Citroen Australia’s Tyson Bowen says the company isn’t counting its chickens, but admits the level of interest in the quirky crossover is exciting in the lead up to its first-quarter 2016 launch.
“We have a lot of pre-interest in the car. It would be too premature to say, but based on other campaigns we’ve done, [the interest in C4 Cactus] is significantly higher.
“That said it’s just a register your interest. Once we move into the next phase of confirming specification and rolling out the build and all the other things and price, I think that’s when we’ll start to see the true numbers, but based on people walking through the doors at dealerships, early enquiries for information on the website and how it’s been received globally, I think we’re in a pretty good position.”
Bowen says the brand is excited to enter Australia’s highly competitive yet buoyant SUV market and speak with existing customers looking to step into another Citroen, old customers returning to the brand, and entirely new customers.
“It’s putting us on the radar of people who haven’t looked at our stuff in a long time, but it’s also a car that gives people who have been waiting who are in our cars something to move to.
“The only SUV we had was Aircross and obviously that’s no longer on sale in Oz. That car didn’t quite fit with where the brand was going and what we wanted to do with the brand in Australia. [C4 Cactus], however, ticks that box: design-led, innovative, efficient and exciting. We just want to get the car on the road.”
Bowen believes the C4 Cactus will truly start to gain traction when people start to see it out and about.
“This car is something that is unique and it stands out in the market, there’s nothing quite like it. Based on that alone you’re going to get a lot of interest. I think now once people understand drivetrains, price and spec is where we’ll start to see the real impact.”
While official pricing and specifications are still to be finalised, Citroen announced this week that the C4 Cactus would be available in petrol manual spec for around $25,000 plus on-road costs and in diesel semi-automatic spec for under $30,000.
Bowen says Citroen is aware of some negative attitudes towards semi-auto transmissions, and believes education in dealerships will be important to ensure customers don’t get the wrong impression.
“I think it’s all about educating the market and how we approach the test drive at a dealership end. The reason we’ve gone out of our way to call it a semi-automatic and nothing else is because we want to be up front about the fact that it’s not an automatic, and if people understand what they’re going into then it’s less of an issue, but if people walk in the door and think it’s an automatic, they’ll drive it and think this is a bit odd.
“The transmission itself is a generational change over the ones that have been in the marketplace before. The shifts are 40 per cent quicker, it’s got a creep function which means it will move forward at lights and it can go backwards, it’s got paddleshift, so it’s giving you that ability to shift back and forth yourself. As long as we educate those who are considering the car on what it actually is, it will be less of an issue.”
Bowen describes Australia’s two Cactus variants – the 68kW/230Nm 1.6-litre four-cylinder diesel and six-speed semi-automatic, and the 81kW/205Nm 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol and five-speed manual – as “the best combination of available options”.
“Based on the cars we’ve driven – both the product planning team and the technical team and others – the semi-automatic works best when paired with the diesel because of the torque characteristics of the drivetrain and other elements, and the manual works best with the petrol, again because its torque and power are delivered in different ways.
“We think we’ve got [the line-up] where we need it to be. Obviously we’ll monitor what the market is asking for and what reaction is. The good thing is being small and nimble we can react pretty quickly, and likewise if there are any moves out of France then we can also consider what that means for us.”
Bowen says he is not aware of any plans to develop a conventional automatic transmission for either engine at this stage.
He says everyone at the brand is excited by the unique challenges of selling such a unique car.
“It’s selling to a very different segment, it’s selling to a very different group of customers, and it’s also about us putting a very different hat on and say ‘right, how can we capture this interest and how can we do something different?’
“All of us from customer care to our dealer sales training to our sales staff on the ground to even myself have all had to look at how we capture the essence of this car and what it offers. Everybody’s very excited by it and it can’t come quick enough for us is the best way to put it.”
More: Citroen C4 Cactus Review