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Citroen ‘most logical integration’ for dual-brand Vauxhall showrooms

Citroen UK managing director Karl Howkins

Citroen is the “most logical” PSA Group brand to integrate into the showrooms of the manufacturer’s franchised Vauxhall sites as part of an emerging shared site approach.

Karl Howkins, managing director of Citroen UK, said that plans had been made to integrate Citroen with Vauxhall under a joint franchise agreement just last month as three new retail partners were appointed to the brand.

He said: “Vauxhall and Citroen is probably the most logical integration, but if there was an existing Vauxhall and Peugeot franchised site, then we’d be happy to go in.”

Speaking at the UK launch of the new Citroen C5 Aircross, the brand’s new flagship SUV, Howkins said that the brand had been able to act fast on his acknowledgement – during an interview with AM last year – that its franchised retail network of 158 was “probably 10 to 12 too heavy”.

A reduction in the brand’s representation was made towards the end of last year and, while a current total number of outlets of 144 was “about right”, efforts were still being made to attract new partners and fill open points – suggesting further restructuring could take place.

12 potential investors are travelling to Paris this week to experience the inner-workings of the brand’s head office operations first-hand, he said.

And celebrating the arrival of the three new investors in recent weeks, he added: “Three new partners that we haven’t been with before have agreed to join the franchise in the last two weeks and I guess that’s down to relationships.

“I’ve spoken to them and in some cases they are people that have known me from before I joined the brand, so it’s good that we can work together and they’re showing faith in what we’re trying to do.”

“We lost 12 sites at the end of last year and the network size reduced from 156 to 144, but that size is about right for us now.”

Howkins admitted that there are certain open points which continue to prove a challenge for the brand, with the cost of real estate in Aberdeen and Cambridge posing a particular sticking point for potential partners.

Among the other strategic changes made by the Citroen franchise since the arrival of Howkins to the post of managing director in June last year, has been the promotion of increased penetration in the Motability sector.

Howkins said that the brand had “gone backwards” in its work with the scheme in recent years.

He has also driven a reduction in the number of specialist business centres in the network.

“The intention is to have slightly less focus on the outright number of centres and a greater focus on them being a ‘centre of excellence’ for business sales.

“We’re just south of 40 business centres now, but there are two tiers, with some retailers making an investment which makes them eligible for the full bonus and benefits but others who have less demands in terms of infrastructure but can still access some of the sales potential.”

In an interview with AM in October last year Howkins and his director of network development, David March, outlined details of the brand’s “turnaround programme” to improve the sales and accompanying profitability of 10 to 12 dealers at the bottom of the network’s third quartile.

Howkins said that he had been impressed with the progress of the scheme in the months since.

“We ended up with 11 dealers in the improvement programme,” he said.

“I’m not going to say that we have seen an improvement in every case, but the retailers are working with us to achieve improvements, and that’s a positive step.”

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