PARIS -- France's Citroen is moving upmarket with a stylish C6 executive sedan and will take on its main German rivals in their home turf.
Citroen said it aims to sell 20,000 of the car per year, including 6,000 in France and another 6,000 in Germany, which is the biggest market in Europe for this type of luxury vehicle.
For 2006, it is looking to start with 5,000 cars in Germany as a full commercial launch will not start before February.
Pitted against the Audi A6, Mercedes-Benz E class and the BMW 5 series, Citroen is entering an arena with well-entrenched rivals.
But the firm, part of the PSA/Peugeot-Citroen group, is confident that technical innovation, a high comfort level and a bigger interior space will help it reach its goal.
"I think our targets are at the prudent side," Citroen Managing Director Claude Satinet told reporters late on Tuesday, Nov. 15.
Known for non-conformist design and well placed in the markets for small and compact cars, Citroen's C6 at 194 inches long is the biggest car for the brand and caps a total overhaul of the line-up since the 2000 introduction of the Xsara Picasso.
Citroen has invested 600 million euros ($699.3 million) in the C6, 320 million euros in industrial investment and 280 million euros in development. The result is a feline-looking car, with a long wheelbase, rear spoiler wing, slightly raised back lights and a long nose.
A test drive showed very good road handling and relatively stress-free driving, with an automatic gearbox with optional manual intervention, a head-up display in the front window, speed limiter and cruise control.
There is a warning system for when the car drifts out of lane, anti-collision distance meters and a navigation system. There is ample leg room and a cabin full of creature comforts.
The car will sell from 42,500 euros ($49,500), and comes with a 3.0-liter gasoline V-6 rated at 215 horsepower or a 2.7-liter diesel V-6 with particulate filter rated at 208 hp.
Satinet said a four-cylinder version with manual transmission would arrive before the end of 2006, but the group had no intention to offer higher-powered engines.
FRENCH EXECUTIVES, GERMAN NON-CONFORMISTS
In France, Citroen delivered one of the first C6 vehicles to President Jacques Chirac and is busy signing up several chief executives of French blue-chip companies before a more general commercial launch via dealerships.
In Germany, it will adopt a different strategy, however.
A Citroen official said it was unlikely they could wean German industrialists or bankers away from their Mercedes, Audis and BMWs. Audi has sold 52,370 A6 and S6 cars in Germany so far this year, Mercedes has sold 52,927 of the E class and BMW has sold 52,370 of its 5 series, while Citroen has sold just 13 C6 cars in Germany so far, according to VDA German auto industry data.
Instead, the French firm is looking for buyers among more non-conformist people such as architects and designers.
Britain and Spain are also large markets for the executive sedan, while Scandinavia and Benelux are smaller. Citroen aims to sell 500 C6s in 2006 in China.
Despite sluggish markets, with total West European new-car sales down 2.6 percent in October for the worst month since 1996, Satinet said he was sticking to his forecast of a rise of 3 to 4 percent in overall Citroen sale volumes over 2004, underpinned by the new model launches.
Asked whether the Xsara Picasso, a multi-purpose vehicle of which more than 1 million have been sold, would be next for a relaunch, Satinet hinted at a yes.
"It does not take much imagination to realize that while our models usually have a seven-year life span, a model launched five years ago may be the next in line," he said, adding that Citroen had extended its lineup in the meantime.
The C6 is being made at Rennes, France, and shares a platform with the C5 sedan and station wagon and the Peugeot 407 -- a more sporty car from its sister brand.