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India loves French jets, but their cars? Good thing Citroën C3 is a mass market product

India loves French jets, but their cars?  Good thing Citroën C3 is a mass market product

WWhen you think of the great engineers and industrialists who created the automobile industry, names like Karl Benz, the man who invented the automobile, come to mind. You think of Henry Ford, the man who made mass production possible. You think of Ferdinand Porsche, who created several iconic cars and whose heirs now control a multinational behemoth. And you might also think of Soichiro Honda, an extraordinary motorcycle manufacturer whose two-wheelers gave billions of mobility.

You are probably not thinking of a Frenchman. That’s strange, considering the French were pioneers in the early days of the auto industry, and the idea of ​​having big metal horses racing across the road to race them is quite French indeed. But it is a Frenchman who, thanks to his technical genius, made possible the automotive industry as we know it today. He was to cars what his compatriot Marcel Dassault was to airplanes. His name is André Citroën.

Andre Citroen’s innovation is in almost every car sold today. In the 1930s, for example, he developed the Traction Avant 7 (TA7), the first mass-produced front-wheel drive vehicle. This eliminated the need for a complicated drive shaft and axles for the rear wheels. As for passenger cars today, with the notable exception of BMW, and even these are changing, pretty much every other manufacturer today mainly sells front-wheel drive vehicles.

His other critical innovation was the ‘unitized bodyshell’ or to use the French term, monocoque† Simply put, the body of the car is the crash structure. Cars no longer had to be built around a frame, and today all cars except some heavy off-road vehicles and American “trucks” are made with monocoque construction methods. Even vehicles like the new Land Rover Defender.


Also read: Did you think you’d buy an EV to beat the chip shortage that is slowing down car deliveries? Bad luck


A new chance

With such a great history, you’d think more people would love Citroën cars. Well, not quite. While Citroën has had incredible sales success in Europe and parts of French-speaking Africa, alongside its sister brand Peugeot, both owned by Groupe-PSA (not part of the multinational automaker Stellantis), it has been a bit of a downer elsewhere. This is despite Citroën being a top player in global motorsport through its success in the World Rally Championship with Sebastian Loeb.

That’s why the new C3 that the automaker just presented in India is so important to them. C3, which is manufactured in Thiruvallur and its engines and gearboxes in Hosur, both in Tamil Nadu, will be 90 percent localized. While the first vehicle Citroën brought to India, the big C5 Aircross, was a high-end product, this new C3 is a mass-market product for them. Saurabh Vatsa, head of the Citroën India brand, admits that, saying the price of the car, to be announced later in July, will be a ‘surprise’, although it is rumored that the starting price will be below Rs 5 lakh. † This means that the C3, a car Citroën calls a hatchback, will be up against the Maruti Suzuki Celerio and Tata Punch.


Also read: BMWs are changing – it’s all happening under the hood. And it feels like the movie Tron


How should C3 drive?

It comes with two engines, a 1.2-litre naturally aspirated engine that produces 82 hp and has a five-speed manual transmission, and a 1.2-litre turbo engine with 110 hp and a six-speed manual transmission. Obviously the turbocharged engine is a much better car to drive, but even the naturally aspirated version can go forward if you kick the gears a bit. Driving the impressive Atal Setu over the Mandovi River next to Panjim in Goa, the turbocharged C3 would have given me a speeding ticket if friends hadn’t warned me that the local police are patrolling there.

So you can have fun with either engine option, although from a driveability point of view the lack of an automatic option hurts the brand, especially considering how popular automatics have become across India lately. Vatsa has not indicated when Citroën India will introduce an automatic variant, but said it was on the cards.

Citroen c3 | Special arrangement

On the narrow twisty roads of South Goa, the C3 shows off its party piece compared to its rivals. With its suspension, it handles cornering, although it’s not the kind of car you’d throw into a corner with enthusiasm. The big advantage for Citroën here is the ride quality. ‘Comfort’ is a big selling point for the French brand and on the minor roads leading to Cabo de Rama, the local village panchayats have added plenty of speed limiters. While ‘sliding’ might be a lot longer, the C3 definitely felt better than most of the vehicles it will compete against. While these were brand new cars with intact suspension – vehicles tend to get bumpier with age – comfort is a good selling point.


Also read: Kia EV6 promises 500km range, but let the first 100 units come to India and perform


C3 can kill Swift

Citroën has clearly built the C3 at a price. There are several hidden buttons and some parts of the car feel simple. While you can specify alloy wheels at the dealership, they are missing as well as a standard rear camera. This can keep the sticker price down and drive people to showrooms to see the quirky car, with its distinctive orange roof, if you specify it that way (dual-tone is standard on the turbo), most buyers these days like to have everything built-in to have as standard.

Citroën does have a number of ‘packs’ that you can very easily specify to the dealer, but it remains to be seen what adding features that rivals offer as standard will do to the final price. One thing you get as standard on the top spec is a brilliant ten-inch infotainment screen with wireless Apple and Android connectivity and, at least for its segment, impressive speakers.

If a well-specified turbo can keep its price around Rs 8 lakh ex-showroom, Citroën C3 could potentially be a ‘Swift killer’. But for that, Citroën needs more sales points. Citroën has entered India at the peak of the coronavirus with an expensive product and does not have the reach of its rivals. Vatsa said they have already expanded more than 23 showrooms and will have 30 operational showrooms by the time of launch. If the price is right and Citroën gets its distribution on track, we will see more cars on this platform within a year.

There’s another reason we don’t hear much about Andre Citroen, while the company still bears his name. He lost control of the company two years before he died. In fact, he died a broken man, unable to watch his innovations revolutionize the auto industry. It is hoped that Citroën’s story in India will be different from that of its founder.

@kushanmitra is a motoring journalist from New Delhi. Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant)

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