Will French Cars Return to Canada? Maybe
Peugeot, Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles merger could see redesign or replacement of some small cars
I’ll be honest, the thought of French automakers returning to our shores is a pretty exciting prospect.
North America has been a French car-free zone since 1991 when Peugeot bailed on the continent due to declining sales, and while both it and Renault have kept an eye on our market, plans for a return have remained fuzzy at best.
In fact, Renault said as recently as late 2017 that a return to North America was unlikely due to the highly competitive nature of the market. Given they’ve been in a formal alliance with Nissan since 1999 and platforms, components and technologies are shared between the two, a reasonable argument could be made that Renault is already here even if the vehicles don’t carry the company’s diamond badge.
All is not lost, however, as Renault’s home rival, Groupe PSA (parent company of Peugeot and Citroën, among others) announced in 2016 that it would resume selling cars in the U.S. within 10 years. It opened a North American head office in Atlanta in 2017 with a return in mind.
Despite the good news, 2026 is a long way off and the company hasn’t even begun to discuss, at least not publicly, the products it intends to bring to North America. Some of these vehicles likely don’t even exist yet.
In a move that will surely impact these plans, however, PSA and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) announced in mid-December that they have signed a binding agreement for a 50-50 merger of their operations to become the world’s fourth largest automaker by volume and third largest by revenue.
The deal, which has a projected market value of approximately US$50 billion, is expected to close sometime in 2021 (a joint press release issued in December said 12-15 months), after shareholders from both companies have approved the merger and all regulatory hurdles have been cleared.
So, does this new deal pave the way for any PSA cars to come to North America, once the merger has been completed?
That’s a hard question to answer. While Canada has a trade deal with Europe that could be helpful, it’s difficult to envision any current PSA models being imported here for a host of reasons, not the least of which is the reality that its current crop of vehicles are designed to suit European tastes, which differ significantly from our own.
Bottom line, most PSA cars are too small and underpowered for our market and would have to be significantly redesigned or replaced altogether in order to gain any sales traction in a crowded North American market. And that process that will take time.
Nevertheless, here’s a brief summary of PSA’s brands:
The ultimate legacy brand in the stable, Peugeot has been in continuous operation since 1810, long before the first automobile was invented. The company started out making bicycles and coffee mills before switching to cars when Armand Peugeot founded the Société des Automobiles Peugeot in 1896.
Currently, the company sells a range of small cars and crossovers, including top sellers such as the 2008 sub-compact hatchback, which was all-new for 2019, and the 2008 compact crossover, which entered its second generation in 2017.
As is the case with other Peugeot models, these cars are powered by small gasoline and diesel engines, which are likely to limit their appeal in North America, particularly in the U.S.
Founded in 1919, Citroën went bankrupt in 1974 and was merged with Peugeot to form PSA Peugeot Citroën in 1976. Its vehicles haven’t been sold in North America since 1974 and given the range of small cars and crossovers it currently sells, it could be years before Citroën-badged cars return to North America.
DS, which stands for Different Spirit or Distinctive Series, is a premium marque that began as an offshoot of Citroën in 2009, before becoming a standalone brand in PSA in 2014. While it still utilizes Citroën platforms and its dealer network, DS cars are held to different manufacturing and engineering standards.
PSA also owns Opel and Vauxhall, brands it bought from General Motors in 2017. Because of a 90 year-plus affiliation with GM, the lineups for both brands should look familiar to Canadian consumers as many of their nameplates are shared with vehicles sold here. The Buick Regal and Buick Encore are two prominent examples that exist as re-badged Opels in other parts of the world.
While Opel products are sold in most parts of the world outside of North America, Vauxhall vehicles are sold only in the U.K. The lineups for both brands are identical, however.
To sum up, it’s impossible to know for sure at this stage how the merger between PSA and FCA will affect the availability of the former’s cars in Canada. The merger certainly can’t hurt, but given the current product range PSA offers, which was not conceived with North American consumers in mind, I don’t think the picture will begin to become clearer until next year at the earliest.
When it comes to French car ownership in Canada, patience is everything.
By Lee Bailie / Special to wheels.ca