Peugeot goes high style to counter brand apathy in robo-car era

PARIS • Mass-market carmakers like Peugeot have a recurring nightmare: Their vehicles being relegated to transport hardware while apps provide the value that consumers care about.

To counter this scenario, Peugeot is trying to prove that style will still matter with a show car that resembles the classic 504 Coupe from 1969. While the styling is retro, the technology is futuristic with 16 screens, two electric motors and a steering wheel that retracts during autonomous driving.

The e-Legend concept, which will debut at the Paris Motor Show this week, features a blue velvet and wood interior, where the driver can opt to relax and watch a movie while the car operates autonomously.

The electric vehicle has a range of as much as 600km and its batteries can be almost completely recharged in 25 minutes. It can accelerate to 100kph in as little as four seconds and has a top speed of 220kph.

France’s PSA Group — the maker of Peugeot, Citroen and DS cars — isn’t the only manufacturer tapping nostalgia amid the unsettling technology shift. Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz, Nissan Motor Co Ltd’s Infiniti and Tata Motors Ltd’s Jaguar have all used classical designs on recent prototypes. For high-end brands, such efforts burnish their image with car lovers, but

the benefits are less obvious for mass-market brands, which are more likely to supply ride-sharing services with vehicles that end being interchangeable to customers.

Still, most automakers aren’t relying on design alone to capture value in an era of robo-taxis. Data generated

by the car, such as a driver’s whereabouts, schedule and shopping preferences, are seen as a new source of revenue. They’re also challenging the likes of Uber Technologies Inc. Volkswagen AG is developing ride-sharing service Moia, and PSA has created its own transport app called Free2Move.

Joining the e-Legend at the Paris show is the X E-Tense from the French manufacturer’s upscale DS nameplate. The electric concept, a vision for transport in the 2030s, features an asymmetrical roof line and includes an espresso machine in an enclosed compartment for passengers and an open cockpit for a human or robot driver.

The group’s mass-market Citroen brand, known for quirky designs, will present a much more down-to-earth vehicle in Paris, with a hybrid version of its C5 Aircross SUV. The vehicle will be available in the European market next year and is part of the company’s plans to offer electric or hybrid variants of all its models by 2025. — Bloomberg