We spoke with Pierre Leclercq: “our Citroën Oli is not only style. It is French Design.”  

On the Brussels Salon, Citroën showed its already iconic Oli prototype, a harbinger of things to come in the Citroëns which will be in the showrooms already this and next year. Reason enough for your servant to have a talk with its head of design, Pierre Leclercq, about the design philosophy of the progressive brand with the “double chevron”, and so much more…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

I started this interview asking indeed about this new design philosophy of the brand, striving towards simplicity, practicality, lightness, durability and sustainability in a very bold and original package.

PL: “With the Oli, there are two things. First there is the brand identity, as we show with the Oli styling elements which we will bring to the market as soon as this year. The front end, the new logo, the head- and rear lamps, also the coherence between the front and rear end. The latter is a very important element in our brand identity. (We have seen this already in the Ami – editor’s note).

The form language, the simplicity of the edges and the curves will also be seen on our future production cars, but then also the contrasting vertical elements will be present. Our designers will deviate here from the strictly automotive styling which you see in the other brands of the group, we have a non-automotive touch which will be a distinctive element in our future styling.

The magic goals of French Design…

The second fact is that the Oli is not just a styling exercise. It is not only style. It is really French Design. We work together with our engineers to reduce weight, the cost, we are striving for intuitive and simple solutions.

For instance the seats. It’s very important, we work with a whole team to get a seat which is very distinctive, which we can put into production. We discovered with the Oli that our clients are ready for these things. We see that our clients are ready to take bold steps together with us, because we have an image that we will bring something more on the road than just a nice looking car.

HKtB: This translates also into the choice of the materials, the dialogue with the suppliers about the substance and texture of the elements and their surfaces, their unique touch and feel, the atmosphere and character this gives to the car…

PL: We will be a zero carbon company in 2038, and this has a huge impact on materials. Not so long ago, the choice of the materials came very late in the process of building a car. The exterior and interior, the colors, it was seen as pure decoration. Here and there, one started to use recycled materials for some items, but that was it. This process is now completely turned around at Citroën. We now ask first to tell us which materials we can use, as we want recycled materials, unpainted, and we will go from there and adopt them. This is most interesting. And I think that our clients are also ready for this.

HKtB: These elements and this approach we also see in the Ami. The French, as even Mr. Tavares recently put it, love their individual mobility. The Ami is fit for the (mega)city… will there be other models geared for a new City Mobility in the spirit of the Oli?

We always search for new solutions…

PL:  We have many projects running now. It’s a bit like a funnel. When there is one project hitting the road, we have already other proposals in the pipeline. We are always searching for new solutions. If you remember, two years ago, we showed a rather disruptive project of robotized platforms, which is an intelligent use of the present day autonomous technology, in controlled urban areas. But I imagine perfectly in 2030 and 2035 that these solutions will be used in our cities. The design will then focus on the interior of the cabins and structures rolling on these platforms, a very interesting evolution.

The Ami represented a big risk for us, indeed, we thought about the city, but in fact, we scrutinized the clients who bought the Ami, age, location, etc, and we noticed that the Ami is not only used in the cities. We have clients who buy the Ami for their children and grandchildren, remember that in France you can drive an Ami at the age of 14, and it is better than a scooter. And in a market where these vehicles cost between 12 and 15.000 Euros, ours is available for 6.000 Euros… No small feat, as we respect the profitability margins of our group! It is now on the market for two years, and it has grown more into a lifestyle than a car. This is also what the 2 CV has achieved. It is not easy to create the same phenomenon in this day and age…

HKtB: Can you tell a bit more about your Ami buyers?

We have also many clients who buy an Ami for their holiday homes. And as I said, of course grandparents who buy the Ami for their grandchildren. There are also clients who own a Ferrari and buy an Ami for their third or fourth car…

HKtB: We talked earlier in Paris about your open mindedness towards other designers, in other sectors, who could become involved in offering elements of the car during its life, for example, that in a further future one could offer replacement seats for Oli’s or Citroëns who after years of intensive use get a bit long in the teeth… or, rather, offer parts and items to customize the new Citroëns…

PL: It’s a philosophy I love very much. People more and more want an object which is really theirs. Design is not a luxury anymore. If you go for an Ikea kitchen, you can still choose the finish, styling and colors you want, to make it yours. This is now also true for cars. We have started this with the Ami.

HKtB: It is also true for Jeep. Mopar offers a wide array of accessories.

PL: Indeed, this trend is already more prominent in the States. But with the Ami we started off in Europe with the same trend. Not that we offer many accessories, but we created a desire with the customer to customize his car. It’s like Apple. They don’t offer many accessories themselves, but are produced by Belkin etc. It is a very interesting path for our cars in the future. This will give us for instance incredible interiors. I want the client to appropriate our geometries. Why not share our geometries on the internet Open Space and invite the developers to have fun with it?

Every brand has its own design team to embody its proper DNA

HKtB: What is your relationship or rather dialogue between your styling department and the suppliers? Do they come present you what is possible, or after having established a manifest for yourselves what you want to do in styling in the next five years, let’s say, you ask them to come up with new materials, possibilities?

PL: The dialogue goes both ways. But I want to stress here that the design has become very important. The suppliers are specialized in offering technology, for instance for the platforms we have conceived within the group, but over the last 30 years, what have we done? Instead of asking PininFarina or Bertone to style all the cars in the world, we have all established our design centers which carry truly our DNA, and every brand has its own equipe or team of designers. This is génial, because we have cars within the group which don’t resemble each other at all…

HKtB: With the new materials comes also repair friendliness, durability…

PL: Indeed, we want our cars to have a longer lifespan, and we will refresh them within our network. We need of course more control as nowadays we don’t see the car anymore after it has been produced. We have to control the recyclability of the car. Otherwise it’s no use to build the car with recyclable materials.

HKtB: It think it is necessary to tell the client that his car now has a long life and that you as the manufacturer will follow the car throughout its life.

PL: Indeed, a lifelong car, staying with you the rest of your life.

HKtB: Indeed, that as a brand policy you commit yourself to the clients that your Citroën model, Type A, B, or whatever, that you will always follow this car for decades to come…

PL: Ca serait génial, that would be a stroke of genius. It is our goal. It would be very interesting and it would completely change the idea of the automobile of today.

HKtB:  The youth is already there. They support and adopt the circular economy. I think Citroën is the right brand to do this. 

PL: Indeed, we push within the Stellantis group for these concepts, and I think that our clients are far more inclined to make these choices than the buyers of other brands.

HKtB: I thank you for this interview. Thinking out of the box is always interesting.

PL: I thank you, always lovely to exchange these ideas, thank you for the conversation. I also think that every car we build has to make the life of our clients better. These are not empty words. The Ami improves lives. We offered a new service; in Paris, people smiled when they saw the car. It takes something to convince a Parisien!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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