We recently had the privilege of catching up with the Peugeot brand’s Global CEO Linda Jackson. Appointed to her current role at the beginning of 2020, Jackson previously headed up the Citroen brand and she has spent her entire career in the motor industry, including earlier stints with British brands such as Jaguar and Land Rover.
We spoke to her about the future of the automotive industry as well as the brand’s positioning in South Africa.
CAR: In an industry mostly dominated by male CEOs, what is your advice to women wanting to break into the automotive industry?
Linda Jackson: You need to work hard. I think you need to have confidence in yourself and to a certain extent you need to be prepared to take risks.
I’ve been in this business a long, long time, and I started at the very lowest level, and worked my way up. And I think that’s probably an advantage to me because I sort of know what everybody has to do to get their job done, so I can set realistic targets and understand how long it’s going to take them.
Have confidence in yourself, take little risks sometimes and always have fun, because if you’re not going to have fun doing something what’s the point?
CAR: What car brands do you see Peugeot competing with in 10 years from now?
LJ: As you quite rightly have noticed that we are moving upmarket, and this positioning naturally puts you against German or Japanese competitors, without naming anybody in particular.
And within the big Stellantis Group with its 14 brands, we have been very careful to create what we call “Brand Clusters”, which are specifically targeted for different parts of the market. So for example, Peugeot is with Opel in what we call the “Upper Cluster”. And then we’ve got for example, Alfa Romeo, which is in a Premium Group with DS and Lancia. We’ve got American brands like Chrysler and Dodge and Ram. So we are very, very keen to protect our brands, but also to make sure they’ve got “clear positioning” if you like.
CAR: With Peugeot moving more towards online sales with its new Buy Online platform, how would you define the future role of brick and mortar dealerships?
LJ: I love this question because as I said earlier, I think Covid has accelerated selling online. And indeed, since April 2020 we’ve been selling online, which is a platform that we have now in the UK and France, and we want to obviously roll that out across the rest of the world and Europe.
However, I am a very strong believer in “Phygital”, which is a combination of physical and digital experience for the customers. And I think that’s very, very important for customers moving forward.
Because you know, I do believe that we do a lot of our research online. And I think in the future we will probably configure, finance and order our vehicle online. But when you’re buying a car, it’s probably the second most expensive thing that you’re going to buy after a house or a flat, and therefore you’re going to want to touch it. You’re going to want to have somebody explain it to you. You’re going to want to drive it, test drive it. So I think there’s a real place that exists in the future for our dealers.
I do believe that people will desire to have (and I hate to say it), but the more administrative and boring parts completed online. And then you can have a really great experience in the dealership. And that’s one of the reasons that the new Brand Identity is also about changing what our showrooms look like, to make sure that they’re more comfortable, more welcoming, and people can have a real brand experience.
CAR: As you transition into electrification, how will you strategise your products in developing countries such as South Africa where these products are met with heavy taxes and become inaccessible to the masses?
LJ: This is a really important point, because often we in Europe think everybody’s at the same speed or the same level of transition, which of course is not true for many, many reasons. And you’re right, it’s not just about electricity, it’s infrastructure. So our strategy is the “power of choice”.
And we can do this because we have multi-energy platforms. Which means that we build the same vehicles, and they can have an electric, hybrid or ICE version. Which means we can continue to offer to our customers, wherever they are, the choice of powertrain that they want.
CAR: So Peugeot doesn’t have any intention of becoming electric only at some predetermined point?
LJ: No, not for now because we are a global company and our strategy is the “power of choice”. We are electrifying our range, so you know, by the end of this year 70% of our range will have an electrified version. And by 2025 it will be 100%. But we will be ready when South Africa is “ready” if you like.
CAR: Despite the leaps and bounds they’ve made, French cars tend to carry something of a stigma among South African buyers when it comes to reliability and resale – how does Peugeot plan to counter these issues?
LJ: I think that’s a very, very important point. And you’re right, to be honest with you, the quality of our vehicles as we’ve moved upmarket has improved dramatically. But of course, peoples’ perceptions go back many years, and it will take some time to change these.
So specifically in South Africa we put an action plan in place, called Peugeot Pride, which entails a five-year, 100 000 km warranty across all models. It’s peace of mind. It’s a courtesy car. It’s 360 degree service.
What I really want to reiterate is that we want to succeed in South Africa, and it is an important market for us, and we’re taking it very, very seriously with the local team. We want to really emphasise the quality of our products but also the quality of our customer experience.
CAR: Do you expect the upcoming Landtrek bakkie to become Peugeot’s best-selling model in South Africa?
LJ: I think Landtrek will be a very important model in South Africa. And I know the team are very excited, and of course we’ve got a bit of a history with Peugeot in the pick-up market, but it’s not just the only offer which we want to have in South Africa.
We want the whole range, for us it’s very, very important, and we don’t want to be a “one model brand”. We want to be a “whole” range.
CAR: Peugeot currently has two rather different double-cab pick-ups, the Landtrek and the Pick Up. How have each of these products been received in their respective markets next to more established products in the segment?
LJ: If we take the first one which was the Peugeot Pick-Up, which we actually launched back in 2017 in Tunisia, we took advantage of the experience of this launch in the African context to get back our understanding and experience.
But you know, that was a double cab, it didn’t allow us to really regain our historic place. Which is why we decided to launch the Peugeot Landtrek which is a one-tonne pick-up. And you know, the Landtrek in its development was tested for more than 2 000 000 kilometres on all terrains, in all weathers, because the key thing for a pick-up, let’s be honest, is reliability.
CAR: With Peugeot’s rebranding as a more premium/boutique product, have you taken a new approach as to how and to whom you’re marketing your vehicles and is this shift from being perceived as a lower-to-mid range brand to something more upmarket throwing any unique challenges your way?
LJ: In the past 10 years we have introduced more quality into our products and into the experience, “moving” as you quite rightly say to what we call a “high end generalist.” So it’s not premium, it’s moving upmarket. We’ve also introduced what we call the “New Brand Identity,” which is not simply a new logo. Obviously there’s a new logo. But it’s the 360° behind it, such as a new website, new experiences in Dealerships. It’s the way we market our vehicles. We’re basically saying when you spend your time with Peugeot, we want you to have quality time.
CAR: As the world seems to demand more crossovers, traditional body types like sedans and coupes are becoming less common. Are there any ‘dream products’ that your designers would like to create that just wouldn’t match prevailing market trends?
LJ: Well, you know, my designers are also very creative. But I have to keep them on track, because we have to be very efficient and that’s why we have what we call the “Core Model Strategy”, which covers what we call the volume and profit pools.
So you have to be very sensible in this world, and therefore I think I need to stick with what I’ve got and not dream of what I haven’t got. I mean I’d prefer to direct my designers to “dream” about what the next Peugeot is that’s going to be within my Core Model Strategy. And what’s the next i-Cockpit? What is it in terms of connectivity? What is it, of all those things? So I think I feed them their creativity in that way.
CAR: Will the freedom of electrified platforms give you the ability to create such projects without having to stress too much about packaging, emissions and performance?
I suppose there’s two parts of the question. The first, as I’ve mentioned, is that we offer a multi-energy platform.
But if I talk to Matthias Hossann, who is the Peugeot Design Director, I think from his point of view, you’re absolutely right. The new platforms, the ‘skateboards’ as they call them, give more freedom to the designers. And I’m looking forward to what they’re going to create with that type of ‘skateboard’ approach.
CAR: What message do you have for buyers out there who tend to look at German, Japanese or Korean car offerings before Peugeot, that could potentially bring them to the Peugeot fold?
LJ: First of all I think, please come and have a look, because we’ve got some great products, some really, really great and exciting products. And we have three values, which have been in place for a long time, and we live them every day: Excellence, Allure and Emotion. The latter is about pleasure and offering an instinctive driving experience. In that regard, we have what we call the “i-Cockpit” which is a USP for Peugeot.