French Automaker PSA Signs Deal With Dongfeng Motors To Develop New Electric Cars For Europe, Asia

Around the same time that the famous General Motors EV1 was heading into production, Toyota was preparing limited numbers of its first-generation RAV4 EV for market and companies from Ford to Nissan and Chrysler to Honda were producing their own limited-production test fleets of electric cars — primarily to satisfy California’s late 90’s ZEV mandate — automakers in Europe were also working on building their own electric cars.

Not so long ago, PSA was leading the production of electric cars

Not so long ago, PSA was leading the production of electric cars (Photo: John Honniball)

Volkswagen produced an all-electric Golf CityStromer hatchback based on the third-generation Volkswagen Golf. BMW toyed with the idea of making an electric car by producing the BMW E1 and E2 electric concept cars — not to mention limited numbers of all-electric 3-series sedans. And French automaker Peugeot Citroen (known as PSA), produced and sold an all-electric commercial vehicle sold as the both the Peugeot Partner electrique and the Citroen Berlingo Electrique, as well as all-electric variants of the mechanically identical Citroen Saxo and Peugeot 106 hatchbacks.

This is one of the cars PSA made.

The Peugeot 106 Electric was an impressive car. (Photo: Solarenergy2, [CC-BY-SA 3.0]).

Powered by Nickel Cadmium batteries and a modest electric drivetrain developed by French engineering company Heuliez, neither the van nor the hatchback plug-in cars were particularly sprightly, reaching a top speed of less than 60 mph and having an official range of between 50 and 70 miles, depending on how they were driven. But despite this, PSA’s electric vehicles fared generally better than those from rival automakers at the time, giving the two automakers a commanding position in the European electric vehicle market of the late 1990s.

Since then however, PSA has been more than a little cold toward electric vehicles, removing plug-in cars from its lineup from 2002 onwards. Then in late 2011, it introduced a rebadged, decontented Mitsubishi i-Miev as the Citroen C-Zero and Peugeot iOn. Offering the same basic functionality as the i-Miev in terms of range and charging capabilities, neither car was particularly well-advertised by PSA and while you can technically still buy one new today, you’ll find the cars in question are new old stock, produced several years ago for PSA by Mitsubishi and yet to be sold. Even a new successor to the original Peugeot Partner/Citroen Berlingo EV isn’t particularly easy to buy unless you happen to live in a major EV-friendly city like London, Paris or Amsterdam. Add in tough competition from Nissan’s larger, more capable e-NV200 minivan — which retails for a similar price — and it’s easy to see why PSA’s modern electric car portfolio is so weak.

But today at a press conference in China, PSA signalled what might be a change from the current electric car apathy back toward a more engaged focus on electric car development. How? By announcing a long-term partnership with Chinese automaker Dongfeng Motors (DFM) to develop an electric version of the Common Modular Platform (CMP) the two companies have been working together on since April 2015.

The partnership will see a whole new range of electric cars hit the market by 2019.

The partnership will see a whole new range of electric cars hit the market by 2019.

Frustratingly, details are a little sketchy, but PSA and DFM say the agreement will ensure a range of all-electric high-performance B and C segment cars will be launched across the Peugeot, Citroen, DS and Dongfeng brands from 2019. Development of the chosen platform — CMP — is already well underway for gasoline and diesel-powered drivetrains, but now the two firms say the time is right to also develop an electrified variant of CMP, called e-CMP

We note here that while the venture is the first time PSA has partnered with a Chinese company on electric vehicles, it’s certainly not the first time that Dongfeng has partnered with well-known automakers on electric car technology. So far, Dongfeng has inked electric vehicle partnership deals with both Renault-Nissan and Daimler, as well as mainstream automotive deals with Avtovaz and Mitsubishi too.

Why is PSA finally getting back into electric vehicles? We’d hope some of the motivation would come from seeing the massive potential of the electric vehicle segment, especially given the massive rise in recent years in electric car sales across Europe,  particularly in the UK, France and Norway. But talking at the ceremony to announce the new partnership, Carlos Tavares, Chairman of PSA Group’s Managing Board, hinted that PSA’s move back into electric cars may be influenced more by tightening emissions requirements than anything else.

In recent years, PSA has relied on Mitsubishi for its electric cars.

In recent years, PSA has relied on Mitsubishi for its electric cars.

“The future e-CMP platform is a key milestone in our partnership with Dongfeng,” he said. “It will speed up worldwide development of both of our groups, while helping us to reach the strict carbon objective set for 2020.”

If emissions and carbon targets are the thing influencing PSA however — and it only intends to launch its e-CMP vehicles in 2019 — we can’t help but think PSA is a little late to the party this time.

Given how forward thinking it was by building electric vehicles customers could buy back in the late 1990s, that’s a little disappointing. Don’t you agree?


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