On this day in June 2020, Vincent Carré knew he was holding a golden nugget. In charge of the Citroën Ami program, an extraordinary electric vehicle that can be driven from the age of 14 with a road safety certificate, he came to participate in the start of its marketing… at Fnac des Ternes in Paris. Yes, as long as it’s different, the chevron brand has teamed up with the brand and Darty to distribute the fun machine, in addition to its own network. “A man parked his Porsche 911 in front of the shop, went in with his daughter and paid €6,000 in cash to give her the model. I understood that it was won…” says this marketing professional.
Since then, champagne corks have appeared in the small Citroën team dedicated to the “toaster on wheels”, one of the nicknames for the strange machine. Because with its canonical prices ranging from 6,890 to 8,290 euros, organic bonus of 900 euros deducted, the Vennen is a hit. The formulas for long-term rentals over 48 months have something to do with it: after an initial payment of 3,000 euros, it is possible to run the pot of yogurt for 20 euros a month! Not to mention the prospect of filling up for 2 euros…
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Launched in April 2020, the small vehicle had thus sold 23,500 copies by mid-September at the end of Europe, well beyond the targets. The demand is such that it is sometimes necessary to wait more than six months before it is delivered, which has given rise to a parallel market: in June we saw an ad on Leboncoin offering a second hand with 2,500 kilometers on the watch for 11,990 euros! All this for an “unidentified rolling object”, which is nothing like a thunderbolt: electric motor with an output equivalent to 8 horsepower, speed limited to 45 kilometers per hour, autonomy of 75 kilometers…
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It all started with a happy combination of circumstances. In 2016, equipment manufacturer Valeo demonstrated how its 100% electric 48-volt motorization system enabled small, light urban vehicles to move. “At the time, we were touring manufacturers to promote our invention, and PSA had just such a project in the pipeline,” recalls Michel Forissier, Valeo’s director of engineering. Citroën therefore entrusted the subcontractor to design the powertrain for its future vehicle: electric motor, gearbox and electronics to operate it all.
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But the start was chaotic. Firstly, the program aroused some skepticism at Citroën. “There were doubts everywhere: technical, commercial, marketing,” recalls Vincent Carré. Serious quality issues at the vehicle’s launch later increased criticism. The cars took on water! Hence a recall campaign of 4,200 models to fix this sealing problem. It wasn’t the only one: Demisting the cabin proved complicated, the locks seized on a yes or no when it wasn’t a door that opened by itself while driving… Vincent Carré and Product Manager Friend, Alain Le Gouguec did not continue much less believing in it, supported by Carlos Tavares, Stellantis’ big boss. When the youth problems were resolved, the Friend could therefore resume his journey…
It’s simple, with this vehicle Vincent Carré’s team delighted in multiplying the breaks with the habits and customs of the sector. “The specifications involved putting your driver’s brain aside and no longer using our usual criteria”, confirms Alain Le Gouguec. First breakup? Design. Instead of starting the design with the body, the stylists started with the interior. With one goal: despite its dimensions (2.41 meters long, 1.39 meters wide and 1.52 high), the vehicle had to offer as much space as possible. Ami can thus accommodate two people side by side without them getting in the way, thanks to the position of the passenger seat slightly set back from the driver. Enough to free up space to put a bag. The rest is spartan: the seats are made of hard plastic, the dashboard reduced to its simplest expression with a single meter indicating speed and range.
A Citroën Ami Buggy sold… 25,000 euros on Leboncoin
To make the cabin very light, the designers envisioned two windows that could open halfway, like on the old 2CVs, and a panoramic glass roof. We quickly realized that he turned the Friend into an oven when the sun was beating down! A €47.90 blind is now available to remedy this disadvantage. The accessories are all the more important since, due to austerity, there is no air conditioning… The exterior is equally emblematic of the stylists’ “design to cost” approach. The body is designed in plastic and has a strictly identical front and back. Ditto for the doors, whose opening is therefore reversed.
In order to respect the objective of a cost price at daisy level, another break was imposed on the production side. The friend leaves the Stellantis factory in Kenitra, Morocco, where the Peugeot 208 is also produced. Password: simplify as much as possible! “On the metal structure, assembled plastic parts are injected, glued or screwed. There is no paint and the bodywork is tinted in the mass, which allows for great savings,” emphasizes Jacques Lestideau, head of the group’s engineering center in Morocco. For the same purpose, Ami has a reduced number of parts: 250, four times less than a C3. Some are taken from other vehicles, such as train components from the 208, or the pedals borrowed from Berlingo and Partners’ utilities.
Against all odds, The Friend ended up finding its audience. And it is wider than originally imagined. Designed for an urban clientele, it has also won the support of country dwellers: almost 30% of buyers are in rural areas with a lack of public transport and where it is easy to recharge the battery. “Since 2019, the clientele has evolved. At the beginning it was a population of the elderly or people who had lost their driving license. Today there are also city dwellers who have never taken it and many young people,” comments Christophe Michal, technical director at the insurance company Solly Azar, which targets this new market.
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To surf the success, Citroën multiplies the new versions (seven in total), always offering more accessories and stickers to personalize the vehicles, more and more present in the high school parking lots. For parents ready to take out the checkbook, the Friend is actually more reassuring than a scooter… “We’ve made a fashion object out of it,” welcomes the head of the program. Last summer, a limited series called My Ami Buggy was thus offered in 50 copies on an online sales site. They were billed 9,790 euros each and they left in less than twenty minutes. A gold nugget!
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