Citroën, the last of the big European marquee carmaker that steadfastly kept away from India, is finally here. The century-old French brand known for iconic cars like the  Citroen DS, 2CV, BX GTi, and C6 etc., is owned by Groupe PSA (now part of  Stellantis N.V.) which also owns Peugeot. After three years of groundwork,  the India operations will finally see the launch of its first car early next month, the five-seater C5 Aircross SUV.

The Citroën C5, which is likely to be priced at around Rs 28-30 lakh, will be launched with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder common-rail diesel engine, with a power output of around 140bhp and 320Nm of torque. While a six-speed manual gearbox is offered in some markets, we expect the India-spec C5 to get Citroën’s 8-speed automatic, given Indian customers’ clear preference for automatics in the premium SUVs segment. The C5 is a high-tech vehicle with great attention to detail, upmarket interiors, a full range of safety features and the latest in electronic driver assistance technologies. We also expect the C5 to be fitted with a large full-colour touchscreen and have full smartphone connectivity via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Citroën showrooms in India, in keeping with the French company’s premium brand positioning, are expected to be thoroughly modern and feature things like a 3D configurator, which would allow customers to customise and personalise their cars extensively. The first showrooms will be set up in Delhi, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune, Chennai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Kochi, while other cities will follow later in the year.

After launching the C5, Citroën is expected to launch smaller, more affordable, more mainstream cars and SUVs in India, perhaps starting with a compact SUV in 2022. The Citroën compact SUV may be priced at around Rs 10-12 lakh and is likely to be one of the best-equipped vehicles in its segment. Also, while the C5 will be diesel-powered, Citroën will focus more on petrol / turbo-petrol engines for its smaller SUVs, since the company believes India is moving away from diesel and is seeing much more widespread adoption of petrol power across segments.

Groupe PSA’s previous plans to enter India over the years with their other major marquee brand Peugeot were non-starters. A  joint venture with Premier Automobiles called PAL-Peugeot Ltd, set up in 1994 to manufacture the Peugeot 309 in India using CKD units, was shut down after a few years. Premier, one of India’s pioneering car makers famous for its Premier Padmini, was by then well past its prime. Labour problems at its Kalyan plant and the Indian buyer’s aversion to a model that was discontinued in Europe meant that only about a 1000 units could be sold. The company shut down in 1997 amidst mounting losses.

Following this, there was talk about Tata Motors being interested in making the Peugeot 307, a project that never materialised. Later,  there were plans to set up a Rs 4000 crore manufacturing facility in Gujarat. But this didn’t take off either.

The  French company’s joint venture partner for the Citroen project is the CK Birla group, the owners of  Hindustan Motors,  famous around the country as the maker of the legendary Ambassador cars. Starting in the late 1990s it had a tie-up with Mitsubishi Motors of  Japan to make the  Lancer sedan in India, followed by the Pajero and Outlander.

The  Groupe PSA-CK Birla partnership for Citroen includes two joint ventures. The first to make Citroen cars at a manufacturing facility outside Chennai in which the French company will own a majority stake, and a 50:50 venture to make and sell powertrains, also in Tamil Nadu.

With these two facilities and the resources of the experienced CK Birla Group, Citroën will be in a strong position to expand operations across India, set up a strong dealer network and not stumble on issues like aftersales and service. On the whole, things are looking good for the French company this time, though they’ll almost certainly have an uphill battle considering that  Citroën is not yet an established brand in India. Still, vive la France; bring on the baguettes, the camembert and the wine!