PSA aims to offer car sharing in US in 2018

Carlos Tavares, chairman of the managing board of French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen. — AFP pic
Carlos Tavares, chairman of the managing board of French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen. — AFP pic

PARIS, Jan 13 — French auto giant PSA hopes to launch a car-sharing service in 2018 in the US, its latest baby step back after Peugeot exited the market in 1991.

PSA in October launched in Seattle Free2Move, a smartphone application that aggregates car-sharing programs for users.

Car-sharing apps allow users to rent vehicles for short periods of time, in contrast to traditional rental companies.

The next move is to introduce PSA’s own car sharing program in which it would rent out Peugeot built autos to consumers, said Larry Dominique, PSA’s North American chief.

“Aggregation is the first step and in 2018 we hope to launch one or two additional physical mobility services as well,” Dominique told AFP in an interview ahead of next week’s Detroit Auto Show.

“We’re still negotiating with the cities.”

The initiatives are part of the a strategy announced in April 2016 by Carlos Tavares, the chief executive of PSA, which sells cars made by Citroen and Opel, in addition to Peugeot.

Peugeot withdrew from the US in 1991 following years of sales declines amid stiff competition from US and Japanese automakers. But company officials point to a long history in the US before that.

Tavares has described a gradual US ramp-up process that could take 10 years in which PSA first engages through car-sharing apps and car sharing services before actually selling vehicles down the road.

Part of the aim is to better learn customer preferences before making deeper investments.

“We need to think about our approach to the US market in a new way,” Dominique said. “We’re trying to learn as much as we can.”

“There’s no rush, no deadline for me to start selling cars in North America.”

Part of the caution is due to the heavily saturated nature of the US car market, where there are currently 18 carmakers, 42 brands and some 330 models, Dominique said.

“We’re at least a few years away from having any kind of vehicles that could be sold in the United States,” said Dominique, 56, an auto industry veteran who previously worked at General Motors, Chrysler  and Nissan.

PSA’s branding research suggests US consumers have a positive view of French merchandise such as wine, luxury items and goods that connote a “kind of a French lifestyle.” But US consumers don’t have a fixed opinion on the quality of French autos themselves.

“So it’s not negative, it’s not positive,” Dominique said. “It’s neutral.”

PSA sees opportunity in the US an era of disruption with the rising role of electric cars, car connectivity and car sharing.

A launch of car sharing would be one way to also get PSA cars back into the US if they resonate in the market. But the goal of the program is “about satisfying the customers rather than just put in our cars in services,” Dominique said. — AFP-Relaxnews

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