Finally, French carmakers put realism before national pride

Luca Ciferri is a reporter for Automotive News
French carmakers have finally given up their delusions of grandeur – the belief that they can compete with their German rivals in Europe's large car segment. The decision is right, although it comes much later than U.S. companies Ford and General Motors reached the same conclusion.

PSA/Peugeot-Citroen will not replace its brand flagships – the Peugeot 607 and the Citroen C6. Both are fine-looking cars packed with great technology and comfort features but the business executives who mainly drive cars in this segment still prefer a status-enhancing Mercedes-Benz E class, BMW 5 series or Audi A6.

Renault will no longer invest huge sums in creating a new flagship and will unveil its latest large car, the Latitude large sedan, at the Moscow auto show in August. The car is a rebadged SM5 from the company's Korean subsidiary, Renault Samsung, and will replace the much-derided Vel Satis.

In the near future, Peugeot's largest model will be the 508, a 4800mm-long car that will replace two cars, the 607 and 407, after its debut at the Paris auto show in October. Sister brand Citroen will let a larger C5, due in late 2012, cover the market now targeted by the C6.

GM's Opel/Vauxhall unit gave up the executive sedan market in 2003 when its Omega flagship was left without a successor. Ford bowed out earlier, in 1998, when the company did not replace the Scorpio.

The two French car companies battled on with their grand dream of ending the dominance of the German premium carmakers. Unfortunately, vanity is not a valid business advisor.

Last year, combined European sales of the three French flagships – the C6, 607 and Vel Satis – totaled an embarrassing 4,565 units, according to JATO Dynamics. In the same period the A6, 5 series and E class had sales of 238,563 in Europe alone.

Buyers have clearly said they are not interested in large cars built by mainstream European automakers. Even Fiat decided that a large, rear-drive sedan initially planned to replace the Alfa Romeo 166 flagship should be built by its upscale Maserati brand.

Finally, the French are joining the club that puts business realism ahead of national pride. Welcome.