Founded in Paris, France in 1919 by André Citroën, the Citroën Company was the first to engage in mass automobile production outside of the US. The company pioneered the concept of complementary sales networks and advertising techniques, such as having his surname and company name sprawled vertically on the Eifel Tower, which maximised sales. Accordingly, Citroën had become Europe’s largest automobile manufacturer by 1927 and the fourth largest in the world.
Originally an armaments manufacturer during World War I, André Citroën found himself without a product to produce following the end of the war. Showing great foresight, he was able to apply the mass production techniques he had developed during the war to automotive production, developing his company’s reputation for technological innovations, hence the slogan ‘Créative Technologie.’
In terms of ownership, Citroën has quite a turbulent history. Although by 1927 Citroën had become one of the largest car manufacturers in the world, it was also heavily in debt due in part to the need to keep prices down in order to stay ahead of the emerging competition. By 1934, Citroën had filed for bankruptcy but was rescued by Michelin, which became Citroën’s largest shareholder in the process.
The 1960s saw a period of further financial restructuring for Citroën. Citroën took over fellow French carmaker Panchard in 1963, but this was followed by the sale of a 49 per cent stake in Citroën to Fiat, which was somewhat ominously returned to Michelin in 1973. This was unfortunately a sign of things to come as Citroën went bankrupt in 1974.
Fearing heavy job losses, the French government stepped in to arrange talks between Michelin and Peugeot, resulting in a merger of the two companies and the eventual formation of a parent holding company – PSA Peugeot Citroen – following Peugeot PSA’s purchase of a 90 per cent stake in Citroën in 1976.
After this point, PSA gradually diluted Citroen’s focus on engineering, and Citroën has accordingly become increasingly Peugeot-esque in nature, having been subject to a system of platform-sharing.
Citroën has a rich history in this country. Indeed, the first Citroën to arrive on these shores was a single 5CV model in 1923. Bought by Nevill Westwood in Perth in 1925, Westwood used the 5CV to make history by being the first person to circumnavigate Australia in a car.
As the car had already travelled 48,000km when Westwood bought it, this was further testament to Citroën’s engineering prowess at a time when cars were not known for their reliability and sturdiness. Up until its purchase by Peugeot in 1976, Citroën had maintained its reputation for innovation and for the charmingly idiosyncratic nature of its designs, to which models like the Australian-produced ID19 are very much testament.
Arguably the best example of Citroen’s early displays of unparalleled engineering prowess, the ID19 was first released here in 1956 and continued this country’s rich association with the French brand, having been produced in Melbourne from 1961 to 1966.
The ID19 was a ground-breaking car, advancing achievable standards within the automotive industry in practically every way. Indeed, the ID19 was the first mass produced car to introduce disc brakes, power steering, and a high-pressure hydraulic suspension system that continues to form the basis of Citroën models to this day. The ID19 set new standards in terms of ride quality and handling.
The Citroën Berlingo is a popular panel van and leisure activity vehicle that was released in 1996, reintroducing the idiosyncratic style for which Citroën had been famous prior to its purchase by Peugeot in the mid-1970s. That said, the Berlingo is mechanically identical to the Peugeot Partner, which shares its platform.
The Berlingo has a large rectangular cargo area with an aerodynamic front end, representing a conscious effort on the part of its designers to pay homage to Citroën’s past. The Berlingo is popular with small businesses because of its fuel economy, large storage space, and low price.
The C4 model is available as a coupe, sedan, and hatchback. Launched in 2007, the C4 is a modern example of a Citroën model that continues the legacy of the DS, as its major selling point is its extensive use of technological advances such as the ‘Lane Departure Warning System,’ which alerts the driver in the event that he or she crosses road markings without using indicators. The C4 also utilises a ventilation system that comes complete with a perfume dispenser, in addition to ESP.
The C4 also uses a fixed-hub steering wheel that allows the driver to perform several operations without taking his or her hands from the wheel itself and which utilises the first example of a shaped airbag to be produced by anyone in the automotive industry.
The ID19 was arguably peerless at the time of introduction. Its links with this country rightly means that it holds a place in the hearts of many old enough to remember it, with many experts considering it to be on par with the likes of Jaguar in terms of the quality of its engineering and design.
The Berlingo model shares a platform with the Peugeot Partner, yet the Berlingo is actually less expensive new and usually less expensive on the used market. The Renault Kangoo is also a rival, yet the Berlingo is quieter, has a more expensive interior, and provides a greater level of overall refinement.
The C4 has competition from the likes of the VW Golf, which is well-equipped, great to drive, and good value for money. However, the C4 is spacious, solidly built, and also very well-equipped, delivering a pleasant turn of speed into the bargain.