This Wednesday, Citroën will end the production of its executive saloon, the weird and wonderful C6. The 250 people working on that line will be transferred to other tasks, but it will also result in the Mulhouse factory stopping completely for two days this month. In the long run, PSA is planning to fire 11,200 people by 2014.
The C6's death shouldn't come as a surprise. It's seven years old now, and while it was great that it made it into production, it was never even close to the sales expectations of 20,000 per year. It's best result was 7,600 in 2007, but this year, they managed to sell less than a thousand. It had to go.
It's a shame, because the C6 is a fantastic car. You can trust Citroën to make a luxury model. The DS was the most advanced thing on four wheels in its time, even with the old engine they had to use in order to cut back on development costs. It was so good that one managed to save the French president's life! After that, the Maserati-engined SM was so well engineered you could use it Alaska if you wanted, even if the four-door version called Opéra turned out too be a financial disaster.
The C6 was using all the right ingredients: V6 diesel or petrol engine, automatic or manual transmission, the legendary Hydractive 3+ suspension standard, heads-up display, lane departure warning system and directional xenon headlamps to make sure you arrive to your destination safely. And the styling! Jean-Pierre Ploué wasn't joking around. In 1999, they showed the world the Lignage concept. It looked like this:
Then, they put the necessary evils on it without ruining the shape, and put it straight into production. Only the French would dare to do something like the C6. An executive car with a concave rear window! Any German would have a heart attack just by looking at it for too long. That's one of the reasons why people bought ten times more of their executive cars. That's the safe choice. You need balls to go for the Citroën.
The French are losing theirs. Renault, while making truly magnificent cars under the Renaultsport badge, also sells an executive car called the Latitude. The only problem is that's just a Samsung SM5 rebadged as a Renault. A Korean car from the high-tech gadget makers dressed as a car from the creators of the insane executive hatchback called Vel Satis. The French used to be prouder than that.
But sometimes, one's pride has to be silenced for a while. PSA is in 3 billion euros worth of debt, and after selling 7% of its shares to General Motors in a platform-sharing deal, it also had to liquidate its fancy Paris headquarters to some Canadian relatives just to lease it back from them for nine years. No wonder Peugeot hasn't even tried making an executive car since the 607's production finished in 2010. Problem is, if their lineup stays this beige for long, they are done.
Citroën on the other hand is making great cars nowdays. The DS3 was an absolute hit, and the DS5 is so good that even Texans like it. But reputation is something very delicate, and since French cars used to be awful for fifteen years, people are still hard to get into the showrooms, especially in this tough economic period.
PSA will have to fire a lot of people, and the French will go on a strike. They were the ones building bad cars for way too long, but still, they will strike. If that reminds you of something, you're not alone. This is what the British did in the seventies. And we all know how that ended...
The French still have a chance. Renault and Citroën look promising, and Peugeot should certainly take a good look at them. As far as the C6's legacy goes, the DS9 Concept called Numero 9 is something they might do for the Chinese.
Let's hope they will say oh là là...