Quality director Phillippe Pelletier is using customer feedback and intense testing to ensure the 308 is closing the gap on German rivals. Simon Harris reports
Turn the clock back 15 years or so, and French cars had a strong presence on UK fleets. Cars such as the Peugeot 307 and Renault Mégane appeared regularly in top 10 fleet registrations tables and, regardless of how the split within the sector was made up, it demonstrated recognition of the importance of corporate sales in hitting targets for growth for those brands.
A combination of the market evolving and emerging brands that seemed to suit fleet needs better led to a lower profile for French manufacturers in the corporate sector, while the impact of the recession and excess capacity at European plants seemed to hurt the likes of Peugeot, Citroën and Renault more than most.
Vocal commitments to improve quality over the past few years can be seen as an admission that this was an area in need of attention, which had fallen far behind rivals.
Any turnaround needed to be driven by sales, which would only materialise in a sustainable way if cars were more appealing, with virtues that made them the equal of the most desirable models in their respective classes.
The 308, launched in 2014, was the first Peugeot model to benefit from a renewed zeal for all-round quality.
In fact, Peugeot claims quality was a cornerstone of the 308 project, deeply embedded in the work performed by every team at every design stage. The clearly expressed aim at launch was to position the Peugeot 308 straightaway at the top end of its segment, particularly focusing on the same level as the Volkswagen Golf.
The 308 won the European car of the year title at its launch. Although not necessarily a guarantee of high quality – the 307 was also a recipient, and that model isn’t remembered fondly for its quality – Peugeot has clearly placed quality at the heart of its manufacturing process.
Phillipe Peletier, PSA quality director, defines it as encompassing the product, such as breakdown issues or functions going wrong, as well as comfort and refinement, plus elements around service, such as interactions with the dealer around purchase and delivery, aftersales and dialogue, and actions regarding service, maintenance and repair.
“We wanted to master all of these areas,” says Peletier. “After customer delivery, the first three months are crucial for reacting to problems. We have email surveys for customers asking about the product and the dealer. We test sample vehicles from the production line and have mystery shoppers at dealerships.
“We have now reached a level where around 90% are satisfied during the purchasing process, and 80% are satisfied with their aftersales experience. Cars now undergo 60,000km (37,300 miles) of testing (see panel, right) before each launch, experiencing severe conditions, collectively totalling 2.5 million km (1.5m miles). We needed to create a perception of a new car after three years of use, and we have used customer feedback to implement improvements.”
Peugeot has outlined its recent performance in JD Power surveys as illustrations of how its extra diligence in vehicle quality is achieving results.
In the German survey measuring problems per 100 vehicles, Peugeot scored 116 points against an industry average of 129, and the 208 achieved third place in its sector.
In the UK, it achieved a score of 99 against an industry average of 114, putting it into the top 10 for reliability, while the 308 was runner up in its segment.
Market analysts have also revised their views of Peugeot models for residual values forecasting in light of the new regime and the appeal of the products.
In France, the 308 has been measured ahead of the Volkswagen Golf at 44% versus 42%, similarly in Italy.
It hasn’t replicated this in the badge- and image-conscious UK, although the 308 is closer to the Golf on residual value than it has ever been.
According to Cap HPI’s Gold Book for March 2016, a Peugeot 308 BlueHDi 150 GT Line achieves 32% at three years/60,000 miles, compared with 36% for a similarly powered diesel Golf GT.
PSA quality director: Phillippe Pelletier
Testing ground: Belchamp
Key model: 308
Secret testing ground with 25 tracks
Peugeot has given the media an insight into its testing regime at its Belchamp research and development centre, a top-secret site in France rarely visited by outsiders. It has 25 tracks on 22 miles of road systems, and more than 1,400 test facilities. We witnessed a number of tests being carried out and, although much of the equipment has been on-site many years, new technology has allowed it to become far more sophisticated. It can replicate conditions on various roads and in various climates and condenses the testing period. Afterwards, cars and components are stripped down and analysed, with any problems identified, leading to modifications.
Our test drive
We took a short test in a 90hp diesel 308, with around 35,000 miles on the clock. Apart from obvious signs of long-term use, such as a smoother surface on the steering wheel, the car felt like one that the media is given to review, with a few thousand miles on the clock.
The gearshift – although it was the five-speed PSA gearbox with a ponderous long-throw shift action – was still pretty tight, and there were absolutely no squeaks or rattles detectable in the cabin.
The engine was as smooth as it should have been, and all aspects of the car felt in good working order.
Although there were no rival products to benchmark against, it’s unlikely that it would have felt any more ‘used’ than a Volkswagen Golf of the same age and mileage.