“It’s too soon to say”
Zhou Enlai’s apocryphal response when asked in 1971 about the significance of the French Revolution.
Where to now for this most mercurial of car building nations? Will they ever build a petrol engine again? I suppose the obvious answer is nobody knows, and yes it is too soon to say. But where’s the fun in that? Their history is rich and varied if sometimes more than a little hit and miss. But those glorious hits more than make up for those inevitable dropped balls. Where will those future hits come from? Is the current downward trajectory inevitable and irreversible? Let’s have a looksee.
Citröen’s launch of the DS brand was a brave move. They had spent so long discounting all their models residuals were a joke and it’s reputation had taken a real battering. The new policy (in theory) should allow bigger margins on upmarket DS. Maybe it was this distraction but it has also allowed standard Citröens appear to offer good value as opposed to being cut price bargain basement offerings. I can’t help but like the Cactus more and more each time I see one. Despite general doom and gloom about Citröen’s prospects I feel that maybe they do have a future in this bifurcated form.
Peugeot are risking a lot going down this “value” route. Did they not walk across the corridor and ask “how did all this discounting work for you guys?”. Just because you say “affordable technology” in a sexy French accent doesn’t mean people won’t notice that you are competing on price. “Price” as anyone who has ever worked in sales will know is the refuge of a poor salesman with a weak product. A little GTi Pug is always a welcome sight and the double bubble cockpit of the RCZ stopped me in my tracks when it was first launched. That said it really hasn’t aged well and the bump in it’s shoulder line still jars when I see it. The more run of the mill prosaic offerings do not offer any excitement though. A family member drives a 2008 and there really is nothing positive I can find to say about it. Quel surprise, crossovers are forming a larger and larger part of their offering. This is predictable, sensible and utterly depressing. Anyone predicting the demise of the French Lion is probably being a little premature but there is very little here to get the heart racing.
Renault is pioneering the way towards what seems like the world’s first disposable car. In fairness they also led the way a the turn of the century in manufacturing safe cars that scored highly in the NCAP ratings. Everything about what the do says this car is going to probably get to the end (of the admittedly long) warranty and then collapse in a heap. The new Scenic though is something I’m inexplicably looking forward to. Those massive 20″ wheels really do suit it and they had the cojones not to make it into another bloody SUV. Fair play to them. It is about as striking as you could make a single volume car and shows that the spirit of the Avantime maybe still lives. Their partnership with Nissan and the utterly charmless, ubiquitous, agricultural yet reliable 1.5 litre diesel engine coupled with a glint of a bold new design philosophy led by Van Den Acker leads me to believe we’ll still be looking at the Renault diamond for a little while longer.
The immediate future of the French motor industry seems pretty bland and safe. Perhaps I’m being foolish to hope for any more than this. I don’t see any future classics amongst the current crop but I may very possibly be proved wrong. Ask me in 2198 when I hope to have a better idea of the status quo in 2016.