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ICONOCLAST

Citroën XM 

At the risk of encroaching on David Evans? territory, I thought I would write a few words about the XM. Yet another change of job has resulted in my having an XM as a company car. I was 'phoned by the company's fleet manager who said, `I hope you don't mind, but as a newcomer, you have to accept whatever car is available. I'm sorry but it?s a Citroën XM, I do hope you don't mind.? I asked her why I should mind and she said that the current driver's children are sick when they ride in the car and that he didn't like the foot operated hand brake (sic). I took delivery of a 1996 CT Turbo VSX Automatic yesterday so the following is very much a "first impressions" commentary.

As regular readers will know, I have had a couple of non - Citroën company cars recently and my sole Citroën driving experiences have been short drives in our BX DTR Turbo. The company vehicles have been a Vauxhall Cavalier - about which the least said the better - and a Peugeot 405 turbo diesel which was actually rather impressive - until I drove the XM.

I remember my first ever drive of a DS - twitchy steering, sharp brakes - at least that's how it seemed after driving a conventional car - and the process was repeated when I got behind the wheel of the XM. After driving the 405, it took some ten minutes or so to adjust to the reduction in effort required to steer and brake.

The most noticeable difference is the ride - I must confess that after the Cavalier, the 405's ride was a revelation. The Cavalier had firm suspension with little damping whereas the 405 had a more compliant ride with stiffer damping - the bias being towards the handling rather than the comfort part of the equation. Now it is quite some time since I last drove either a DS or a CX but my recollection of those two was that the DS had a more comfortable ride but the CX had better handling. The XM seems to ride as well as a DS but handles better than the 405 (or CX for that matter) thereby bearing out the claims made for Hydractive II. Unlike most hydropneumatically sprung cars, there was little road noise conveyed into the cabin - the Achilles heel of the BX for instance where one floats along over awful road surfaces but with more noise than one would experience in a conventionally sprung car. Progress in the XM is best described as serene.

More observations will follow.

Iconoclast severe 

I was recently charged with being "severe" in this column - I would like to put the record straight - some of what I write is a little tongue-in-cheek although when I write about road safety and green issues, I am deadly serious. I apologise to those who think I am somewhat didactic but I do feel very strongly about these issues. Perhaps I should append `emoticons? - smiley faces to those who aren?t on the Internet - rotate the page clockwise by 90º - ;^) :^( , etc. These are used to convey nuances that are lost when using the written word. In fact, some 90% of all verbal communication is conveyed by intonation, inflection, facial expression and body language.

EU proposes ban on leaded petrol 

As I write, we are in the last week of electioneering. By the time you read this, it will all be over. Lurking amongst the partly satirical - sorry, party political propaganda in my newspaper was an article about Brussels wanting to ban the sale of leaded petrol throughout the EU. Drivers of classic vehicles beware! This has already happened across north America and drivers of classic cars are obliged to use additives to prevent damage. Lobby your MEP or write to the EC Transport Commissioner.

Censorship 

Towards the end of last year, I wrote to Citroën UK on a matter unconnected with the Club but, knowing that Slough receive the Citroënian and that therefore my name might be known to them, added the caveat that I was not writing on behalf of the Club. A few weeks ago I had a reply, part of which I thought worthy of wider dissemination.

"I would emphasise that I personally care passionately about Citroën having been with the company for over 17 years, throughout the eras of 2 CV, GSA and CX, etc. Whilst I note that you have not written on behalf of the Citroën Car Club I would mention that, having had what I felt to be a rational and balanced conversation with an official of the Club, I was astonished to see the death threat in the May '95 issue of Citroënian (enclosed). I hope you agree that it is not exactly conducive to good relations between us! More encouragingly I found the tone of "Xantiana" most welcome."

The `death threat' comes from Media Watch and I quote this too.

"A Citroën spokesman said: `The further down the range you go, the less scope there is to be inventive and radical...' and `Since we stopped making quirky cars, we've become a successful company,' he reflected on Citroën's traditional interest in unconventional engineering, ergonomics and design. If I find him, I'll shoot him." I have no doubt that Barry Danes did not mean this literally - it was perhaps an example of excessive hyperbole - something that all of us who write employ from time to time in order to make a point. Perhaps Barry should have added an emoticon or one of those ghastly acronyms such as HHOJ (Ha Ha Only Joking) that are in widespread use in e-mails on the Internet. On a more serious note, I think that the Citroën spokesman is absolutely correct in his analysis - they are a successful company. If Citroën had continued to build the 2 CV instead of the AX and Saxo, if Citroën had continued to build the GSA instead of the ZX the punters would have stayed away and the company would either be bust or operating as a low volume, niche manufacturer with concomitantly high prices for the vehicles and parts. The company - any company's first loyalty is to its shareholders and who can blame them for wanting to earn a few extra Francs? The only way to do this is to gain new customers and then retain them. Yes, Citroën in the past had a fanatical following but it was a small fanatical following.

This begs the question, should those of our members who dislike current Citroën products mute their criticism. The suggestion was recently put to me that the CCC should consider splitting into a classics club and a moderns club. In my view, the great strength of the CCC is that it concerns itself with all Citroëns. The Committee has made it clear that they would like closer links with Citroën UK and it could be said that this is conditional on Joe imposing some form of censorship. For what it?s worth, I think a lot of the criticism directed at the company is unwarranted. As I have said many times in this column, Citroën?s products may not be as revolutionary as they once were but they are better products. Modern Citroëns are safer, better built, more reliable, cheaper to maintain, easier to drive and, most important of all, Citroën is still in business. Much as I love the DS, I would not want to use one as daily transport - especially if I were obliged to fund it out of my own wallet. If modern Citroëns seem more like other makes, that is because those other makes have finally caught up with them and because legislation imposes congruence of engineering solutions. It's funny that one never sees letters from members advocating that Citroën should manufacture a modernised Type A and yet there are, among our members, those who would like a modern DS, SM, CX, GS or what have you.

Having said all that, I wonder what you, our members think. Do you want closer links with Citroën UK? At least it proves that they read what we write so, what do you at Citroën UK think?

Double chevron logo 

My final topic is in fact a criticism of Citroën - not of their products but of their attitude towards those who run businesses that use the double chevron logo or incorporate the word Citroën into their trading style. Joe published a letter some time ago from one of our advertisers who stated that Citroën UK had told him to desist from using the double chevron logo - and it wasn't even the current logo. Two recently launched Citroën publications were instructed not to use "Citroën" as part of their name. Mindful of their propensity for litigation, I shall, without naming them, point out the similarity between Citroën's stance and that of a large hamburger chain. I wonder why these organisations are so possessive about logos and names. I would have thought that each use of the double chevron represents free publicity for Citroën. I can understand why they should be concerned that the unwitting punter might mistakenly go to an unauthorised repairer believing him to be a franchised dealer. I don't understand their concern at advertisements in a magazine such as this, which make it clear that the advertiser is catering for models that are no longer in production. Furthermore it is unlikely a franchised dealer will be able to perform anything other than the most basic servicing work on old Citroëns so the issue ought to be academic. They are not in competition with the franchised dealer network. Perhaps the next step will be the instruction to debadge those cars that are no longer in production. This last comment is hyperbole... :^)

Perhaps Citroën UK would care to put their views on this in writing?

© Julian Marsh 1997 

This article was originally published in the Citroënian, the monthly magazine of the Citroën Car Club .