Linda Jackson: a day in the life of the Peugeot CEO

Peugeot CEO Linda Jackson talks exclusively to us about the future of the famous French brand

Nowhere are the signs of where Peugeot is heading more apparent than in the showroom we’re visiting on the outskirts of Paris. It may look like a regular car dealership from the outside, but once the automatic doors glide open, we’re greeted with a cool, dark, sophisticated space with carefully positioned cars alongside fashionable furniture and displays of what else Peugeot can offer you – from salt and pepper grinders to drinks holders.

Also unfamiliar to us in these surroundings is the sight of Linda Jackson waiting to greet us. She is well known to Auto Express, having been inducted into the Auto Express Hall of Fame after she topped 2017’s Brit List. Amazingly, it’s nearly two years since Linda took the role of CEO of Peugeot, but – for obvious reasons – this is our first opportunity for a face-to-face chat, and to hear of her plans for the famous French manufacturer.

  • New Peugeot e-308 will arrive in 2023 with new electric powertrain

First, though, we take her back to 2021 and the call from Stellantis boss Carlos Tavares asking her to take the helm of one of the parent company’s biggest names. “If Carlos had asked me, ‘Which brand would you like?’ I’d have chosen Peugeot,” says Jackson. “And when he gave me the call, he said, ‘Okay, brand… Peugeot.’ And I went, ‘Oh, great!’

“He said, ‘No, that’s a real, real task and challenge. Because it’s great, it’s doing well; but it needs to be more international. And also, I want you to disrupt the brand, and make it less conservative.’ Of all the options, it’s actually a very difficult one because, of course, there’s pressure. It’s one of Stellantis’ biggest brands.”

Jackson tells us that Peugeot represents one-third of Stellantis’ volume in Europe and one-fifth worldwide – so, a big task indeed. But how did she see Peugeot from her previous role working on the governance of Stellantis?

“Firstly, this was definitely a brand I wanted to do,” she says. “I thought it was a great brand with a great product range; probably the best in Stellantis, to be honest with you.

“It’s very strong in Europe, but you always look for opportunities, and I knew that what I could change was to make it more international – there’s some real opportunities to grow there. Secondly, I felt that it needed to add a little more to the customer experience – a bit more warmth. I felt that it had lost some of its soul as it had moved upmarket, and we wanted to put that back in.

“Great products play an enormous part, but nowadays, people are buying brands. If they’re buying a 3008 and it happens to be a Peugeot, I would prefer – and I need to change it – to be them buying a Peugeot and ‘Oh, it’s a 3008’ – there’s a distinct flip.”

With electrification coming rapidly down the tracks at the company – Jackson tells us that the firm’s entire range will be available with a fully electrified version by 2025, and then every Peugeot sold in Europe by 2030 will be completely electric – how will the brand differentiate itself in an increasingly crowded market?

“Nowadays, everybody’s got the same level of product quality,” says Jackson. “For me, the big differentiator is customer experience. When we look at the main purchase reasons why people buy a Peugeot, whether it be in the UK, Brazil, China or wherever; it is about exterior design, and it’s about interior design, which is the i-Cockpit. So, it’s a common thing. Of course, we’ve got to continue to make sure that we differentiate, and you can with electric vehicles.”

The first sight of Jackson’s vision for Peugeot will be seen at CES, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January 2023 – an unusual location, perhaps, given her resounding ‘no’ to our question about the brand expanding into the North American market. However, Peugeot could be the automotive manufacturer that really pushes the boundaries when it comes to electric car design – and Vegas could be just the place to do it.

“We certainly believe that we’re going to be able to do that, and I think we already are with the vehicles that we’re now launching,” says Jackson. “If you take the 408, which we’ll have an electric version of, I think in terms of exterior we are breaking the mould, because that concept is neither an SUV nor a saloon. It’s a sort of dynamic fastback, you could say. It doesn’t fit into any existing category – and we wanted to do that.

“So we’re starting to really break the mould, but it’s absolutely true as we go forward. At CES we’re going to present our project called Inception. It’s our vision for the future, and it’s based around a concept vehicle, but it’s much more than a beautiful-looking car – it’s about the customer experience, and what you could imagine a customer could be having with this vehicle.

“Many of the technologies are based off stuff that we can have from Stellantis, whether it be STLA Brain or STLA AutoDrive, and you will start to see some of those technologies on cars from Peugeot from 2026 onwards.

“But we really are challenging the norm, and I think everybody’s expecting that. When you talk to customers, when they buy an electric vehicle, you get some manufacturers that are producing a different range, but nothing’s really startling – it’s a bit uniform.

“Customers expect a wow factor inside, because they believe that with a flat EV platform there should be a space, so they should have a completely different experience.”

We’ll find out more about Inception soon, including Peugeot’s vision for the next generation of i-Cockpit, but what’s Jackson’s view about screens in cars and particularly the debate about driver distraction?

“I think it’s fair to say that I’m not an advocate of adding screens,” she says. “I think our customers want something simple and easy to use. I think we’ve reached the limit of the plethora of screens, which looks like a UCI Cinema across the front of a car. For me, it’s more about simplicity, and it’s more about ease of use. That’s why, for example, on the 308 and the 408 we’ve gone down a system for infotainment, which is the i-Toggle idea based on the principle of using a smartphone. That’s what people want, and that’s our philosophy.”

That’s a global position, too – and as Jackson points out, moving Peugeot onto a more international footing is a big part of her plans: “Today, something like 20 per cent of our sales are outside Europe,” she tells us. “I don’t want to decrease my European performance, but I would like it to be more like 30 per cent. That is, I would say, in three regions: South America, the Middle East and Africa, and India and Asia Pacific. We think those three regions are really quite strong for us, and we should be able to do very, very well.”

With the future clearly electric in Europe, what are Jackson’s own views on EVs, having lived with them?

“In terms of driving, it’s reactive, it’s silent, it’s great. When we were having problems with petrol recently in Paris, you’d pass the petrol station and think, ‘Oh yeah, this is good for EVs.’ But the one thing we are trying to make sure for our customers – going back to the customer experience – is this is not just about driving the car, it’s also about the charging.

“We’re trying to do a number of things. We can provide help for home installation, and then we have Free to Move – we’re offering e-solutions and we’re trying to roll that out across Europe, which is access to 350,000 charging stations via your smartphone connected to the car, so you can then work out how far you’ve got to go and how far it is to the next charging station. I think that’s the key thing.”

Light Commercial Vehicles – vans as we know them – are a big part of Peugeot’s business, too, and they’re rife for electrification, with the first models already coming through. “I think they have a big part to play, and I think they naturally will because of the last mile [step in the delivery process], particularly in big cities,” Jackson says.

How we all buy our cars in future is another big opportunity. Jackson cites subscriptions with packaged services as something she’s looking at, but she also talks about the relationship with dealers changing. Peugeot is going to be taking more control of the sales process, with its dealers responsible for demonstrating and delivering products, then looking after them post-sale.

“The reason we’re going down that route is to improve the customer experience,” she explains. “For me, the role of the dealer becomes very much about brand and experience. If you take the example of how we would envisage things in the future, it’s ‘phygital’ – a physical and a digital experience.

“There are many things customers can do online from the luxury of their sofa. For example, all the credit applications and the signing of the documents. Therefore, what do customers want to do? All the research we’ve done with customers shows that they still want to touch the vehicle, they want to talk to somebody about it, they want to choose the colour, they want to test drive it. All of those are the added value that we’ll never take away from a dealer. That’s why I call it a phygital experience.”

Jackson sums up Peugeot’s future in one word and three values. “One word is allure, and the three values are allure, emotion and excellence,” she explains. “What does that mean for dealers? Well, allure can be how the dealership looks. Is it inviting?”

“You move on to the emotion,” she continues. “That’s about the relationship our dealers have with customers, and creating a flawless experience. It’s not easy because we’re all human, but it’s about the experience I’m going to have when I come into a dealership that I don’t have when I’m at home. That’s about the brand experience. And then, excellence is getting it right every time.”

Jackson’s enthusiasm for the Peugeot brand is catching – and she admits it didn’t take her long to convert after 15 years with Citroen. “Within one week, I had turned completely – I was a leading expert on the i-Cockpit, and everything about Peugeot.”

And in two years she’s already made a big difference to the company’s thinking – in terms of both upcoming product and how the brand can stand out. Now comes the hardest bit, putting all that into action. But if anyone can do it – as her track record suggests – Jackson can.

Click here for our first review of the new Peugeot 408…

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