With the Peugeot 408, Lion is opening up nothing less than its own fastback sedan segment. The brand denies envisioning a “simple” coupe SUV and claims to clear a new segment: a legit, spacious and dynamic silhouette, in short, an unprecedented marriage of SUVs and sedans. How did the brand come to develop this model? What is behind the design of the Peugeot 408? Meeting with project manager Aurélie Bresson.
Le Nouvel Automobiliste: Hello Mrs Bresson, first question: when did you start thinking about the P54 project that gave rise to the Peugeot 408?
Aurelie Bresson: It all depends on what we’re talking about. We signed the style manifesto in 2015, but the project hasn’t launched yet. It really starts right before the style check, which is a little before 2019. Then we work all the time until the launch, which will be in early 2023. We cover styling checks and then move on to the whole work between the feasibility of industrial styling, the phase of the project that lasts until industrialization, and where we work with industrial styling on the one hand, and with brand project management, on the part of Peugeot, in this case with me to have the eyes of the client and the business, in order to create and release this project, as it ultimately pleases our clients.
LNA: Thinking outside the box when introducing a new silhouette, a new segment, isn’t that harder than updating an existing model?
AB: Oh yes, this is an additional challenge, I will not hide from you. In particular, because we have no comparison, we are not going to improve or upgrade a version whose market we know in advance. For the 408, we scoured the market and saw that something was missing, that customers couldn’t find exactly what they were looking for, and with this car, we had a compass to fill every need. And so position yourself on the C Upper segment.
LNA: Is your goal to launch a new direction or stay alone in this niche?
AB: We want to launch this new sub-segment, which is not yet available in Europe. However, it exists in some markets, such as China. So it’s an additional challenge on the part of the project, but I think it was a treat for the designers because they had carte blanche! Anyway, during the brief, we told them: we have to be extraordinary, we want something new that comes to wake up and bring something new, they had carte blanche to create a complete car style. . Then, of course, we work together to find the best compromise…
LNA: Understanding a new segment means, first of all, understanding it and being able to convince Peugeot management of its relevance. Was it an easy move for 408? Especially since we know that the number of silhouettes within the Stellantis brands is limited…
AB: It happened naturally, because we showed that there is a need and that this car is a plus for our brand, that we are not going to cannibalize anyone. There is a place, so we came to add something. When we explain this to him, the leadership trusts us and follows us.
LNA: Do you know if your competitors are already planning similar models?
AB : I don’t know what my competitors are doing and at the moment we don’t have any! Therefore, we are leaders in this market and we are going to give momentum, even if we are of course seeing the main trend, where the silhouettes are more and more coupes. On the other hand, what we often see today are coupe SUVs that are taller and shorter than our Peugeot 408; among premium brands in the D segment, there is also a definite trend with 100% electric models. But we are the first in our market with this architecture in the Upper C segment.
LNA: What are the guarantees for 2-3 years before imitation?
AB: Of course, at least we hope so!
LNA: Looking at the models of the project, in particular the “manifesto” that dates back to 2015, we see that Peugeot is 7 years ahead of the curve! How long has it been since Peugeot followed its stylists to clean up a new segment?
AB: However, we were the forerunners of the 3008, which when it came out in due time positioned us as a leader, the 2008 model too, and we at Peugeot are lucky to have an incredible design team that has this vision of the future. who feel things, who create and who bring what allows us to bring new concepts to the market.
LNA: Peugeot released the 308 last year, and this 408 is different in terms of hardware and dashboard. During design, did you work closely with the 308 teams, or did you have to keep a distance so as not to influence each other?
AB: It depends on what we’re talking about: when it comes to design, some designers competed. In the programmatic mode for project management on the product side, we obviously work together with Agnès Tesson-Fage (308 brand project manager) and this covers several things: creating synergies effectively, as well as positioning ourselves in our respective territories while maintaining consistency in our move up the market with the equipment we are about to offer. This is the work of a great team!
LNA: Can we say that the merger has been made with other Stellantis brands? Reading a brief description of the Peugeot 408, you’d think you’d find similarities with DS Automobiles’ announcements with its “Aero Sport Lounge” positioning of elevated and dynamic sedans…
AB: Each brand has its own territory, its own style, its own interpretation. We each work on our own and we don’t have synergy on our machines. We work in our brand and in our products.
LNA: What was the hardest thing to get on this P54 project?
AB: Demonstrating that we need something new, that we need to think outside the box in order to offer customers something fresh, innovative and new that fits well with our range. This has been proven and when you see the 408 next to the other models in the line you will see that each model has its place, each model caters to a very specific clientele and once we were able to explain that everyone was ecstatic. The board and all management supported the project 100%, making sure of its positioning.
The negotiation is more at the level of the means that can be used to develop this or that equipment, materials… and possibly the failures that need to be made in order to be able to offer a car that is sufficiently equipped, safe, exceeds the standards, but at a reasonable price. for our customers, because we remain in the C segment. It is all a long-term team effort to find the right compromise, the right balance.
LNA: In the absence of direct competition, are you still positioning yourself against customers of premium brands such as the Mercedes GLA or the BMW 2 Series GranCoupé? Or even more like the Audi A4 and A5?
AB: We’ll probably have clients coming from this universe because they’ve definitely stayed in pretty classic form, but the D segment is running out of steam because the clients want something new. There will always be a clientele that needs to be appeased with classic, well-known elements, but we want to appeal to those who are looking for something new.
LNA: This Peugeot 408 is made in France: was that a requirement for the project?
AB: In our project, it was determined that we would have two production sites: in France, and also in China for the local market. Given its size, we are ideal for the Chinese market, which will benefit from some specific adaptations. The Mulhouse plant will cover the rest of the world, including the THP 215 unit destined for markets outside of Europe. We will have a presence in Europe expanded to 30 countries, the Middle East, Asia Pacific, but not in Latin America at the moment.
LNA: Thank you, Mrs. Bresson, for these details.
Photos: Fabien Legrand