Stellantis giant has big plans for SA

17 March 2021 - 08:28
By Brenwin Naidu
The Peugeot Landtrek is one of the new models Stellantis plans to bring to SA in 2021.
Image: Supplied The Peugeot Landtrek is one of the new models Stellantis plans to bring to SA in 2021.

“While everybody is talking about low volumes, low market [trends] and cut-backs, we are doing the exact opposite – we are looking at big, significant growth.”

This is the bullish sentiment of Leslie Ramsoomar, managing director of the recently-formed Stellantis group’s SA operations.

Stellantis, whose establishment came through a merger between PSA Group (which owns Citroën, Opel and Peugeot) and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), is the fourth-largest automaker in the world.

Sowetan Motoring last week sat down with the new captain to discuss what the union means for the local market and gain an understanding of the strategies central to its future growth.

Ramsoomar has a decorated career in the automotive industry, having held senior leadership positions in the Renault-Nissan group, including the role of deputy managing director for the Middle East operations of the French manufacturer.

In February 2020 he took the reins as MD of Peugeot, Citroën SA (PCSA).

Leslie Ramsoomar is managing director of the recently-formed Stellantis group’s SA operations.
Image: Supplied Leslie Ramsoomar is managing director of the recently-formed Stellantis group’s SA operations.

“The formation of Stellantis gives that kind of stability that all the brands have been looking for , brands that probably would not have been able to thrive independently.”

As many as 14 marques are under the umbrella: Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Citroën, Dodge, DS Automobiles, Fiat, Jeep, Lancia, Maserati, Opel, Peugeot, Ram and Vauxhall. In the context of our country, the taxonomy of the new order is in the process of being finalised.

“The global merger was only announced in January. What we know for sure is that we are merging locally. Which means at some point, naturally we will combine facilities, we will combine aftersales, we will look for all kinds of synergies.”

We asked Ramsoomar how underperforming brands within the stable would be given a boost locally.

“Firstly, let me talk about the brands that have been successful over the last year. Peugeot has doubled its market share – from a small base so  I am cautious when I say ‘doubled’. Citroën is growing. We had just launched it when we were hit by Covid-19so we could not roll out the plans we wanted to, nonetheless we see growth, hampered a bit by global stock shortages.”

“The Opel brand, since we have taken over in January, is proving to be great in terms of first activities and sales. We recently launched the new Corsa.”

The new Opel Corsa was launched in SA in January.
Image: Supplied The new Opel Corsa was launched in SA in January.

He said the group had expanded its total network of dealerships from 19 to 35 in the last year.

“For the ex-FCA brands it is a bit soon to tell. We intend to repeat that recipe: a well-structured dealership network, in the right locations, good product and the right level of marketing behind them.”

Ramsoomar said a plan had already been formalised for the PSA brands, but it was back to the drawing board after the merger with FCA was announced.

He said an offensive of new product was at the forefront of the revised plan, bolstered by aims to enhance customer service by placing a stronger emphasis on training, for both technical and retail personnel, as well as greater visibility from a marketing perspective.

What new metal can the buying public expect?

On the FCA side, he said details would be shared at a later stage.

The new facelifted Citroën C3.
Image: Supplied The new facelifted Citroën C3.

Citroën has the facelifted C3 in the works and Opel is readying the new Crossland and Grandland. On the Peugeot side, a new 3008 is imminent, while the second-generation 208 is arriving in the first half of the year. Then there is the Landtrek, a significant move given the bakkie-crazy nature of our market.

“We are busy with the range design in terms of what versions and what specifications we will bring to the market.”

“Initially we are not very ambitious with the volumes that start,” he said, adding that the release of a single-cab version will enrich the numbers.

Regarding the beleaguered PSA assembly plant in Walvis Bay, Namibia, Ramsoomar said  the government and the group were in continued discussions. The plant, which was expected to assemble 5,000 cars yearly by 2020, is inactive. The delays are attributed to matters surrounding import tariffs. As for production on SA soil, Ramsoomar hinted at future possibilities.

“The answer is ‘probably’. We have been studying it. We are looking at it. Right now I cannot say if we will or will not. But the answer is not ‘no’.”

What would the firm produce?

“What is important for us is to secure export volume for whatever platform we do produce here and to make sure there is critical volume in the country. At some point there would be an A, B or C platform we produce in the country or sport-utility vehicle for that matter. Right now it, it is not clear yet.”

The soon to be launched Alfa Romeo Tonale.
Image: Supplied The soon to be launched Alfa Romeo Tonale.

A circumspect approach has been taken with its local electric vehicles strategy, with concerns surround energy supply and infrastructure.

Carlos Tavares, global CEO of Stellantis, announced this year that an intensive push towards electrification would be seen across its brands, including 10 new models in 2021 alone.

The only electrified Stellantis-brand offering on sale in SA at present would be the Maserati Ghibli Hybrid, which we road tested in our February 24 issue.

On tough trading conditions under various stages of lockdown, Ramsoomar claimed the company used the opportunity “to consolidate the business and put together a proper recovery plan”.

Downtime was used for tasks like merging parts operations. An 8,000m² warehouse in Midrand houses R50m worth of Peugeot and Citroën parts, with Opel stock in the process of being incorporated.

“From a business point of view we lost six weeks of trading. We are performing better than we were the year before the Covid-19 pandemic. This year, in the first two months of trading, we are hitting our budget numbers. The company is growing. From July last year  to December last year, we opened 11 dealers.”

“The stability of the organisation is key to any brand or company that wants to grow. We are one of the most stable global manufacturers at the moment. That gives us a strong base to work from in SA.”