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Book Review

Title : CitroŽn – Essai sur 80 ans d’antistratťgie
Authors : JoŽl Broustail and Rodolphe Greggio
Publisher : Libraire Vuibert – www.vuibert.fr
ISBN : 2 7117 7818 5


This has to be the best CitroŽn book since John Reynolds’ “From A to X” although to the best of my knowledge it is only available in French.  Those hoping to look at interesting pictures and to translate the captions with the help of a dictionary will be disappointed.  There are but 16 pages of (colour) pictures, some of which are not even of CitroŽns – one page of pictures of the Chrysler CCV and one of Opron’s 2CV-inspired Ligier Duť – and even those that are of CitroŽns have already been published elsewhere.  There is a picture of the C60 which perpetuates the myth that this car was an Ami 6 prototype when it would better be described as an ancestor of the GS.  Still, pictures are not what this book is about.

In the preface, the objectives of the book are described – it states that the book is not written by engineers or designers but by an historian and geographer.  You will search in vain for examples of management memos, costings, etc. but you will find original in-depth analyses of the reasons for the successes and failures of the firm backed up with personal reminiscences.  This book sets out to “explore the CitroŽn genome”.

What is “antistratťgie”?  The word could be translated as “antistrategy” but this term is meaningless in English and since the book discusses the firm’s strategy, it is within this context an oxymoron.  It is better described, somewhat inelegantly, as “doing one’s own thing” and this has been both the great strength and the great weakness of the company.  This philosophy has often been described as arrogant and yet this book reveals that there was a combination of modesty and a belief that the rest of the automotive manufacturing industry was out of step with the real needs of its customers.  Modern cars are designed by committees and computers; modern automobile manufacturers are no longer headed by charismatic figures like Andrť CitroŽn, Henry Ford or Louis Renault but by accountants.  Despite this, the engineers and designers at Vťlizy still dream of imaginative new products and if Peugeot has toned down some of these ideas, it is because of the lessons of history.  This book details the innovative spirit that so characterised the company while Andrť CitroŽn was at the helm; a philosophy that was continued and built upon during the glory years of the Michelin era.  The book also details the loss of direction and “banalisation” of the products under the direction of Sochaux – a period that has seen the company become more profitable and more stable than ever before.

Amongst the revelations of which I was unaware are the proposals for the GY – a car which would have fallen between the GS and CX, based as it was on a lengthened GS and employing the CX engines and transmissions.  This model was still-born thanks to Peugeot.  Another vehicle that is covered in quite some depth is the CitroŽn Maserati (or Maserati CitroŽn – there is a degree of inconsistency here) Quattroporte which would have allowed the company to reposition itself as a Franco-Italian Mercedes or Jaguar.

The authors engage in a little bit of “alternate history” speculation and ask us to imagine the company in the mid-seventies without the financial crisis and subsequent intervention by Peugeot and without the oil crisis – a company with a range comprising the 2CV-powered Minica urban runabout, the 2CV, Mťhari, Y (the vehicle that eventually became the Oltcit/Axel in both three and five door versions), GS, GS Birotor, GY, CX (including both Wankel and Maserati-powered versions), SM (in both two and four door versions) and the afore-mentioned Quattroporte.

Some of the conclusions drawn by the authors will reinforce the views of the “real CitroŽn brigade” while others will be infuriated by suggestions such as “the Dyane was a waste of the company’s resources and cost the company sales of the 2CV”.  Pierre Bercot is portrayed as the villain of the piece and yet his role as the guiding force behind the company’s policy of innovation is also acknowledged.  Bercot was a strange combination of a futurist and someone with strongly held and quite narrow views – for instance he would not contemplate the fitting of a hatchback to mid range or haut de gamme models, notwithstanding that the public bought them in their millions from CitroŽn’s competitors.  He is held responsible for the policies that led to Michelin ceding control to Peugeot.

This book covers, as one might conclude from its title, the entire history of the company and makes recommendations for its future strategy.  Hopefully this book will have been read by those responsible for the company’s future direction.

I cannot recommend this book too highly.  My only regret is that it is too short.  It is such an excellent book that it should be translated into English.

© 2000 Julian Marsh