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Citroen designer on how PSA, Toyota made JV minicars more distinctive

Carlo Bonzanigo: "I didn't know what the (second-generation) Aygo looked like until Toyota disclosed the official photos.
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The first generations of the Citroen C1, Peugeot 107 and Toyota Aygo sibling minicars looked too similar, the automakers admit. The partners did not discuss the designs of the second-generation models to prevent that from happening with the new models. Citroen C1 chief designer Carlo Bonzanigo explained the advantages of the strategy during a recent interview with Automotive News Europe Editor Luca Ciferri and Correspondent Claire Bal.

When PSA/Peugeot-Citroen and Toyota began working on their second-generation minicars what was the starting point for the design teams?

Compared with the first generation, we needed to better differentiate the three cars. The world has become more brand driven and each brand needs to express its values through a unique style. We couldn't just change some small details from one model to the other.

What do the new C1, Aygo and 108 have in common?

Their front doors, A-pillars and windshields are the same. Parts such as the rear door and hatch are common only to the PSA models. Most of the body is specific to each model.

How did Citroen interface with Toyota and Peugeot?

At the beginning, we negotiated a clear strategy to accurately establish every aspect of the project. Coordination in a joint project is fundamental. Citroen and Peugeot each had their own chief designer. Then we had a project manager at the PSA level, as well as another executive to interface with Toyota. The challenge for my team was to design a car that integrated well with the current Citroen style despite the limits of a joint project.

How much of your partners’ work did you see?

Nearly nothing because we didn’t collaborate on design. I didn’t know what the Aygo looked like until Toyota disclosed the official photos. Citroen and Peugeot just shared the design of the common parts. The beltline inclination, for example, is very important to determine the character of a car. Peugeot wanted it to be sloping, we preferred it to be stable, so we exchanged the mathematics of the rear door many times until we found a compromise. This is the correct way to work because we were not influenced by our partners’ work.

How did the C1’s style evolve?

We designed the new C1 capitalizing on two successful features of the first generation: a jovial baby-faced front-end and a compact overall appearance that evokes lightness and agility when on the road. We added three more ingredients to our design recipe: more quality, maturity and automotive spirit. As the first C1 was quite basic, we had to fill the gap with more quality. And then we gave the second generation a mature, self-confident and smart front-end while keeping it pleasing. We also placed value on the automotive spirit, because the base requirements in the minicar segment have grown considerably in the nearly 10 years between the first and the second generations.

What about the interior?

The interior is common to the three cars, we just differentiated their colors and trims. The front seats with integrated headrests were part of the first C1. We chose them for cost reasons: they have fewer adjustment levers and less metal. We had to make choices and there are things you can do without.

You speak about making sacrifices, but you offer a two-tone color option. Isn’t that a non-essential feature?

It’s a matter of cost and benefit. We have a hub for personalization at the Kolin [Czech Republic] plant. With little investment we can provide a lot to our customers in terms of style.

Meet the C1 Design Czar
NAME: Carlo Bonzanigo
TITLE: Citroen Director of Advanced Design and Concept Cars
AGE: 47
MAIN CHALLENGE: Capitalizing on the joint projects while maintaining the “Citroen style.”

Did the Fiat 500C’s folding-fabric roof inspire you to offer the same?

Good ideas are for everybody, after a period of time. Citroen has had many cabriolets in its history. Having the wind in your hair is a great pleasure that echoes the “joy of life” typical of Citroen. I envisioned a fabric roof for the C1 from the very first sketches.

Citroen lacks a common design language in its lineup. Are you working to change that?

It is true, we have a heterogeneous family feeling at the moment. The C4, for instance, has so many lines, but it’s the heritage of a previous style that is now in our premium DS line. The difference between the DS and the C-line design will be more and more evident: complexity of lines, sensuality and sculpted volumes will belong to DS. The C-line models will have more sober and smooth surfaces. The C4 Cactus already points the way to our future design.

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You can reach Luca Ciferri at lciferri@crain.com.

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