Citroen's Partnerships

Since starting car production in 1919, Citroën have gone through many corporate changes, and had many strategic partnerships with other car companies and suppliers. Some have remained constant, others have been short-lived.

Andre Citroën's first forays into car production were before WW1, as chairman of the Mors company. Post-war, he decided to found his own company rather than return to Mors, but only a few years later (1925) the Citroën company was already successful enough to purchase Mors, close Mors production down, and move Citroën production to their factory.

Michelin Perhaps the best known and longest-lived partnership, the story of Citroën would have stopped at the end of the first chapter if it wasn't for Michelin.

When the development costs of the Traction Avant drove Citroën to bankruptcy in the mid '30s, Michelin - exclsive supplier of wheels, tyres and other rubber components - was their biggest creditor. The rescue package involved Citroën coming under the controlling ownership of Michelin - and the stage was set for a long partnership. To this day, Michelin tyres are original fit on the vast majority of new Citroëns.

Another long-running alliance, "Citroen préfère Total" was in the rear window of every new Citroën for decades. The origins of the relationship are less well known than those with Michelin, but it is certain that Total's engineers worked very closely with Citroëns to help develop the hydropneumatic suspension which underpins so many of the marque's most legendary models. The Citroën-Total WRC rally team have been the force to beat on special stages for the last few years - to the extent that most works teams were glad of the credit crisis as an excuse to withdraw and save their continued blushes.

One of the very oldest car manufacturers, Citroën & Panhard had been working on technically similar vehicles - air-cooled, small capacity flat-twins - through the 1950s. Panhard's business was not providing financially succesful, despite huge racing success in the Index of Efficiency at Le Mans. In 1963, after co-operation in distribution for 12 years, Citroën purchased Panhard completely. The aim was to use Panhard's expertise in mid-range cars to help fill the gap between the 2cv and the DS. The Dyane, in 1967, was very definitely a result of that - even the name echoed Panhard's long-standing "Dyna" range. Panhard's military vehicle business was unaffected, and continued within PSA until sold to the Portuguese 4x4 & military vehicle manufacturer, Auverland, in 2005.

Another name from the very earliest days of car manufacture, Berliet had settled on building larger trucks by the 1960s. Citroen's own large-van/small-truck business was not thriving so when the opportunity to purchase Berliet came up in 1967, it was taken. Apart from a short period where the "K" range was available either as a Berliet, Citroën or dual-badged, this was effectively the end of Citroën trucks, although the van ranges remain thriving to this day. After the formation of PSA, Berliet was sold to Renault before, along with Saviem, forming RVI (Renault Vehicules Industriel).

In 1968, Citroen purchased 100% of Maserati from the Orsi family. Whether this was to help with develop a sporty version of the DS, a project ongoing for a few years, or whether it was just an opportune purchase, is not known - but it led directly to the SM and Quattroporte II, as well as to Citroen hydraulics being used for various systems in the Merak (which shared the SM's engine), the Khamsin and Bora. Following the creation of PSA and the death of the SM as a result of the Oil Crisis, Maserati were placed in the hands of administrators. They were propped up by the Italian Government, then sold to DeTomaso in 1975 - Fiat did not become owners until 1993.

Say "Wankel" to most people and, assuming they don't hit you, they'll say "Mazda RX7/8". Mazda certainly carry the torch forwards, but they owe a heavy debt to NSU. Or, rather, to Comotor. Comotor was a joint venture between NSU and Citroen, initially set up in 1964 as Comobil to develop rotary engine technology, before changing focus in 1969 to engine manufacture. The single rotor motor used in the NSU Sport Spider was also used in the Ami M35, with the twin-rotor version best known through the Ro80 being shared with the GZ Birotor. The rotary engine had two main issues - rapid wear on the tip seals, heavy fuel and oil consumption - which just couldn't be sorted nearly quickly enough - the Ro80 developed an abysmal reputation, with the oil crisis being the final straw. Comotor was a major contributor to the bankruptcies of both Citroen & NSU - with Volkswagen (owner of NSU since 1969) merging the remains with Auto Union to form Audi.

Fiat & LanciaLanciaFIAT
In 1968, Michelin were looking to sell their interest in Citroen - and an agreement was struck with Fiat to transfer the remaining 49% from Clermont Ferrand to Turin, with Lancia coming into Fiat ownership in 1969.

Officially, there was no crossover between Lancia and Citroën's cars - although rumours persist to this day of the CX & Gamma development taking place in parallel. Whether the CX was intended to have the Gamma's flat-four, and whether some under-skin pressings are shared, may remain a mystery.

Relationships between the two persist in various commercial vehicle and people-carrier products. The Sevel project, and two factories (Nord in Valenciennes, France and Sud in Atessa, Italy), are 50/50 joint ventures between PSA and Fiat. Joint-badging for these vehicles has continued from the Citroën C32/C35/Fiat 242 in 1974 through to the current range. The one slight exception to this is the Citroën Nemo/Peugeot Bipper/Fiat Fiorino/Qubo - which introduces a third partner who assemble the vehicle in Turkey, Tofas.

The big one. For many years staunch rivals, Citroën and Peugeot had a brief discussion between 1963 and 1965 about joining purchasing forces, to provide economies of scale. Nothing came of it, but when the Oil Crisis pushed Citroën towards bankruptcy in 1973, it was Peugeot who came to the rescue. Initially buying just under 40% in 1974, the share increased to nearly 90% in 1976 after Citroën's finances continued to sink. From here on in, the story of Citroën changes to be a subset of the story of PSA.

The Government of RomaniaRomania
In 1976, OLTCIT was set up, as a joint venture between the Romanian Government (64%) and Citroen (36%).  Following the formation of PSA, Citroen's Projet Y development work had been discontinued, in favour of a Peugeot 104-based car which became the Visa, together with a stop-gap hybrid of 2cv and 104 - the LN. Since Projet Y was nearly finished, it seemed a shame to bin it altogether - but PSA wouldn't permit an internal competitor to hit the market.

Once development was complete, and the factory completed, the car was launched in 1981 as the Oltcit (for Eastern European markets) with Visa 652 power as well as GS engines. From 1984, it was imported in limited numbers to several Western European markets as the Citroen Axel, although only in four-cylinder form. Thoroughly outclassed and badly built, it was not a success in the west, and was dropped in 1990 following the fall of the Iron Curtain and the deposing of the Ceaucescu regime. Citroen pulled out of the partnership the following year. The car became the Oltena, the company became Automobile Craiova and had a brief taste of independence before Daewoo bought a majority stake in 1994. and both company and car were renamed Rodae. The Oltcit/Axel/Oltena/Rodae finally ceased production in 1996, and Rodae became more closely integrated into Daewoo, but was not included in the 2002 sale of Daewoo to GM. It survived until 2007, and purchase by Ford.

Chrysler EuropeTalbotChrysler
Much more a PSA-centric relationship than a Citroën-specific one, PSA purchased the remnants of Chrysler Europe, formerly Rootes Group and Simca, in 1980. This included the Talbot brand - notable primarily as the final resting point of cars such as the Avenger and Alpine (Simca 1307 in France) which had passed from Hillman or Simca badging, through Chrysler, to Talbot. The main impact of that, for us, was the final sightings of the Talbot brand in the UK - the Express van, otherwise known as the Citroën C25. Mainland Europe had that vehicle as the Peugeot J5, but for some odd reason, our delicate British sensitivities were spared the lion on vans for a few more years.

The Rootes/Chrysler factory at Ryton came, too - and stayed until closure in 2007. However, this never saw a return to the UK for Citroen production - Ryton was only ever used by PSA as a Peugeot plant.

Whilst primarily a footnote to the Citroën story, this episode helps explain the Talbot logo moulded alongside the chevrons and lion on many plastic components of '80s and '90s Citroëns...

PSA have been looking at the Chinese market since the mid-80s, when 2,500 CXs were exported in an attempt to gain a foothold and open talks with the government. By 1992, a joint venture was established with Dongfeng. Four years later, the Fukang was launched, a ZX lightly altered to suit local tastes. The Fukang range extended over the next few years, including a three-box saloon. Restyled and renamed to Citroen Elysee in 2002, the ZX-derived cars continue in production (in mid 2010) alongside most of the rest of the current Citroen and Peugeot ranges; some familiar, others modified slightly.

Dongfeng have similar joint-ventures with various other European and Far-Eastern brands, making them the second largest domestic player, and third largest overall, in the world's single highest-volume new car market.

During the early '90s, Proton of Malaysia were starting to expand into European markets. Their products, locally designed mid-size saloon and hatchbacks featuring licence-built Mitsubishi engines, were not the most exciting cars, but were reasonably competent and well built. The Chief Executive of Proton, Tan Sri Yahaya Ahmad, felt some distance from Mitsubishi would be of benefit to the product range, and entered talks with PSA. The Proton Tiara was launched in 1996. A lightly restyled AX11, the liaison got no further before Yahaya was killed in a helicopter crash in 1997 and Proton turned back towards Mitsubishi. The Tiara stayed in production until 2000.

Perhaps the most visible of the current partnerships, PSA and Toyota set up a joint venture in the Czech Republic to develop and produce the B-Zero project, released as the C1/107/Aygo in 2005. Petrol versions of these cars use a three-cylinder engine originally designed by Daihatsu, whilst diesels use the 1.4HDi (itself a joint-venture with Ford) seen in larger PSA cars.

To help fill gaps in their respective product ranges, Mitsubishi and PSA joined together to exchange technology. The 2007 C-Crosser/4007 may have just been a rebadged and lightly re-styled Outlander, but all marques contained the 2.2HDi (again, Ford joint-venture) diesel. The Citroën CZero/Peugeot iOn may be just a rebadged Mitsubishi i-MiEV, but it continues the limited-production electric vehicle lineage Citroën have had since the AX and C15.

Easily the widest ranging partnership of recent years, the liaison with Ford has seen three basic families of diesel engines developed and manufactured jointly, covering the full Citroen range from C1 to C6.

  • 1.4 and 1.6 HDi diesels fall into the DLD range, shared with the Fiesta, Focus and Suzuki SX4 - the SX4's Fiat Sedici sister uses a Fiat diesel.
  • 2.0 and 2.2 HDi diesels started life as a Citroën-designed engine family, the EW/DW, covering petrol and diesel. Development of the diesel variants moved towards the joint-venture, and use of the engine spread to the Mondeo, Galaxy, Volvo V40 and Land-Rover Freelander. They are not related to the 2.0/2.2 "Puma" engine used by Ford in the Jaguar X-type and Transit, amongst other appplications.
  • 2.7 and 3.0 HDi v6 "Lion"/DT-family diesels, seen across Jaguar and Land-Rover products as well as the C5 and C6. PSA don't use the 3.6 v8 version of this engine, best known in Europe through the Range Rover TDV8, but also the basis of a 4.4 v8 in the American F-150 pickup.

Another engine joint-venture, the second-generation BMW Mini saw the introduction of the "Prince" family of 1.4, 1.6 and 1.6 turbo engines, all petrol. From a PSA perspective, these engines have replaced the TU series used widely across the smaller end of the Citroen range from the AX onwards.

A 200bhp version of the 1.6 turbo was intended for supply to Saab for the third-generation 9-3, but Saab's closure meant that car never reached production.

Tofas The Turkish manufacturer, Tofaş, are not just the manufacturers of the Citroen Nemo, Peugeot Bipper and Fiat Fiorino/Qubo vans, but were heavily involved in the development, too. A close partner of (and just under 40% owned by) Fiat, Tofaş - an acronym of Türk Otomobil Fabrikası Anonim Şirketi, or Turkish Automobile Factory Ltd - have primarily licence-built Fiats for the local market since the late '60s,

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