After BMW AG opened its auto plant in the United States in 1994, German rival Mercedes-Benz came right behind with its own U.S. plant.
Peugeot has shown off-and-on interest in a return to U.S. sales ever since departing in 1991. The French market leader has quietly tested cars here in recent years. It studied - but rejected - the idea of building plant here in 1995. Even though it has no official plan for the United States, the company is still stirring.
Peugeot-Citroen's profits nearly doubled to about $1.2 billion in 2000. The company has adopted a sales target of about 700,000 additional units from outside of Europe by 2004. It says it will begin looking for fatter margins - which typically means either higher-end products or lower-cost manufacturing. And last year, it imported 3,454 cars into Mexico - almost the number it sold through its U.S. dealers in 1991.
In February, a delegation of about 70 Peugeot-Citroen sales and marketing managers traveled to the United States to bone up on the U.S. industry and market conditions. The group convened during the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in Las Vegas. They met privately with U.S. consultants on issues ranging from Internet sales to factory incentives to dealer relations at Ford Motor Co.
The Peugeot executives were particularly interested in the concept of Internet auto sales: how they work and how they don't, says Larry Edwards, president of Edwards & Associates, a Harrisburg, N.C., automotive consulting firm. Edwards conducted a question-and-answer session for the French automaker.
"The question they were asking was, 'Why can't we sell cars over the Internet?'" Edwards says. "They've just come off of a great year in Europe, and I believe they want to look at what other automakers have been experiencing in the U.S. What the company's plans are, they really don't share that information."