investors are more aware of it," said Jackson.