The French brand now has a genuine contender in a sector where it has struggled to make its mark.
The launch of the new Dispatch in the third quarter of 2016 marked a sea change for Citroen by giving it a genuine contender in the hotly-contested medium van sector.
The Dispatch is a high-quality, versatile product that can stand toe to toe with the likes of the Ford Transit Custom, the Volkswagen Transporter and the Renault Trafic/Vauxhall Vivaro.
Citroen’s UK LCV boss Jeremy Smith has called the new Dispatch the brand’s most important model launch for two decades, since the introduction of the Berlingo light van. Indeed, Citroen is confident the new Dispatch will enable the brand to compete as strongly in the mid-sized segment as it does not only in light vans but also with the Relay in the large van category.
The Dispatch impressed us so much that we crowned it our LCV of the Year for 2017, alongside the Peugeot Expert and Toyota Proace that share its platform in Sevelnord, France. In presenting the award we noted that the Dispatch represents “a significant step up in terms of quality, practicality and economy compared with [its] predecessor”. Smith says the recognition is extremely beneficial in helping to establish the Dispatch in the marketplace. “It’s very valuable to demonstrate impartiality, to show the van is as good as we think it is,” he explains.
“If you’re winning awards people think “this must be good”. Smith claims the Dispatch has made a solid start with sales up 40% year-on-year in the first five months of 2017 compared to the previous, second-generation model (2,551 vs 1,820 units), in a sector that he says has declined by 10%.
“We are doing well in a sector that will bounce back,” says Smith. He admits the old Dispatch sold mainly on price and as a workhorse and looked dated against both its peers and the new, third-generation van, which in contrast, he says is selling both to existing customers and conquesting business from rivals such as the huge-selling Custom and even breaching the ramparts of the “holy grail” that is the VW Transporter.
But in volume terms, he suggests the Renault Trafic and Vauxhall Vivaro are perhaps the most relevant competitors. Interestingly, Smith believes LCV buyers are becoming more like car buyers in making emotional purchase decisions. He says the medium van sector is full of attractive, well-designed vehicles and numbers the Dispatch among them.
With the Dispatch, Citroen, together with Peugeot and Toyota and their equivalent products, has broken new ground by offering a compact XS version. Smith says some contract hire customers have moved up from the Berlingo as they get more van for just an extra £10 to £15 a month.
“Dealers are saying they are moving people up,” he says. The PSA brands Citroen and Peugeot have been pulling their operations more closely together in recent years, most notably in product terms, but their respective customer profiles in the UK have traditionally differed, with Citroen gaining more business from SMEs and Peugeot striking more deals with major fleets, such as the Royal Mail.
So, is this still the case?