The Peugeot brand is making its return to the U.S. and Canadian markets, parent Groupe PSA announced Tuesday, but the relaunch of its dealer network could take until 2026 to put in place.
The news comes 28 years after Peugeot pulled out of the U.S., a victim of rapidly declining sales. Rebuilding a market could prove challenging for the Paris-based carmaker, industry analysts warn, pointing to the troubles Fiat has faced since returning to the States after a two-decade absence.
“The good news for us is PSA is not dependent on me to sell a single car,” Groupe PSA North America CEO Larry Dominique said in an interview on Tuesday. “The idea is to build the brand the right way.”
And that could find PSA taking a very different approach to setting up a retail network. During a previous interview, Dominique told TheDetroitBureau.com that he I looking at both traditional and non-traditional automotive marketing. That includes such as outliers as Tesla which has ruled out the standard approach of relying on franchised dealers. Instead, it is only opening company-owned stores, even if that means it cannot operate in some states with strong franchise regulations.
(Toyota, PSA extend partnership in European market. Click Here for the story.)
Dominique has also expressed interest in online retailing, though current franchise laws also make that difficult for automakers to turn to.
What is clear is that the rebirth of Peugeot will come as part of what Dominique described as a “multi-step return to the market.” And it will all but certainly involve new mobility services operations.
The French carmaker first signaled plans to return to the U.S. in April 2016, announcing that it would undertake a decade-long effort to begin with a push into such areas as car- and ride-sharing. At the time, it said it could take several more years to determine which of the various group car brands would then be re-launched in North America.
“This is not about speed. It’s about getting things right,” Dominique said during the Tuesday interview.
Several mobility service ventures are already in operation, including the Free2Move Carsharing service launched in Washington, D.C. late last year. The goal is to roll that out in major cities across the U.S. and Canada during the next few years.
(Click Here for more about PSA making Opel profitable a year after buying it from GM.)
For the time being Free2Go is offering two Chevrolet products, the Chevrolet Equinox SUV and Chevy Cruze sedan, but the goal is to add Peugeot products over the next few years. That is likely to happen even before PSA re-launches its retail sales network, Dominique previously told CNBC, and would serve as a way to gauge consumer reaction to its products.
PSA also is rolling out an aggregator service that will allow users of its Free2Move smartphone app to schedule multi-modal travel – everything from bicycle rentals to train tickets and car-sharing. And the group now operates parking service at airports in Los Angeles and other cities allowing customers to rent out their own vehicles while traveling, something known as a peer-to-peer car-sharing service.
Those operations aim to take advantage of what many analysts see as a dramatic shift in personal transportation likely to take place over the coming decade. The Boston Consulting Group, for one, has forecast that nearly a third of the miles Americans travel by road in 2030 will take place in autonomous, electrified ride-sharing vehicles.
While Dominique wouldn’t say precisely what approach PSA will take, it has already begun adding electrified models to its European fleet, and they are expected to play a significant role in the Peugeot brand’s North American revival.
Getting things right will be critical in a market that is “not going to grow a lot” in the next decade, said Michelle Krebs, executive automotive analyst with Cox Automotive. Peugeot’s return will be “no cakewalk,” she added.
(PSA lays out three-stage plan for return to the United States. Click Here for the story.)
She and other analysts point to the troubles faced by another European brand that quit the North American market during the auto sales downturn of the early 1990s. Bringing back Fiat to the U.S. was an essential part of the plan that created Fiat Chrysler Automobiles earlier in this decade. But the Italian brand has largely failed to gain traction and many observers are questioning whether FCA will wind up pulling Fiat out of the U.S. yet again if it can’t reverse its sales tailspin over the next year or two.