Some of the success can also be attributed to luck or good timing, analysts said.
Tavares arrived at a troubled PSA in early 2014 after stepping down as No. 2 at Renault under then-CEO Carlos Ghosn. The departure came after Tavares publicly expressed his wish to lead an automaker. With PSA bleeding cash after the 2008 recession, earlier management made some hard decisions. PSA was restructured to give the French government and China's Dongfeng Motors a 14 percent stake each.
The move injected more than 1.6 billion euros into PSA while reducing the Peugeot family's stake to 14 percent from 25 percent. Assets were written down, lowering PSA's cost basis.
A factory at Aulnay, near Paris, had just been closed, as part of a plan to trim more than 10,000 jobs in France by 2015. A development deal with GM, signed in 2012, had yet to bear fruit, but it later resulted in key SUV models that hit the European market in 2016-2017, and laid a trust base for PSA's acquisition of Opel/Vauxhall from GM in 2017.
European consumers were poised for a four-year car-buying binge that erased the losses from the 2008 recession and 2012 "double dip."
Even if Tavares was able to hit the ground running at PSA, analysts praised him for his leadership qualities, operational efficiency, and discipline in reducing complexity and focusing on improving pricing.
"There is a long list of executional decisions that have been strong," Morgan Stanley analyst Harald Hendrikse said.
"Having not had as much capital available as, say VW, PSA has been forced to make some more intelligent choices."
Said Denis Schemoul of IHS Markit: "The recipe isn't genius. The fact is that he can execute on it as a leader. If you talk internally to people at PSA they are so glad to have someone who provides organization and leadership vision. That was a big change." Tavares has managed to get people behind him "even with some disruptive changes," Schemoul said.
In person, Tavares is direct and approachable, with little of the "great man" mystique attached to powerful CEOs. He flies on discount airlines and stays in budget hotels. Away from the office, which he says gets 100 percent of his time from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., his passion is vintage racing, whether it's a 1980s Formula 3, a rally-prepped Peugeot 104 or sharing the driver's seat in a thundering Lola T70.
"He flies on low-cost airlines because he believes in it," Schemoul said. "He is applying to the whole organization some aspects of his personality. That's probably one of the reasons why people tend to follow him -- they can see that he's genuine."
Yet Tavares' racing exploits point to a fierce competitiveness. In recent years he has referenced Charles Darwin and the principle of natural selection to describe the seismic changes starting to appear in the auto industry.
"We are agile because we faced a near-death experience," he said last year. "We are Darwinian. We know that the survival of our company is based on our ability to adapt."
Tavares has increased the metabolism of PSA, analysts said, including pushing for real internal competition among factories for product allocations.
"He has definitely turned the organization around in terms of excitement, willingness to work, the ability to believe that PSA can win," said Philippe Houchois of Jefferies. "That didn't exist for 20 years."
Tavares has hired talent from his former employer, Renault, most recently Thierry Koskas as head of sales and marketing, and Alain Raposo as head of powertrain, battery and chassis engineering.
Earlier, Olivier Bourget, executive vice president for programs and strategy, and Yann Vincent, industrial director, came aboard from Renault. "The years of nonaggression between Peugeot and Renault are gone," Houchois said.