The new UK boss of DS believes a focus on offering a premium buying experience with new dealerships and personal customer service is key to growing the brand in Britain.
DS was spun off from fellow Stellantis marque Citroën six years ago, with the aim of creating a French rival to German premium brands such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. But while DS has shown encouraging growth in some European markets – and is particularly strong in its homeland – it is lagging behind in the UK.
DS sold 2379 cars here in 2020, giving it a market share of just 0.15% – down from 0.19% the previous year.
UK boss Jules Tilstone, who previously served as the firm’s European commercial chief, told Autocar: “As a new, conquest brand, Covid-19 hit us harder than established brands with showrooms closed. With click-and-collect orders, people will likely stick with the brands they’ve been with for years.
“That reflects the past 12 months. We’re in a significant phase of growth across Europe; some countries have been ahead in that journey, and we [the UK] are behind some of the big countries in mainland Europe. It’s disappointing that Covid-19 hit at a time when we were building momentum.”
Tilstone believes the recent success of the likes of Lexus and Volvo shows that “there’s life outside a German brand” in the premium market, noting that DS outsold the Japanese firm across Europe last year.
DS currently offers the 3 Crossback crossover and 7 Crossback SUV in the UK, and it will add the 9 saloon and 4 hatchback this year. To support those, Tilstone has initiated a plan dubbed Elevation to boost the brand’s fortunes in the UK.
Customer experience is key
As with most other brands, DS has invested in its digital operations during the pandemic, launching a virtual showroom and online sales platforms. But Tilstone believes that physical dealerships are key to selling DS’s French luxury ‘savoir-faire’ approach.
“If you really want to understand a brand, the physical showroom experience is very important,” he said. “People want to feel it. Our virtual showroom can bring a product to life compared with a video, but many people still value that personal interaction.
“It goes beyond bricks and mortar: it’s into the relationship. It’s important for all brands. It will be interesting to see how long services like click and collect can last.”
DS currently operates two different showroom formats: salons, which are DS sections within larger dealerships, and stand-alone stores. Tilstone said the brand is “seeing the best results in places where we have stores” and that the comparatively slow roll-out of these in the UK has been a key reason why the brand’s growth here has been slower than in other European countries.
“People want that comfort, security and relationship, so a DS concierge has real value,” explained Tilstone.
No race for market share
Tilstone said that the intention has always been to gradually build public awareness of DS and to “launch the brand using the product”, adding: “Without the product to show what we mean by Parisian luxury and savoir faire, those words are just meaningless.”
He predicted that “as we launch more products, we will attract more customers” but said he doesn’t expect dramatic growth as a result of the 4 and 9 arriving.
“For us, it’s not about racing for market share,” he said. “If we reach another 1% market share overnight, what does it do to the [Stellantis] group share? While it’s not irrelevant, it’s not the purpose of DS within the group. We’ve got other brands that can do that.
“Without solid foundations, which can be the risk if you chase volume, you miss developing the fundamental health factors you need for long-term success.
“The way is that we’re confident in our product, we deliver the right experience in the right way and we adapt to the market. If we get that right, customers will choose us and then we will grow.”
As the market gets more electrified, Tilstone believes DS could benefit from its E-Tense hybrid and electric models.
He said: “As a new brand in this transition period, it’s an opportunity for us to bring people to try our product and that has to be our number-one ambition: get more people to try DS, drive DS, discover what the brand is and how it reflects our positioning.”