Peugeot plots return to U.S.

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PSA Peugeot Citroen is plotting another run at the U.S. market and Havas' Euro RSCG Worldwide is hoping its Black Rocket shop will handle the marketing push.

Havas Chairman-CEO Alain de Pouzilhac recently spearheaded a pitch to the Paris-based company in which Havas offered to set up a separate operation for PSA Peugeot based on the resources of Black Rocket, San Francisco.

One agency executive confirmed that Black Rocket is working on Peugeot projects but added: "There's a broad timeline, nothing specific." Another executive said Peugeot, which sells Peugeot and Citroen car brands, intends to enter the U.S. as early as this year.

This executive also said: "Euro [RSCG] is a favorite and interested party, but the issue is what happens with Volvo." Euro RSCG MVBMS Partners has held the $50 million Volvo Cars of North America account since summer 2000.

Black Rocket Partner John Yost declined to comment on whether his shop is producing work for the car company. Euro RSCG Worldwide already works with PSA Peugeot in 34 countries and Mr. de Pouzilhac is eager to expand that relationship to the U.S. PSA Peugeot spent a billion dollars globally on advertising in 2001, ranking eighth among automakers worldwide, according to Advertising Age data. Most of the spending- $956 million-was in Europe, where the company ranked No. 2 behind Volkswagen in car advertising.

round three

This is not PSA Peugeot's first attempt at cracking the U.S. market. The company operated in the U.S. for 34 years until pulling out in 1991, having sold just 3,714 cars that year, according to Advertising Age sibling Automotive News. During its peak year, 1984, it sold 20,007 cars and had measured ad spending of $10 million. While PSA Peugeot made unsuccessful moves to re-enter the market in 1995, a recent top management change may have put a U.S. move into high gear. Thierry Peugeot took over the chairman's role, following the death of his father Pierre in December 2002.

A Paris-based spokesman for PSA Peugeot said: "We've always said you can't ignore the U.S. market. But there are no current plans for the U.S. as far as I'm aware."

However, an article in French business newspaper Le Figaro, published in September, quoted industry executives claiming PSA Peugeot intends to be in the U.S. by 2005 with the aim of selling as many as 10,000 cars in its first year.

Booz Allen & Hamilton VP-Partner Scott Corwin said that building a dealer network will be the most difficult part of the re-entry. He estimated PSA Peugeot would have to spend between $50 million to $100 million on brand building-less if the marketer enters with a single unique vehicle like BMW's Mini Cooper.

However, Le Figaro`s article suggested Peugeot could set up call-centers to contact American owners of European cars and direct them to a test center and a corporate Web site.

Certainly Black Rocket, with 25 employees, has the perfect client to help PSA Peugeot with its online efforts; the agency represents Yahoo! The shop is led by Mr. Yost, a veteran of Hal Riney & Partners, San Francisco, who was part of the pitch team that won the General Motors Corp. Saturn Motors account. He worked at Riney until he launched Black Rocket in 1990.

Jim Sanfilippo, exec VP of Omnicom Group's auto consultancy AMCI, said that Peugeot has "very very good diesel technology," which may attract buyers looking for better gas mileage.

He added that no automaker can be truly global unless it sells in the world's three major markets: North America, Europe and Asia. He speculated that PSA Peugeot has watched the U.S. success of French competitor Renault via Nissan, in which it holds a controlling stake.

contributing: laurel wentz, alice z. cuneo and jean halliday

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