Citroen wants its 450 Chinese dealers to achieve European standards to bolster the French automaker's drive to retain an 8 percent share of a booming marketplace.
Already 45 dealers have passed Citroen's Gold Dragon Charter, a quality certification bringing them up to standards equal to those in Europe. Citroen wants to have 110 upgraded by year-end.
"Like the vehicles we sell in China, we want our dealers to be first class," said Citroen Managing Director Claude Satinet. "Con-sumers in China do not want old ideas or out of date technology. They want the best and most modern available."
Dealer improvement will support Citroen's China sales surge from 53,200 cars in 2001 to 85,100 last year, he said.
"We have been raising the image of our dealerships in China because consumers have the same demands and tastes as those in Europe," Satinet said.
Citroen's 450 sales and service outlets are based in 250 cities and towns in China, with clusters around the main cities of Beijing and Shanghai. Entrepreneurs run all outlets except one owned by the PSA/Peugeot-Citroen and Dong-feng joint venture, which is close to the plant in Wuhan.
Satinet forecast 1.5 million passenger car sales in China this year, but would not predict beyond that.
"We are looking to preserve our market share of between 7 and 8 percent, which is good business if China continues to grow" at 15 percent annually, Satinet said. Chinese car sales jumped to 1.1 million last year from 718,000 in 2002.
The PSA joint venture with Dongfeng in 1992 was with Citroen alone, but sister brand Peugeot was added last year as capacity at Wuhan was increased from 150,000. Capacity could reach 200,000 units annually by adding a third shift.
The Peugeot 307 will join the Citroen Elysee sedan - a development of the successful ZX Fukang - the Picasso MPV and Xsara sedan on the production line.
Citroen could add a smaller model to meet demand. That would take more investment, said Michel Bricout, Citroen's director of international affairs.
"We can handle two platforms but any increase would mean putting more money into our Chinese operations," he said. He would not say whether this would be for the Citroen C3 or a version of PSA's small car platform being jointly developed with Toyota for Czech Republic production.
Citroen also exports the C5 to China and will add the C3, Pluriel and C8 full-size minivan as imports.