However, the man newly in charge of corporate sales and remarketing at Citroën thinks that the reality is indeed very different.
Ian Hughes has just completed six months in the job, having spent time at Honda UK and Budget Rent A Car and believes he now has a firm grasp of where Citroën stands in the fleet market and what needs to be done to take it up the ladder.
Hughes reckons that Citroën’s residual values and the perception of its values, are at the core of winning fleet approval. He is focusing on RV management as his prime concern and believes that his role overlooking the sale of new cars and the management of used values will pay dividends. He says: ‘My fundamental objective is to get control of RVs.’
Hughes claims the firm is unfairly saddled with the notion that its history of cashback offers on its retail sales had impacted negatively on residuals.
‘It’s actually not the case at all. My job is to go and tell the story of where we’re going, build some confidence and develop the residual management.’
Hughes is not happy with Citroën’s current position among company car drivers. He says: ‘Awareness of the product in the fleet industry is not good. Citroën for a user-chooser isn’t a brand that jumps forward as saying ‘that will denote to my peers that I’m successful’. But he hopes that the current line-up of cars, including the new flagship C6, will herald a change in both brand perception and residual values.
‘I’m very surprised by the products, having experienced them for six months,’ he says.
‘C4, C5 and C6 are great in design statements, engines and environmental impact. They’re all really strong messages.
‘One of my key objectives is to get Citroën to be considered again as a credible fleet vehicle. We want to offer a broad range of solutions for all levels of the fleet policy.
‘I’m not going to only pin my hopes on the C4 and C5. Each car in the line-up needs to deliver on its expectations. For smaller cars, we have a good relationship in the public sector, for example with the NHS. All the cars are playing their part in the market.
‘The C1 is the most fuel-efficient car in the country and three of the top four least polluting cars in the market place are Citroëns.’
The Xsara Picasso is getting on a bit now, but Hughes said there was plenty of life left in it.
‘The perception that it’s getting older is there, but the demand is extremely high. Reality and perception are definitely divided there. The Picasso is probably going to be around until 2009.’
Citroën is the only firm to do fleet and business specific cars, which are branded as VTX. There is already a C5 VTX and a Xsara Picasso VTX and Hughes says this concept will be developed in the future, depending on the marketplace. A C4 VTX is currently being considered.
He says: ‘This is a great opportunity to differentiate ourselves against other manufacturers.’
Another perception of Citroën has been that its reliability is a concern – but Hughes believes that reality does not reflect that view.
‘We have innovative design, good engine performance, build quality and reliability,’ he claims. ‘Some of the negative criticisms are historical. We’re making exceptional steps in terms of reliability.’
Environmentally, although Citroën has so far shied away from alternative car technologies, it still performs well through its low emission diesel range.
‘Today we’re incredibly sorted in terms of our environmental credentials,’ Hughes says.
‘Our diesel technologies deliver extremely low CO2 and very good fuel consumption. Our engines can take 30% biodiesel so that’s future-proof too.’
For that reason, you won’t see a petrol hybrid from Citroën, but Hughes did confirm that a diesel hybrid was in the pipeline.
He said: ‘We hope to introduce it when there’s no perceived financial penalty for choosing hybrid, unlike today.’
He added that there will be a new business sector sales team within the dealer network for fleets with fewer than 25 vehicles.