CitroŽn XM a glorious failure?
XM represented a major failure for PSA. The reasons for this are many
and some of them are less than clear. Hopefully this article will go
some way towards offering some explanations. Before doing so, it is
necessary to place the XM within an historic perspective.
In the beginning
CitroŽn pitched his products at the bottom end of the market - above
the cyclecars that provided basic, mass market transportation but well
below the luxury Gran Turismos offered by the likes of Delahaye,
Hispano Suiza, Bentley, Rolls Royce et al. In the aftermath of World
War One, motor car manufacture was a labour intensive, artisanal affair
and the products were expensive. Although there were large numbers of
manufacturers, thanks to fiscal tariffs, it was not economic to sell
one's products abroad.
CitroŽn was a great admirer of Henry Ford and sought to emulate his
success in Europe by employing mass production techniques. This enabled
him to offer more car for the money and charge less money for the car.
However, unlike Ford which offered but one model with but one colour
(any colour you like as long as it is black), CitroŽn offered a range
of cars with a multitude of different body styles (and a bewildering
range of colours!). This philosophy stood CitroŽn in good stead as his
firm produced a range of dull but worthy cars at prices few of his
competitors could match.
C6 – the original haut de gamme
ambitious and ever willing to exploit a niche, CitroŽn saw the need for
a competitively priced, high performance, luxury car which would both
spearhead an advance into the upper echelons of the market and would
also act as an aspirational product whose kudos would reflect on cars
lower in the range.
The result, in 1928 was the haut de gamme (top of the range) AC6 (or C6), equipped with a 6 cylinder engine and every conceivable extra, it offered most of the refinement of a Gran Turismo at a fraction of the price.
Its 1932 successor, the 15, built on these strengths but it was, in truth, little more than a copy of contemporary American cars.
The 22CV and the 15CV
In 1934, with the launch of the 7CV Traction, CitroŽn no longer had an haut de gamme
model. However, it was the intention of the company to offer an entire
range of cars all based on the Traction and at the top of the range
would be the V8 22CV. For well documented reasons, the 22CV was never launched and the position of haut de gamme fell to the six cylinder 15 Six.
The 15 was so far ahead of its competition that the company made very
few modifications to it before it was replaced in 1956 by the DS19.
In the austere years after World War Two, the French luxury car makers disappeared – with the exception of Panhard who were reduced to making economical, small cars.
Thus there was little competition for the 15CV – its Renault, Peugeot and Ford
peers were smaller and did not offer the same levels of comfort or road
behaviour, even if they were more "modern" in their styling.
offered the kind of hedonistic comfort that few other manufacturers
could approach. Not only did it offer unrivalled sybaritic luxury but
it managed to do so in a package that was both stunningly beautiful and
technologically advanced. If it suffered major problems in its early
years, this did not damage its reputation too severely - if anything it
added to the mystique. And the clientele in those days was less
sophisticated as far as expectations regarding reliability are
if the standard DS were not luxurious enough, three new models were
launched. The Prestige offered limousine style accommodation in the
rear although the chauffeur, thankfully separated by a glass screen
from the bloated plutocrats in the rear, endured IDesque
seating… And then there was the Pallas for the person who did not want
to give up the driving seat to a hired hand but still demanded the
luxury of the Prestige. But the haut de gamme undoubtedly was the Dťcapotable built by Henri Chapron. Those with more money than taste could flaunt their extravagance with one of the bespoke Chapron creations.
For a few short years, Facel Metallon hand built cars in the pre War Gran Turismo
fashion but sales of these were minuscule in comparison to those of
CitroŽn and when the company disappeared in the mid sixties, CitroŽn
was free to besport itself without any domestic competition. The
foreign competition ? Mercedes, Jaguar, Rover, etc. suffered from high
prices as a result of import taxes and the DS reigned supreme. In the
France of the early sixties, if you wanted a top of the range luxury
car at a sensible price, the choice was between a DS, a DS Prestige or
a Chapron DS of one type or another. If the DS suffered from
shortcomings in the engine department, this was more than made up by
its strengths in other areas. Over the years, the DS was refined and
improved. More powerful engines made up the shortfall in straight-line
performance and a couple of restyling exercises ensured that it still
was intended to be positioned above the DS in the model hierarchy and,
had events not conspired against it, might very well, in four-door
guise, have supplanted the DS. The SM was designed to accommodate the
four cylinder powerplant from the DS as well as the Maserati V6. Sadly,
escalating oil prices coupled with the widespread imposition of speed
limits and the company's parlous financial state killed the SM and the
DS laboured on until 1975.
At launch, most D owners viewed the CX
as a retrograde step. Available only with the DS20 engine, with a
manual 4 speed transmission, with reduced interior room and a fairly
basic trim level, without the steerable lights of the D, the only
obvious advance was the fitting of DIRAVI steering on some models.
the company had more resources, the CX range would have included long
wheelbase variants (subsequently introduced with the Prestige and
Limousine), a Trirotor Wankel and a V6 Maserati.
The ultimate luxury vehicle
would have been the Maserati Quattroporte (below) - equipped with
hydropneumatic suspension, fully powered brakes and DIRAVI, this car
was pure CitroŽn apart from the engine and styling.
the gradual fall of fiscal barriers within the EEC, cars began to sell
outside their country of origin and the CX faced competition in all its
markets, including France.
CX was rapidly developed to face up to the likes of Mercedes, BMW,
Jaguar, Rover, Ford, BMC, Vauxhall and Opel. Bigger engines, CMatic
semi- automatic transmission (and later fully automatic transmission),
Pallas and Prestige trim all followed in fairly short order and helped
maintain CitroŽn’s reputation as the "anti-Mercedes" but the Germans
were fighting back.
the early eighties, the CX was beginning to look somewhat dated; the
science of aerodynamics had moved on (the Audi 100 in particular
showing the way with a CD of 0,30 compared with the 0,36 of the CX) and
competitors were offering cars that did most of what the CX did without
the attendant complications (be they real or imaginary). Furthermore,
the Germans were ahead of CitroŽn in the field of safety – ABS was
introduced by Mercedes in 1979 and by Ford in 1985 as a standard
fitting in the Scorpio. It was only following widespread criticism of
the inadequate brakes of the CX GTi Turbo that CitroŽn offered ABS as a
costly option. And where the CX Automatique had a three speed box, the
competition offered four speeds. From being at the forefront of
technical innovation and active and passive safety, CitroŽn was obliged
to play second fiddle to the Germans.
PSA had decided to concentrate its resources on the new, mainstream car that would make or break CitroŽn – the BX.
Where the BX employed the very latest, lightweight TU range of engines,
the CX laboured on with the Sainturat-based engines from the D or the
harsh and unrefined PRV engine found in the Reflex and Athena. The
diesel engines used in the CX were basically dieselised versions of the
D lump and were less refined than the XUD engines fitted to the BX. Had
the money been available, the CX restyle would have been much more than
the fitting of new bumpers and interior – the underpan would have been
cleaned up, the roof gutters would have disappeared, a flush fitting
screen would have been fitted, the roof line would have been raised to
provide improved rear headroom and a hatchback would have been fitted.
Extensive use of plastics per the BX would have helped reduce weight
but PSA said no.
was under threat, not just from the Germans but also from the Renault
25 and its stablemates, the Peugeot 604 and top of the range BXs.
Not the CX replacement
let us backtrack to 1980. Some five years after Robert Opron had left
CitroŽn, the Bureau d'Etudes, under the direction of Jean Giret, turned
from the soon to be launched BX and concentrated its energies on
working on a replacement for the CX. This task was undertaken without
the knowledge or approval of Xavier Karcher and therefore without any
formal design brief although those in the know referred to it as Projet E.
The basis on which Giret's team operated was a re-dimensioned CX and
the car was fitted with a two piece tailgate allowing a classic boot or
hatchback configuration as desired. Frontal treatment was not
dissimilar to that of the BX. Peugeot had made it clear to CitroŽn that
the CX was to be the last "quirky" CitroŽn. When Art Blakeslee
discovered this model, he ordered it to be destroyed - and PSA then
imposed its personnel in the Bureau at Vťlizy. This meant that any
successor to the CX was going to be a far more conventional beast and
would make extensive use of components shared with other vehicles in
late 1984, PSA's Management Board asked three styling centres to submit
their proposals for the CX replacement - two of the centres were
in-house PSA (Vťlizy and CarriŤres-sous-Poissy) and the third was
Bertone. Marcello Gandini, designer of the BX while at Bertone also
submitted a pair of models. The design of Projet V
even at this early stage required a floorpan that would be shared with
Peugeot’s new flagship and with the Saab 9000. The decision was taken
to employ the pseudo MacPherson strut front suspension of the BX and
the XU range of engines. For the first time since the demise of the SM,
a V6 would also be offered.
Bertone’s design was accepted but the production version lost the
semi-enclosed rear wheels and smooth flanks that were part of the
original proposal. Also rejected were head-up instrument displays and a
six headlamp set up.
In 1998, CitroŽn showed the Activa prototype at the Paris Salon. Activa was fitted with active suspension
and four wheel steer and it was thought inevitable that the DX (as the
pundits had named the CX replacement) would feature this technology. In
the event, a simplified version of Activa’s suspension was fitted and
passive rear steer, originally introduced on the ZX was not fitted
until the mid 90s.
Bienvenue ŗ la XM
May 1989, the new car went on sale. Christened XM in order to pay
homage to the SM which was the last six cylinder CitroŽn, it also
featured a kicked up waist line that was reminiscent of the SM.
Originally available with a choice of a carburettor XU engine bored out
to 2 litres, a fuel injected version of the same or a V6, the
considerable extra weight of the XM compared with the BX endowed the 2
litre versions with pedestrian performance and even the V6 was slower
than the BX 16 Soupapes. In July 1990,
a 170 bhp 24 valve V6 was offered. Virtually all the 176 24 valve cars
developed problems with oil flow which led to premature camshaft
failure. CitroŽn must have been aware that this engine was stretched
beyond its limits but this did not dissuade them from manufacturing
such a severely flawed car. Then in 1993, a turbocharged 2 litre XU
engine was provided which finally overcame the performance deficit of
earlier 2 litre models.
diesel versions similarly suffered from lack of performance – the XUD
was extended to 2,1 litres and offered 110 bhp compared with the 120
bhp of the CX 25 Turbo D which was a lighter vehicle than the XM.
Contrast this however with the 143 bhp of the Mercedes 300D. The
success of the BMW 325TDs led PSA to drop the 4 cylinder 2,5 litre
engine from the C25 van into the XM in 1996. This unit was, at 130 bhp,
powerful but it could also be thirsty. Having only four cylinders as
opposed to the six cylinder units that powered the Germans which were
sold at similar prices and lacking the image of either BMW or Mercedes,
its appeal was limited to a small circle of CitroŽn enthusiasts who, in
Britain at least, mainly purchased second-hand vehicles since the
majority of them were pre-registered by CitroŽn dealers.
Following the restyle of 1995 and the fitting of Hydractive 2 which had been pioneered in the Xantia,
the XM was not really developed any further. Activa suspension was not
fitted to this haut de gamme model but to the mainstream Xantia. The
same held true for the new V6 jointly developed by PSA and Renault
which first saw the light of day in 1996 in the Xantia and a year later
in the XM and also for the auto-adaptive gearbox. The headlamps which
had been a source of much criticism were revamped in 1996 but right
hand drive cars continued to be fitted with the original, inadequate
units – presumably the sales figures did not justify the development of
RHD versions. Similar lamps were fitted to early versions of the Xantia
but sales were sufficiently healthy here in Britain to justify
mainstream manufacturers had abandoned the large car field to the
Germans – Fiat threw in the sponge in 1995 and Ford did likewise in
1997. Apart from the Germans, the only other players are Saab, Volvo
and GM with only GM being a volume manufacturer.
1989, 46,282 XMs were sold worldwide. In 1990, a total of 96,196 were
sold and thereafter, numbers declined rapidly - 49,119 in 1991, 43,487
in 1992, 20,977 in 1993, 20,591 in 1994, 17,799 in 1995, 12,500 in
1996, 9,594 in 1997, 7,500 in 1998 and only a couple of thousand in
1999. More than 45% of total XM production occurred in the first two
years of an eleven-year run. From 1996, in its home market of France,
the XM was outsold three to one by each of its German competitors.
Production ended without any sort of fanfare in June 2000.
UK Sales as a percentage of world sales
ten per cent of all XM production went to the Netherlands where the car
continues to be very popular with customers and where values hold up
well. Contrary to the position in Britain,
most specialist CitroŽn dealers would be happy to have ten low mileage,
late model XMs sitting on their forecourts since they have waiting
lists. Many former DS and CX specialists are now turning to the XM as
their clients have learned to recognise its very real qualities.
the French ContrŰle Technique (MOT) statistics, the XM came out as the
third most reliable luxury car – after the Mercedes 190 and BMW 5
series. In the 1998 EuroNCAP safety tests, the XM was reckoned to be
one of the safest cars in its class – not bad for such an old design.
launch, PSA said that 4 x 4 versions of the XM would follow, together
with a classic three box design intended primarily for North America.
XM fell between two stools – it was not different enough to attract the
hardened CitroŽn enthusiast but was too different to appeal to
mainstream purchasers. In efforts to attract mainstream purchasers, the
feel of the brake pedal was made more conventional thanks to the
insertion of a deformable tube in the brake valve to make the pedal
feel spongey. DIRAVI was only fitted to left hand drive V6 models and
was quietly dropped in 1997. The DIRAVI equipped cars actually had
lower geared steering than the lesser XMs. The non-turbocharged XM 2
litre was slower and substantially thirstier than the BX19TRi and
furthermore, thanks to its Hydractive suspension did not ride as well.
some respects, the XM continued in the traditional CitroŽn mould – it
was released prematurely – by at least eighteen months – and suffered
from considerable teething problems which gave it a reputation from
which it never recovered. The use of totally inadequate wiring and
connectors was a recipe for disaster and was undoubtedly brought about
by the PSA bean counters’ desires to reduce costs wherever possible.
Quality control was not all that it might be – many cars suffered from
water leaks and an appetite for front tyres and brakes did not help
And here in
Britain, the majority of dealers hated it. They hated it because it was
a slow seller and because of its reputation for unreliability. The
result was £10k depreciation in the first year. And for the hapless
owner of one of these cars, there was the hostility and ignorance of
the dealer network to add to your woes. To an extent, the hostility was
understandable – why tie up capital in a vehicle that might sit in your
showroom for six months when you could shift a dozen Xantias in the
same period? The ignorance is a direct result of the hostility – few
dealers ever got to work on an XM so it was terra incognita to
them. Diagnosing intermittent suspension faults cost the dealer
man-hours that could not easily be passed on to the customer.
then there is the appearance - a car that looks like a hatchback in a
market that eschews them as utilitarian. Unusually styled cars do not
normally sell well in this area of the marketplace. Nor do front wheel
Yes, the XM was
undoubtedly a failure in commercial terms and yet it offers all of the
traditional big CitroŽn strengths and virtues; the ability to make
light work of long journeys in adverse conditions, unique styling,
excellent aerodynamic performance, good economy (V6 aside), superb
comfort and luxury; the list goes on. It offers a unique driving
experience and in true CitroŽn style, looks like nothing else on the
When it was launched,
I observed that it looked as if it had been designed by a committee
that had never met. Familiarity has led me to modify my views – I think
it is a great design which is let down by detailing. The concave flanks
do little for the aesthetics and the leading edge of the bonnet should
be continued to the line above the headlamps. There are too many panes
of glass in the much-vaunted "band of light" while the front quarter
lights are so designed that when it is raining, the exterior mirrors
are worse than useless thanks to the water running across these panes.
I like the exterior door handle design but some people have likened
these to RSJs. It is a pity that the rear wheels are fully exposed. The
design has not dated because it is essentially right – just like the DS
and the CX. I suspect that C5 will look old-fashioned in 2012.
magazine’s acerbic comment was "It will be a great car when it is
finished". Unfortunately, it was both never finished and is now
finished. It was never finished since development ceased. It is
finished because production has ceased.
The XM came to the end of its life without any immediate successor. For the last half of 2000, the haut de gamme was the V6 Xantia. The C5 replaces the Xantia, not the XM (although it does encroach on the XM's territory). C6
will appear, eventually, but for at least 18 months the flagship will
be the V6 C5 – just a large-engined version of a mainstream Mondeo
competitor. C6 is so different looking from its current competitors
(with the exception of the new Renault) that it too may suffer from the
conservatism of buyers. On the other hand, it may be that the market is
changing; people may be becoming bored with driving ubiquitous BMWs and
Mercedes. And all this presupposes that C6 will be reliable from day
one, that it will offer a unique driving experience. Certainly Audi has
demonstrated that cutting edge technology can be a powerful force in
attracting customers, indeed Audi seems to have wrested the technocrown
from CitroŽn – it is time to snatch it back.
on the premise that one should learn from one’s mistakes, I gain the
impression that Peugeot-CitroŽn’s attitude is "We can repeat them
without any difficulty" since once again, the marque will have two
flagships competing with one another.
My thanks are due to Paul Johnson, Wouter Jansen of CITROExpert and CitroŽn UK Ltd.
for their invaluable input into this article. The idea for this article
came about as a result of discussions with Nigel Wild of the CitroŽn Car Club
who cautioned me against suggesting that the XM is a "real CitroŽn"
since, like its forebears, it was launched while still in prototype
form. As you will have read, I ignored his warnings since I believe the
point is valid. Furthermore, the word is out that a number of C5s
issued to dealers have suffered from teething problems – failed power
steering – over-light power steering – braking problems – rear
suspension sub frame problems - problems with some of the electronics -
lack of power in the 2,2HDi. If this is true, then C5 continues in the grande tradition. I rest my case, Nigel.
© 2001 Julian Marsh