Peugeot has been quietly gathering data from some Chevrolet vehicles to aid the French automaker’s upcoming return to the U.S.
The information comes from Group PSA's Free2Move car-sharing mobility service that operates in Washington, DC, with Equinox SUVs and Cruze hatchbacks.
Free2Move customers can rent these vehicles by the minute, hour, day or week, and PSA gets more than money in return. Larry Dominique, chairman and CEO of PSA North America (below, left), says at the Center for Automotive Research’s virtual Management Briefing Seminars that when Peugeot returns to the U.S. in a few years, it will bring with it learnings from F2M as well as other new players in the auto industry, such as Tesla, Vroom and Carvana.
“We at PSA NA benefit from a lack of legacy,” Dominique says. “Today, we don’t have a retail network, service facilities or predefined behavior. It is our intention to focus, first, on delivering class-leading customer satisfaction by an emphasis on a customized, digital experience.
“I have been quite public with regards to the fact that we are not trying to copy Tesla and ignore the franchise realties of North America. However, you can expect a very, very different approach to retail network, digital platform, processes and data accumulation, sharing and action.”
Data accumulation already is taking place with those Chevrolets in the nation’s capital. F2M sees a spike in requests for three-day SUV rentals every Friday afternoon, for example, when people want to leave the city for the weekend. PSA also is learning what customers want and expect, thanks to vehicle telematics that relay to PSA details on fuel economy and how many times the cars are started up.
“We are collecting all that data, and it is helping us design cars,” says Dominique (pictured below during presentation). “It’s helping us refine our customer experience to make the app easier to use and make the vehicles more customer-friendly.”
Free2Move is a global mobility services brand that will be spun off into its own company, the PSA Group announced last month, although there will still be connections. F2M has car sharing in three cities in Europe – Madrid, Lisbon and Paris – where it’s focused on electric vehicles, and also offers information on fleet management, parking and EV charging points. The brand says it hopes to offer all of its current services in a single app once the separation is complete.
The things that make F2M better will make Peugeot’s launch better, too, Dominique says.
“How can we marry the Peugeot brand and car ownership with Free2Move services, how can those work in tandem?” he says. “So, maybe you buy a Peugeot SUV, but you fly to DC for the weekend and want to have access to car sharing. Can we do that through one family of connections?”
The information gleaned from F2M will make up only part of PSA’s revived sales model for Peugeot in America. Wards spoke to Dominique in November to get a general feel for Peugeot’s U.S. plans, including smaller, “physical-light” dealerships and a focus on a digital connection with customers.
Dominique repeats these aspects of Peugeot’s return in his CAR keynote address, adding that plans remain on track for the brand’s launch to happen “around 2023,” despite the impact of COVID-19. In fact, he says, the pandemic has accelerated acceptance of the digital car-shopping experience.
“So, if I had an audience of people who are willing to consider shopping online, looking at a new brand online, I think that the universe has expanded,” he says. “But I also think it's added another layer of challenge because all my competitors are going to have to pivot digitally, which means they’re going to be focusing on digital, which means we have to step up our game and deliver an even stronger customer experience when we launch Peugeot in North America.”
Dominique doesn’t address the pending merger between PSA and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, other than to say it remains on track for first-quarter 2021. As for the automakers’ new name – Stellantis – well, it could have been worse.
“After all, compared to PSA-FCA or FCA-PSA, Stellantis actually sounds pretty good to me,” Dominique says.