DS Automobiles will be ten years old in 2024 but, even after a decade of sales, many still struggle to understand just what the brand stands for and where it sits in the automotive market.
Part of this is perhaps due to the fact that before setting up on its own, DS spent six years as an extra badge on Citroëns, signifying top-level models with more luxurious finishes and higher levels of kit.
So is DS Automobiles still a part of Citroën? Or is it something different?
When DS was spun off from the French automotive giant as its own brand in 2014, the newcomer’s stated ambition was to “revive the tradition of premium vehicles in the French automotive industry”. It’s been trying to do that ever since, emphasising its links to Paris and the centre of high fashion.
The company claims that this has been transmitted into its cars, while trying, like many have before, to break into the executive market dominated by the German heavyweights – Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
So far, the Germans are losing little sleep. DS models have been praised for their distinctive design and extensive equipment offerings, but are criticised by many reviewers as having too much style over substance.
This elicits little more than a gallic shrug from DS, which still bases its strategy around being fashionable. It insists that its models “embody the French art of travel” with French luxury and plenty of savoir-faire.
So who or what is DS?
DS first appeared in 2009 as an additional badge hung on cars in the mainstream Citroën range, designed to signify a more upmarket model with the likes of special paint finishes and upgraded interiors – a spotlighted example has always been leather upholstery patterned to resemble a watch strap.
The first model to carry the new badge was the Citroën DS3 hatch, which appeared in 2010. Other high-spec Citroëns called the Citroën DS4 and Citroën DS5 followed in quick succession. But parent PSA Group had long desired a premium badge to site above its mainstream Citroën and Peugeot ranges, so DS was launched into Europe in 2014 as a standalone brand (having been successfully trialled in China two years earlier). As such, its three models were renamed DS 3, DS 4 and DS 5, respectively.
But why the name DS? There are several supposed explanations, with the accepted convention being that the name harks back to one of Citroën’s most revered models, the revolutionary Citroën DS that was first launched in the 1950s. The letters are also said to stand for ‘Different Spirit’ or ‘Distinctive Series’, while in French you pronounce DS in a similar way to ‘déese’, and that means ‘goddess’. Take your pick…
The DS brand still struggles for recognition or appeal amongst many buyers, probably not helped by a fairly lukewarm reception to its new model range from the motoring media. As of July 2023, none of its models carries an Expert Rating of more than 60%, based on aggregating about 15,000 reviews from 35 of the UK’s top automotive media titles. This compares poorly to the aforementioned German rivals, not to mention booming brands like Hyundai or Kia.
DS Automobiles may well get a bit of a boost in this regard from 2024, when its reinvents itself as an electric brand. While existing combustion models will see out their life cycles, all new DS models will be electric-only. This change has been brought forward a year from original plans, and DS will make the jump four years earlier than its sister brands in the giant Stellantis Group, which include Peugeot, Citroën, Fiat and Vauxhall.
When did DS Automobiles launch in the UK?
DS-branded Citroëns started appearing in the UK in 2010, and the first cars rebranded as DS models were launched in 2014.
Even then, the process took a while – DS cars continued to be sold out of Citroën dealers for several years, while the first distinct DS ‘boutique’ eventually opened in London in 2016.
What models does DS Automobiles have and what else is coming?
Today, DS offers four model lines in its range. But despite not having that many cars to manage, the company has managed to make fairly heavy weather of its naming systems…
The smallest car in the line-up is the DS 3, which is a small SUV/crossover model. It’s also a starting point for some of the nomenclature confusion. The original Citroën DS3 supermini from 2010 lost its Citroën moniker with the launch of DS as a standalone brand in 2014, becoming the DS 3. In 2019, it was replaced by a jacked-up crossover-style model called the DS 3 Crossback. Then, earlier this year the crossover was updated and dropped the Crossback tag to become… the DS 3. Confused yet?
As of June 2023 the DS 3 has an Expert Rating of 47%, way behind rival cars, Its electric version, the DS 3 E-Tense, fares little better at 54%.
Launched in 2017, the DS 7 Crossback compact SUV was the first car designed from the start as a DS, rather than being a rebadged Citroën It does, however, share its platform with the Citroën C5 Aircross and the Peugeot 5008. Facelifted in 2023, it also lost the Crossback tag to become simply the DS 7. It’s intended to target the likes of the Audi Q5, but an Expert Rating of just 54% as of July 2023 is a long way short of the best in its class.
As more manufacturers have cut back their traditional car ranges in favour of SUVs, DS has been going the other way. Last year it launched the DS 4, a five-door family hatch targeting the likes of the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series. Offered in petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid versions, it’s not causing too much of a stir with the media, with an Expert Rating of 57% as of July 2023. That’s a long way short of the 70%-plus ratings of its rivals.
The largest model in the current range is the DS 9, launched in Spring 2021 as the brand’s flagship and a perceived rival to the massive players in the executive sector, the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Again it doesn’t really challenge them, its Expert Rating of 56% around 25 points shy of the German big-hitters.
The DS switch to an electric-only brand planned for 2024 will begin with the launch of an electric version of the current DS 4, followed by an all-new model (details of which are still to be revealed).
Where can I try a DS Automobiles car?
Not at Citroën outlets – DS has been one of those manufacturers to try and shun the traditional dealer model and set up ‘boutique stores’ in high-profile shopping malls, the first in the world opening in the Westfield shopping centre in West London in 2016.
It didn’t entirely work – today these boutiques have become ‘Stores’ and there are 25 are in the UK. But yes, many are on motor retailer parks with Citroën outlets close by. DS still tries to be different, however, and offers potential buyers of its cars the opportunity to have one delivered to their home for a 24-hour test drive, all booked online.
What’s particularly significant about this company?
In an automotive market where mechanical components are becoming uniform across the board, DS Automobiles is a car brand that trades heavily on an image of a lifestyle brand, centred on Paris and high fashion.
Alongside that novel watchstrap leather, its car interiors feature design touches like pearl stitching – a thread that disappears into the leather it holds and comes directly from haute-couture dressmakers. The instrumentation, meanwhile, employs the skills of luxury watchmakers.
The DS obsession with upmarket fashion and lifestyle extends to a service called ‘Only You Privilege’, which it claims “opens the door to an exclusive world”. Available for three years to anyone buying a new DS, Only You offers access to high-class dining, private shows, exclusive tours of museums and such like.
The fashion-dominated image of DS has so far only generated niche appeal here in the UK. The brand is regarded as a bit of an oddity and has never really fully enthused British car buyers. Even the brand’s management have come out and said they’ were’ve been less than happy with the sales from its UK showrooms.
The switch to electric-only in 2024 will give the brand a fresh story to tell and the opportunity to raise its profile amongst buyers. DS high-ups have boldly stated their ambition to be “among the global leaders in electrified cars”, but there’s little currently to suggest that DS models will significantly progress from their current niche appeal and be spotted more often on the roads as a result.
You may also like: