The number of UK outlets selling DS cars from Peugeot Citroen's premium brand is set to halve as DS seeks differentiation from its Citroen roots.
Plans are underway to reduce the number of DS dealers from the current 180 in Citroen sites to 80 or 90 restyled outlets as part of a raft of changes which will see the brand further established in its own right and no-longer a premium take on Citroen’s more mainstream offerings.
And Peugeot franchisees will be allowed to bid for a DS franchise, confirming AM's exclusive report from March.
Already the manufacturer is coming up with ideas that will help bring its guiding themes of the avant-garde, original design and luxury present in its latest crop of vehicles into its showrooms and the changes do not stop there. Greater exploitation of on-line sales and even boutique-style showrooms in shopping centres could form part of DS’s future.
Speaking to AM at the recent launch of the new DS 4 and DS 4 Crossback models Alastair Fairgrieve, DS Automobiles’ UK product manager, gave an insight into some of the brand’s thinking.
He said: “Next year we are looking for 80 or 90 dealers where we have got 180 at the moment. We will be selecting them with regards to their geographic location, their current DS sales figures and, of course, the current customer feedback they receive. We are looking very closely at customer satisfaction.
“They will be able to operate through a DS Salon Zone – as we currently have installed at 11 dealerships – or from a standalone DS dealership.”
Currently, one of the few standalone DS dealerships in the UK is run by Barretts at Canterbury.
Fairgrieve said that a great deal of thought had gone into the design, feel and even the smell of future DS showrooms. He said: “Everything from the floor tiles to the ceilings and the furniture are being looked into. The attention to detail that is evident in the cars must be present in the dealerships too.
"As part of this we’ve also had a DS fragrance developed, which will be used at the new dealerships.
“The impression we want to give is of a brand going over and above its rivals to create a welcoming and enjoyable car buying experience. Things like gifts on the collection of a new vehicle may become the norm too.”
Fairgrieve said that the cost of the changes to the DS dealer network would have to be shared by the manufacturer and the operator. He said: “Of course we understand that launching a brand like DS and working to establish the new dealer offering is going to cost money and that investment will be shared between DS and the dealership.”
Current Peugeot franchises would be able to bid for a DS dealership, he revealed.
Fairgrieve also confirmed that the changes to the DS dealership offering would have to be completed by 2018, when the brand expects to launch another new model.
DS currently has a model range comprised of the DS 3, recently launched DS 4 and DS 4 Crossback and DS 5 – China-specific DS 6 SUV and DS LS saloon models are also produced by the manufacturer – but has plans to introduce six brand new models by the end of 2020, including SUVs, hatchbacks and saloons.
As well as the style of the dealerships, Fairgrieve believes that some dealer habits must evolve as DS continues to evolve into an established premium brand and consumer confidence grows, leading to much-needed improvements in residual values.
Despite a healthier standard specification on the latest cars he would like to see more DS models sold with paid for add-ons. He said: “In the past we have had to sell DS’s with big discounts to bridge the gap between a relatively high price and low residuals, but that is changing. The new cars are better value and we’ve seen an RV uplift of 3.5% to 4% with the new cars.
“Now we’re hoping dealers can sell options, such as upgraded stereo systems and leather trim packages, to add to their sales. It’s something we simply haven’t done very well in the past.”
DS has is also developing its web-site with car configuration and test drive requests already part of the system in place.
Elsewhere, it has sought to strengthen its avant-garde theme with a “targeted” television advertising campaign featuring a pioneering architect, an astrophysicist and a pioneering 3D painter.
As part of its launch activity for the new DS 4 and DS 4 Crossback, the manufacturer also teamed up with bestselling French author Joel Dicker, who wrote a short story dictated via Apple CarPlay while travelling from France to Germany in one of the new models.
In a bid to seek more mainstream exposure closer to home, DS has had an ongoing presence in the central atrium at the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, London.
And this winter the brand is sponsoring the ice rink at the popular shopping destination, believing that it could further raise awareness of the brand, with around four million people expected to pass through the centre during the festive period.
DS Automobiles UK marketing director, Mark Blundell, said: “One of the biggest challenges for us is raising awareness of the brand and having our products aligned with the premium high street brands that are present in Westfield has to be beneficial to us.
“At the ice rink we’ll have three cars for shoppers to look at and an interactive area where they will be able to create an image of themselves using the technology used for the LED lighting seen on the new DS 4 and DS 4 Crossback.”
DS is clearly a brand which is very much in the process of construction, with a mind-set already being implemented in its vehicles and some dealerships soon to be made concrete in its slimmed-down new sales network. Now, it seems, its relationship with customers and dealers alike will have to be well-forged.
Fairgrieve said: “It’s an exciting time. There’s a great deal to do and we’ll be working closely with dealerships to ensure everything runs smoothly. DS is a brand with a lot to look forward to.”