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Peugeot Is Coming Back to America (and Here’s Why)

Groupe PSA’s North American president tells us why the company chose Peugeot for its U.S. return.

Parent company PSA has chosen Peugeot as the marque it will use in its return to the United States and Canada. CEO Carlos Tavares made the announcement from Paris today, and Automobile spoke soon after with Groupe PSA’s North American president, Larry Dominique, who explained the French automaker’s selection. (He previously discussed PSA’s return to North America and its decision-making process with us in October.)

“We first just tested a French brand versus German [brands]” and other European brands, Dominique said. “It was positive. We got lumped into being a European brand.”

That means that even generically, Americans and Canadians think of French autos for their quality, design, and innovation, he says. PSA began this process before it purchased Opel and Vauxhall from General Motors, but only Opel was added into the mix of potentials for North America when the French company began narrowing down its awareness tests to its specific brands. PSA also considered Citroën and its premium DS sub-brand for its return.

“Peugeot had the strongest brand awareness,” Dominique said, citing Peugeot bicycles and pepper mills (the Z model, its first pepper mill, was introduced in 1874). Opel was associated with GM, he said, and there was no baggage associated with any of the existing PSA brands. “There wasn’t any negative association with the brand,” Dominique said of Peugeot. “A lot of people said, ‘I don’t know why they left.’ ”

Peugeot effectively sold its bicycle unit to Cyclegroup in 1996, though it remains associated with the French industrial giant. The bicycle brand has recently begun concentrating on building and selling electrically assisted bikes.

Citroën might have been the enthusiasts’ choice for the U.S./Canadian return, because it’s known for its innovation with such cars as the front-wheel-drive Traction Avant, the 2CV, and the DS introduced in 1955. But the last Citroën sold in the U.S. market was the Maserati-powered SM, in 1975, three years after the model was named MotorTrend’s Car of the Year.

Peugeot, which started buying up shares of Citroën about this time, left the U.S. market after the 1991 model year. This was a rough time for any European brand in the U.S., thanks to a severe economic recession. Even Volkswagen was said to have considered leaving the market at that time.

PSA already has begun the certification process for its vehicles to be sold in the U.S., and auto dealerships around the country have contacted the company to express interest in selling any of its marques.

“We’re doing distribution in a very different way. Franchise laws exist, but that doesn’t mean you can’t innovate,” Dominique said.

North American distribution, for now, will include just the U.S. and Canada, because PSA already sells vehicles in Mexico as part of its Latin American arm, he said. Tavares gave no other details about plans for the return, including exact timing, or which models will arrive first. PSA’s Free2Move car-sharing program already operates in Washington, D.C.

The Peugeot announcement is part of Tavares’s 10-year-plan for the return, announced in 2016. The year 2026 “is not a hard date; it’s an end date,” Dominique said.

Check out the gallery for a look at some of the vehicles Peugeot is building today.