Technology can be a marketing tool for luxury brands, DS’s Ivo Groen tells Paul Myles.

DS is making a pitch to be seen as a standalone luxury brand in its own right and not just a sub-brand of Citroën the builder of one of automotive’s enduring icons, the Citroën DS of the last century.

Leading the drive to premium status is its new DS 7 Crossback launched onto the European market in the beginning of 2017. Naturally considering the market’s continuing love affair with SUVs, the car takes aim at some of the many luxury players in this segment but with its own Gallic flair that the manufacturer hopes draws on its rich history of ‘doing things differently’.

In the metal, it’s a distinctly different looking SUV compared to many that other brands offer and brings together top quality materials with an impressive array of technology, much of which is aimed at user experience. What is clear, though, is the importance of design and lifestyle to the brand which wants to target like-minded consumers looking for that stand-out statement vehicle that won’t get lost in the average corporate carpark.

Future focussed ADAS also figures large in the sales pitch being made by the DS 7 Crossback, bringing with features including active LED lights that echo the directional headlights of the original Series 3 Citroën DS. These produce a sweeping beam that adapts according to road conditions and vehicle speed. There are five fully automated modes for parking, urban, rural, motorway and bad weather. There are also dynamic bending high beam functions that come together to give a little lightshow dance when the car is started.

Smart cameras also get used to provide a night vision feature that can detect pedestrians or animals up to 100 metres ahead. It produces a dashboard alert – yellow, then red – that gives the driver time to react according to the potential hazard’s position.

Autonomous driving functions are employed in this range-topping car boasting DS’s latest version of adaptive cruise control with active lane keeping that operates from standstill up to a speed of 112mph. Drivers are also monitored by infra-red cameras mounted above the steering wheel and at the top of the windscreen which gauge the driver’s head movement, eyes to see whether their eyelids close and face to see which way they are looking, as well as vehicle trajectory and steering wheel inputs. When the system spots an issue, an audible warning sounds and the message “Take a break” is displayed on the instrument panel.

Another ‘smart’ feature is the electronically adjusted suspension activated by a camera system looking at the changes of road surface ahead. While journalists were shown a video of this working on the pave surfaces of Paris, a test ride failed to reveal much merit in the system on UK roads which suffer from random patches of broken tarmac and potholes instead of a stretch of cobble stones as you’d find in France or Belgium. Instead, simply choosing the entry-level option of 18-inch wheels and higher profile tyres instead of the low profile 20-inch items on the range-topping Ultra Prestige model would improve the car’s ride immeasurably compared to its fancy electronica.

However, the real story with this car is how carmakers like the PSA Group see the branding of luxury as a way of exciting consumers with new auto tech and especially the prospect of driverless functions. So TU-Automotive caught up with Ivo Groen vice-president design programmes style with DS during the DS 7 Crossback’s UK launch in the leafy lanes around Coworth Park Hotel in Surrey.

“Sitting here in the wonderful English countryside, it’s not too hard to imagine having that same experience in a car,” said Groen. “There are many big questions we have to face such as do we really want to transform the car into a living room? Because then you could ask, why not stay home and work from there? In a car, we have to ask what’s the experience about being in movement that so appeals? So the whole topic is wide open with not one crystal ball to look at.

“So, from the DS brand’s view point, maybe we should give one answer to this because there is no sense in giving ‘the’ answer for everyone. That’s because while people live here or in Tokyo will want different things. The brand will have to decide what will be our take on it. We are in the middle of deciding that right now but one of the things we do want to do is to get to the essence of what is pleasurable? This is related to sensuality and pleasure so what kind of pleasure are we proposing? The next step is to consider the technology that can take over if you don’t want to drive yourself, say, out to the countryside.”

The auto industry as a whole is facing the challenge of fewer young people taking up driving or even showing an interest in personal transport relying more on other mobility solutions including ride-hailing and public transport. Yet Groen believes this group will become engaged with driverless cars when they come on stream in sufficient numbers. He said: “The real trick with the driverless car is that it’s unlikely to be a car, as today, that’s used by just one family and sits 90% of the time doing nothing. It’s a question of how we see sharing in the future and these are things we are looking into.

“I see this technology becoming mainstream in five to 10 years. It’s then we will see what is acceptable to the market and branding will be an important part of the user experience. The consumer will ask ‘what’s the story of this brand, what is it trying to tell us?’ You will see in the near future that we are experimenting with different expressions of the user experience to propose things and get some feedback from people about them.

“We are not claiming to have just one answer. In that way, it’s OK to be a small luxury manufacturer and to say this is our version we are putting on the table and we hope to push the boundaries in this aspect.”

Whatever the future holds for the DS brand, it’s worth noting that it needs to keep its eyes as much on the potential as it does on the basics. That’s because the single biggest criticism of the current DS7 Crossback is something as basic as the depth of rubber on its wheels. Choosing the entry level model in the range also has the added benefit that you’ll save yourself a lot of money too, with the base Elegance BlueHDi 130 manual specification model starting at £28,050 against the £43,535 for the BlueHDi 180 automatic Ultra Prestige.

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Connected & Autonomous Vehicles

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