Citroën has always been a company that sees the world from a different perspective than its peers. “Quirky” might be the best adjective to described the company, whose current offerings include the determinedly different Ami city car. Last year it unveiled the decidedly unconventional oli, a car so outside the norm it defies description.
In a recent interview during the launch ceremony for the company’s latest electric car, the E C4 X, Citroën CEO Vincent Cobée told Auto Express the demise of the SUV is inevitable. “The world of SUVs is done,” even though he says right now the data about new car sales show the “numbers are not telling me I’m right.” Indeed, those sales numbers indicate that SUVs have accounted for 50% of all new car registrations in Europe over the past few years.
One major reason for the industry pivoting away from SUVs to cars like the C4 X will be aerodynamics, he says. “On a battery EV, if your aerodynamics are wrong, the penalty in terms of range is massive. You can lose 50 kilometers between good and bad aero, and between an SUV and a sedan you’re talking 60/70/80 kilometers very easily.”
The proof, claims The Drive, can be found by comparing the Tesla Model Y SUV (although the IRS says it isn’t) to the Model 3 sedan. Both vehicles are powered by the same battery pack and electric motor driving the rear wheels (the RWD-only Model Y is not available in all markets). Tesla says the sedan has a range of 491 km while the Model Y is rated at 455 km — 7% less.
Cobée points to the BMW iX SUV, which has a larger battery pack than the more aerodynamic i4 sedan. But this won’t always be possible, he says. “People will start limiting weight and battery sizes, either through taxes, through incentives, through regulation, through naming and shaming,” he said. France, for example, is preparing to tax vehicles according to how much they weigh. “The A segment has been killed by regulation (and) the D segment (SUVS) will be killed by aerodynamicism and weight,” he claims. He also takes a swipe at so-called SUVs that are little more than sedans with jacked up suspensions that are “called SUVs just because they’re a bit higher.”
Citroën Focuses On Small, Light, & Efficient EVs
The weight gain simply isn’t acceptable, says Cobée. “In the 1970s, a car was weighing 700 kg. Today an average car is weighing 1300 kg. Tomorrow an average car will weigh two tons. So we’re using three times more resources to deliver the same service, just to be ‘green’.”
He compares buying a car with a large battery that is used only once in awhile to taking a giant backpack intended for a multi-day hike to the office. “Do you go to the office with that backpack? The answer is no. So why would you go to the office with a car with one ton of battery?” Instead there should be a greater emphasis of a better charging experience on the move, he says, something Citroën is intending to make easier via route planning tools that identify where charging can conveniently take place along the way.
The answer to range anxiety is a more robust charging infrastructure, not bigger and bigger batteries, he says. The company has started offering short term loans of conventional cars to its EV customers who occasionally need to travel further than their EV can go comfortably. It has started offering that service in France and plans to expand it to other markets as well.
Finally, it’s a simple case of changing perceptions, with SUVs likely regarded to be increasingly problematic in years to come as the climate crisis deepens. “If you live in a big city, five years ago if you drop off your kids with a big SUV you’re a man. Now, if you do this, you’re a ‘terrorist.’”
Citroën is bucking the trend among other manufacturers with its EVs. Instead of making cars with massive batteries, it is focusing on smaller, more efficient cars with 50 kWh battery packs or less. Cobée doesn’t deny that there is a risk in moving away from the kinds of cars customers want now, but he suggests doing so could avoid a larger problem later. “If we stick to ‘SUV boxes’ until 2030 and discover there’s no customer, it’s going to be a hard landing. You don’t want to be the last one to leave the dance floor.”
The oli is perhaps the perfect distillation of the vision Citroën has for the future of mobility. Stellantis, the parent company of Citroën, says in a press release, it is a “radical, responsible, and optimistic approach that initiates audacious future intentions for the brand.” In other words, it is like every other Citroën ever made — defiantly different and proud of it.
Vincent Cobée says the time is right for oli. “Three societal conflicts are happening simultaneously. First is the value of and dependence on mobility, second is economic constraints and resource uncertainty, and third is our growing sense of desire for a responsible and optimistic future. Consumers can sense the era of abundance may be over and increasing regulations as well as rising costs may limit our ability to move around freely. At the same time, a growing awareness of the need to accelerate efforts to prevent climate change is making us more eco-conscious and discerning.” That “end of abundance” theme is something we hear a lot about these days but it is not something most companies talk about in public.
“Legal and safety requirements have driven some of this, but if the trend continues and we carry on parking these vehicles 95% of each day and driving 80% of journeys with a single occupant, the conflict between the need to protect our planet and the future promise of sustainable, electrified mobility will not easily be resolved,” he adds.
“Citroën believes electrification should not mean extortion and being eco-conscious should not be punitive by restricting our mobility or making vehicles less rewarding to live with. We need to reverse the trends by making them lighter and less expensive and find inventive ways to maximize usage and refurbish for subsequent owners. Otherwise, families won’t be able to afford the freedom of mobility when all-electric vehicles become the only option available to them. oli is a powerful demonstration of how Citroën is confronting these conflicts head-on and with optimism.”
And people say Elon Musk is a visionary!
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