Carlos Tavares, CEO of PARIS-Peugeot, said the French automaker is accelerating its timetable to return to the US market after nearly three decades of absence and is planning to offer US car models from the entire brand.
The plan for Peugeot's priority in the US comes after the Wall Street Journal reported it
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
NV rebuffed an overture from Peugeot to explore a combination of auto makers. Such an agreement would have transformed the PSA Group SA owner of Peugeot, Citroen and Opel brands into a US player overnight.
In an interview in his sparsely decorated office near Paris, Mr. Tavares said Peugeot would start exporting a range of models from the Peugeot brand to the United States and Canada within three to four years. It's earlier than his previous schedule to deliver Peugeots to the US by 2026. The ability to move faster in the US, Tavares said, helped by the acquisition of Opel because it gave the company a team of engineers familiar with US specifications through its previous experience with General Motors Co. The shift, says Tavares, also followed positive feedback from "intensive clinical trials" with US consumers.
Mr. Tavares said that instead of building a traditional dealer network, Peugeot had identified a "relatively innovative" way of distributing cars that included online sales, but would also allow customers to test their vehicles. "Because people don't know our products, they're not going to buy just based on what they see on the screen," he said.
Mr. Tavares approaches the United States with caution because he will be profitable there from the beginning.
"I want to be a long-term player in the United States," added Tavares. "What we can bring to the US is based on everything you see today. We are launching our clean electric cars, we are launching our plug-in hybrid cars, we are starting good SUVs. There is no limit."
Mr.. Tavare's plan to enter the US market entails risk. The market is dominated by pickups and large sports vehicles – not the strong place of Peugeot's selection. The US car market is also past peak, and well-established global brands, including
has competed aggressively for the falling new car sales in recent years.
While launching with a smaller number of cars may be easier, Tavares said that Peugeot needed to offer a large enough range to address different types of US driver. "Otherwise, we won't be visible," he said.
"The PSA Group has 18% of the European market, and its competitors in Europe have become the same as in the United States," Tavares said. and adds that "it will take many years before we have market share."
Under Mr. Tavares, Peugeot increased its share of the European market with the 2017 acquisition of Opel and Vauxhall, and has become one of the most profitable car manufacturers in the world.
At the Geneva Motor Show earlier this month, Mr. Tavares suggested he would be open to discussing a merger with Fiat Chrysler. The journal later reported that Peugeot had made an overture to Fiat Chrysler, but it was eventually rejected.
Asked for the overture, says Tavares, "We have continuous discussions with our partners. Please do not be excited. There are no specific goals – no specific, deep, ongoing negotiations."
Peugeot and Fiat Chrysler are already working in production of light commercial vehicles.
At the same time, Tavares said the next decade that it would be chaotic for the industry as electric cars and new car technology advanced. Mr. Tavares quoted Peugeot's strong balance, as well as the acquisition and reversal of Opel as evidence that the automaker can survive in such a landscape.
"We believe that agility gives you a good chance of meeting chaos in a way that is very Darwinian," Tavares said.
Write to William Boston at email@example.com and Nick Kostov at Nick.Kostov@wsj.com