Interview with Andy Cowell

This month we caught up with Andy Cowell, Citroen's DS Design Manager, at the new premises of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), in downtown London.  The bespoke evening was put on by #autotweetup, a new getup that provides social meets driven by social media,  truly exemplifying the DS range's innovative spirit.  This niche brand, inspired by the original DS icon of the 50's, personifies a distinct and free-spirited direction by Citroen to explore the possibilities of 'something different'.  The DS range's appeal has not only taken Citroen by surprise but also all the rest of us and whilst no-one knew exactly where it would take the company, many, myself, included, believe that it will be one of Citroen's most best strategically placed decisions in recent history.   We sat down with Cowell to get a feeling of how and why this came about and where the brand is heading, in his words.

GCD: Where did you study?

AC: I went to Coventry University a bit later but I started off working at Lotus when I was eighteen as a junior engineer, drawing technical plans.  This was a great break but cars fascinated me anyway and I wanted to get into the car industry.  I tried for an apprenticeship at British Leyland at the time, and also Jaguar when I was sixteen but they turned me down because I didn't live in Coventry.  They thought it was too difficult to take a guy from Norfolk to the Midlands.  Even so, I had a fantastic time at Lotus and actually learnt the car industry through Lotus.  It was such a hotbed of engineers and creativity.

GCD: Citroen's a very family-oriented company isn't it?

AC: It is a family company, it has a very small company feel – everybody, to a certain extent, knows everybody.

GCD: How would you say the 'DS' sub-brand fits in at Citroen?

AC: The 'DS' line is a range within a range.  It allows us to experiment with form-language and features but it also allows us to target a market that was inaccessible to us with our current range.  We couldn't take our current range up at all; to the clients we wanted to take it to – we had to evolve.  Jean-Pierre Ploué, and everyone at that time thought the best way to do this was to do something else – to sidestep.  Now we have the current range, and then the DS.  It allows the two to live together and answer a fragmenting market.  We needed that extra 'something'.

GCD: And that 'something' is very contemporary.

AC: Yes but we have history, and it was legitimate to take that history and distil it into these products.  DS became an idea that was a gamble at one stage and it seemed crazy but it's actually paying off.  

GCD: But does it leave the rest of the range behind?

AC: No.  I think the next few years with the other launches you'll see that the rest of Citroen will flourish and grow as well, but it will be very different.  

GCD: Does that make the DS l'enfant terrible?

AC: I don't know yet.  They are free spirits and we've always said that the genes of DS will be exuberant and slightly avant-garde – trying to do something that the market doesn't necessarily expect,  or that the client doesn't expect.  They are, however, developing trademarks.  The watch-strap seats on the DS5, for example, will now propagate across the entire DS range.  It's very much about building this luxury brand and a luxury French feel into the DS range.

GCD: You had a carte-blanche with the DS, were green credentials integrated into the car?

AC: The DS5 uses a lot of recycled material, which we have to do anyway, but we try and go a little bit further.  Also, the car was designed to be a hybrid from day one, we wanted to showcase our hybrid technology but we wanted to showcase it in a different way.  It's a very versatile system.  We also use aluminium on the bonnet and a lot of the suspension as well as recycled materials for the door-panels and the sound-deadening.  The DS range is aimed at the generations that are changing.  It answers to a market which is evolving, even in China.

GCD: Far Eastern tastes are often difficult to gage, do they like that French character?

AC: Yes.  It's very, very important for us in China but it is difficult.  I was in Shanghai to launch the car and we were still asking.  We have two partners in China and as a result of this we actually have stand-alone DS showrooms.  We like this as the DS represents 'French-ness', a new start, a new product, a new feeling and very different from what people would assume Citroen to be.

GCD: Can you tell us how the 'sabre' came about?

AC: That goes back to the show car, to the C-C-SportLounge (Frankfurt Motor Show 2005) .  We're known for taking our show cars and bringing them through to production with a little bit of inspiration.  C-SportLounge was a fantastic show car we had, we just didn't know how to use it.  Then all of a sudden we had DS and we realised – that's what we've got to do.  We were very lucky that the man who designed the C-SportLounge, Fred Soubirou, was also the man who designed the DS5.  It was great for Fred to have a second-take at what he'd done but in a production context.


GCD: What's your insight into the DS design?

AC: It's a play.  The front wing's actually quite thick because of the technical platform we're using.  The chrome cuts that up and also gives it symmetry.  All DS's have their specific symmetry.  The symmetry on DS4 is based around the construction of its rear door, on the DS3 its the shark-fin and on this one (DS5) it's its sabre, so every DS will have its own little signature.

GCD: So what's your view in terms of green design?

AC: It depends where we are in time.  At the moment the life cycle of a car is four years to design it and six years for it to 'live'.  It's an expensive product to make and rash decisions can kill a company straightaway.  The EU rules and regulations will push everyone down that route anyway – CO2 has to come down, weight has to come down, we have to meet governmental requirements each year, so the car will evolve, there's just different ways of achieving that.  We still have to find the market.  We still have to find the clients.  The generations of people coming up probably want different cars – we just don't know.  We know the rules, but we don't know the clients.

GCD: And what do you feel?

AC: We're in a moment of recession where people are probably not going to take a leap with something they don't know.  It's is a shame because technology is just getting to the stage where we can use it but the clients aren't in the right frame of mind to take it yet.  Look at the Leaf, it's struggling.  Technology has moved a long way, but it's expensive.  I think we're probably go to see a long period of hybrid use, at least for the next few years.  Then it will depend on government schemes and tax-breaks.  It's a bigger subject than just 'a car'.


GCD: For us it's a philosophy – do you start to think of the car in a different context and fit the technology to the design or vice versa?

AC: I think the market will tell us.  It's a fantastic challenge.  The car in 2015 will not look like a car today – it cannot.  Regulations will not allow it to be in that morphology.  What it will be, we just don't know yet.

GCD: Any tips for young aspiring designers?

AC: Tough industry.  Just be themselves.  Be talented, enjoy – it will show through.


 You may also like...

Citroen DS5 Hybrid4 DSport Driven

Production - Citroen DS5