Citroën’s C4 Cactus set for star billing

The decision to turn the DS line into a stand-alone brand means this new model must be a success

To relax Mark Lloyd takes part in competitive offshore racing and the years spent around boats have influenced the design of the C4 Cactus.

Lloyd says its distinctive airbumps were inspired by everyday items like boat fenders and bubblewrap.

“The airbumps have a protective function but they also give the car its graphic identity and make it immediately identifiable,” says Lloyd. “We wanted to introduce different materials and textures to contrast with the super purity of the surfaces. The airbumps are a Citroën innovation and were developed in collaboration with a supplier. The challenge was producing a structure that would meet the criteria on endurance, resilience and form. Fixing them to the car was the easier bit.”

Lloyd began his career as an aerodynamics engineer with Jaguar and moved to PSA Peugeot Citroën in 1989 as an exterior designer. He became head of graphic design in 2005 and has been responsible for Citroën's design strategy since 2011. Lloyd's team of 30 people is based near Paris. Irish designer

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Cathal Loughnane was part of the team that designed the original Cactus interior.

Lloyd says the name Cactus was chosen because a cactus consumes little and its spines provide protection in inhospitable desert environments. The eye-catching airbumps are designed to do the same job in an urban setting.

Cactus began life back in 2007 and Lloyd says the original brief was all about simplicity. “The current fashion in car design is for highly-developed surfaces with a lot of structure, movement and accent. The aim with Cactus was to revert to simpler forms,” he says. “The designers were given free rein and the simplification went too far initially. For example there was no dashboard and the seats were exceptionally thin. People were attracted to the concept but they were a little bit alienated when they got inside. There is a limit to how much you can take out. People still want comfort and familiarity.”

The rollout of the Cactus began in June and orders for the first two months have topped 15,000 units. “This is above expectations and the feedback is that people are really taking to the car because there is a lot to talk about,” says Lloyd. “It is fashionable and modern looking and it seems to be appealing to all ages. Cactus is straightforward, comfortable and well priced.”

Lloyd says the Cactus’s non-traditional interior is going down well with buyers. “Interiors have become highly complicated with the addition of more and more equipment such as airbags, screens, controls, instrument panels,” he says. “We reorganised the dashboard by taking each element and redistributing it. For example the passenger airbag went into the roof and the touchscreen and the gear selector came out of the dashboard.”

Peugeot Citroën has been going through tough times in Europe. The group has lost more than €7 billion in the last five years and its new chief executive, Carlos Tavares, is on a turnaround mission.

As part of this initiative the Citroën’s DS line is to become a stand-alone brand capable of competing with the premium carmakers. The fear now is that the DS will get first crack at any new technological or styling innovations leaving Citroën’s other models in the shade.

“Not at all,” says Lloyd. “The innovations will be common. They just won’t be presented in the same way. Citroën design is now at a more exciting point than it has been for many years. The process of separation frees things up for both DS and Citroën.

“For Citroën we can go back to our origins – designing cars that offer an innovative difference with the emphasis on strong design, creative and useful technology, comfort and value.”