Thierry Metroz on Citroën design

Thierry Metroz has spent his entire career of 25 years working for the same company, Renault. And even though many assumed he would replace Patrick le Quement as head of Renault design in 2009, Metroz decided to leave in 2010 and join rival French marque PSA Peugeot Citroën, to become design director at Citroën. Design Talks caught up with the designer a year into his new role.

Thierry Metroz, Citroen design director

Design Talks PSA Group design director Jean-Pierre Ploué already created the strategy and design direction for Citroën when he was in charge of design. Does this make your job more difficult?

Thierry Metroz The Citroën range is now very good – it is an innovative creative brand. It’s quite a hard job for me to maintain this dynamic evolution but on the other hand it is very exciting and we are working hard to imagine something very strong for the future of Citroën. In our world of design there’s always another step.

DT Head of Peugeot design Gilles Vidal and Ploué have described Citroën as a ‘bi-polar brand’. Is this also your view?

TM Yes. We are very lucky to be designers at Citroën with two quite different philosophies. In the 1950s we had the DS and 2CV, both iconic but quite different concepts and philosophies and that continues with our line-up today.

DT How would you define Citroën design language at the moment?

TM For [sub-brand] DS Line we explore a specific design language. We play more with surfaces, and more 3D sculpture. There is one curve through the car, with strong evolution in terms of surfaces. It is rounded and changes from negative to positive.

We play a lot with the graphics, the lines creating a good balance between the muscles and the nerves [the lines]. The rear wing of the DS4 is really like a muscle. It’s more fluid and with more muscle than mainstream Citroëns.

On the DS the form language is more expressive – we work like a sculpture playing around with the surfaces so that it isn’t boring. We create a three-dimensional effect.

DT You recently showed us the Metropolis concept car, a very different proposition to the DS cars. What does a car like this represent for the marque?

TM It is a very different car but when you look at the formal language it isn’t that different – you get the same feeling. The Metropolis was designed by our team in Shanghai – where we have 45 to 50 people now – and it was a good opportunity to test our facility there and give them the chance to do a car with a lot of freedom.

DT Would you consider designing cars for the Chinese market?

TM With this car we wanted to see what their perception is of a large car suitable for China. But it’s not just for the Chinese market. PSA Group is global and our philosophy is not to do regional cars. Nowadays Chinese customers don’t want a specific car for China they want the same car as here in Europe.

We have a world approach to our cars and don’t design for special markets but we do adapt colour and trim to suite various culture.

DT You seem to be doing some interesting collaborative work with some leading fashion houses like Lacoste and Orla Kiely.

TM We associate fashion trend with Citroën, and we would like to work closely with other fashion designers as did with Lecoste last year.

DT The marque used to use outside consultants for design projects. Is this still the case?

TM No, we have all the good knowledge and creative designers in-house. It happened in the past with the Italians but now it’s not necessary.

DT What is the biggest challenge for you over next few years?

TM To maintain this level of creativity and to integrate the latest regulations such as pedestrian safety and C02, without it reducing the attractiveness and the passion for the brand.

DT Recently you sponsored vehicle design students at the Royal College of Art in London to find solutions for a unique Citroën electric aesthetic with some really interesting propositions. What are your thoughts on future urban mobility?

TM Yes there were some great ideas there and we learnt a great deal from the project. We need very compact cars and three wheelers for big cities. They are easy to park and very low consumption.

Nick Hull and Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Read how students at the Royal College of Art worked with Citroen to find solutions for a unique electric aesthetic here.

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RCA students on Citroën’s electric aesthetic

With electric driving a reality it seems fitting that carmakers should find a suitable vernacular that represents a new era in mobility. It is also a golden opportunity to voice their unique approach to clean, green driving.

With this in mind French firm Citroën asked final year masters students of vehicle design at the prestigious Royal College of Art in London to imagine a small car that could establish a unique electric vehicle aesthetic for the marque.

The 16 candidates unveiled an inspired range of conceptual work, from subtle interpretations of the city run-around, to ones that shouted out their electric credentials, to those that questioned the masculine nature of automotive architecture.

Overall winner Heikki Juvonen’s E-3POD Antistatic and James Harness’ Ugly Duckling, commended by the judges, stood out the most.

Juvonen, who will start a six-month contract at the PSA Design Centre in Paris on graduation, suggests a new type of electric vehicle for urban commuting. The small car has three-wheels, two smaller ones positioned at the front so that the driver sits inside the third larger wheel that includes a hub-less design.

The lightweight modular construction has been designed to be as aerodynamic as possible to minimise the battery size. The silent electric engines also make sound insulation redundant, allowing for this lighter material selection.

Philippe Holland, head of Style Graphique at Citroën, says Juvonen’s design is ‘a quirky and nice sculpture, and an interesting concept for city driving’. Juvonen says his pod will coexist with other vehicles as it has been designed to be an electric product rather than a car.

Holland was also impressed with how Harness showed an understanding for the brand’s design heritage where design is pushed to the very limit with his Ugly Ducking. The concept is a rather quirky piece that purposely contradicts the conventions of current automobile design.

Harness says he is tired of the ‘cliché proportions’ of automotive design, calling it an ‘aggressive pumped and chiselled form language that subversively distributes the idea of personal superiority and dominance.’ Harness doesn’t believe this language is appropriate for a brand like Citroën.

Instead his three-seater car features a combination of stark flat surfaces and organic shapes, ‘a flat/organic form language,’ he calls it. ‘I wanted to combine two form languages, 80s flat brutalism and more modern organic surfacing and to study the differences between them aerodynamically.’ The combination of the curvaceous front and sharp and the flat rear-end, actually proved to be very aero-efficient.

The idea with Ugly Duckling is to stimulate curiosity and engage and excite consumers into electric driving.

Holland says electric driving is increasingly recognised as an important solution for urban transport. ‘So it is fantastic to see the electric visions of these potential car designers of tomorrow.’

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | | Bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

All rights and labelled images are covered by ©