A new Peugeot, the 301, promises to be one of the most significant models in the venerable French car-maker's history. It is the first of a separate range of cars designed to meet the specific requirements of customers in emerging economies but also marks a big change in the system of model names Peugeot has used for over eighty years.
The Peugeot 301, a compact saloon, is the first of a range of “01” badged cars, which, as the company puts it “will represent the marque's value for money models in their markets that offer status that fulfils customer expectations centred around practicality of use, versatility and vehicle requirements.” Built in Spain, the 301 will be sold from November in Turkey, Eastern Europe, Russia, Ukraine, Greece, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.
Peugeot has, to some extent already operated a policy of separate model ranges for different world regions by continuing local production of models such as the 504 long after they disappeared from Western European markets. The 01 cars, though, far from being Europe's cast-offs, will be modern products purpose-developed to meet the specific needs and tastes of increasingly affluent and demanding emerging market customers. That means the 301 is a saloon, rather than having the hatchback body favoured in Western Europe, and is designed to operate in very hot and cold climates, as well as to deal with poor roads. On the other hand, the new car has sharp fresh styling, with a nose that strongly resembles that of the bigger 508, and incorporates modern safety technology such as ABS braking and ESP. Early pictures show a plush-looking cabin that wouldn't look out of place in any other Peugeot, and the company promises a full range of modern comfort equipment such as Bluetooth, remote boot opening and a parking assistance system. The 301's engines, too, will be bang up-to-date; one option will be the brand new 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine that has just appeared in the new 208, while the other choices are 1.6-litre petrols and diesels.
The 301 also marks the first big shift in Peugeot's model-naming policy for over eighty years. Ever since the 201 was introduced in 1929, the company has followed a system of three-digit model designations in which the first digit indicates the size of the car, the second digit is always a zero and the third digit is used to indicate a generation change. The system indicates, for example, that the 208 is the successor to the 207 and slots into the range below the bigger 308 and 508. There have been one or two adaptations such as the introduction of “double-zero” names for MPVs and SUVs such as the 3008, 4007 and 5008, and the out-of-sequence 309, an “orphan” model originally developed as a Talbot, but the system has always remained unchanged in its essentials.
In future, the first digit will continue to indicate the size of the car and the second digit will still be a zero (double zeroes will also continue) but the third digit will no longer change when a new car is introduced. Instead, Peugeot's mainstream European models will always be “08s” while emerging market models will always be “01s”. For the first time in Peugeot's history, model names will be carried over between successive generations of cars in a particular segment; under the old system, today's 208 would have been succeeded by a 209 but now its successor will be another 208.
It's not hard to see why Peugeot has made the change. The old system worked well when the company's line-up consisted of just two or three cars with very long replacement cycles but with a greatly expanded range and shorter intervals between model changes it was probably getting harder for customers to keep up and the number of “X0X” combinations was in any case in danger of being exhausted. Twenty or thirty years ago, car companies liked to emphasise the arrival of a new car with a new name, but these days they prefer to carry over familiar model designations, rather than having to investing heavily in promoting new ones from scratch, an advantage denied to Peugeot under its old naming system.
Some questions thrown up by the arrival of the 301 remain to be answered. Two of the world's most important and fast-growing car markets, China and India, are not on the list of countries in which the 301 will initially be sold. Will Peugeot sell the 01 models in these countries or the 08 cars – or perhaps even come up with further parallel ranges? The company already has one China-specific model, the 408, which might perhaps under the new system be more logically badged as a 401. The 301 is also unusual in being a car aimed at emerging markets produced in (expensive) Western Europe, and it will be interesting to see whether Peugeot expands production to cheaper locations in the future. It's not yet clear how “territorially exclusive” the 01 and 08 ranges will be; will they be kept strictly apart, or will some cars bleed across between regions? Better off customers in countries where the 01 cars are sold might still have an appetite for the 08 cars, and we know that many Western European customers like the value for money provided by slightly more basic models originally developed for other markets when they have the chance to buy them.
The 301 also highlights differences in strategic direction between Peugeot and its competitors. Ford, for example, is squeezing out regional variations in model ranges in favour of a “One Ford” policy under which as far as possible the same cars are sold worldwide. On the other hand, some manufacturers have developed completely separate brands to tackle the markets in which the 301 will be sold. Peugeot's approach falls somewhere between the two, and in certain respects resembles the decision of its sister brand Citroën to develop two separate lines of cars, the mainstream “C” models and the “premium” DS range – albeit for a different purpose.