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By now you have all undoubtedly seen the Claudia Schiffer adverts which are being run Europe wide for the Xsara. In Britain, there was a TV campaign in which Claudia Schiffer apparently strips naked before driving off in a Xsara Coupť. The strapline (or should that be "stripline") is The Only Thing To Be Seen In This Summer

Some of you may have read articles in the press which state that this sort of advertising sets the female driver's cause back by some thirty years - to an era when semi or totally naked women were used to sell cars. For our younger readers I would hasten to add that the this does not mean that the salesperson at your local used car lot was a curvaceous and naked woman, rather that motor manufacturers felt the need to display their wares at motor shows, augmented by young ladies in a state of deshabillage. Now it may be that most cars were so dire in styling terms that the manufacturers felt there was a need for some sort of distraction. 

In the politically correct nineties, women are not sex objects, they are consumers. Doubtless, some people find the Schiffer ads deeply offensive and they will therefore not contemplate purchasing a Xsara. Other people will presumably be so gullible that they will actually believe that a naked blonde comes as standard with the car and they will go out and buy one (or more!) on this basis. Where does this leave the majority? One thing is for sure; all publicity is good publicity. And this particular ad seems to have generated a disproportionately large number of column inches in the media.

Approximately ten years ago, CitroŽn UK ran another politically incorrect advertising campaign for the BX GTi - it showed the tail of a GTi and the words "What's behind the new CitroŽn BX GTi? BMW 320i, Vauxhall Astra GTE, VW Golf GTi.." and a few other hot hatches whose names I can no longer recall. There were howls of anguish from the AA, RAC and RoSPA saying that this was irresponsible and contravened the spirit, if not the letter of the agreement to exclude performance figures from advertisements. Even though the ad was withdrawn, the damage had been done - or should I say, the message that this hot BX was faster than most of its competition got across loud and clear. As something of a non sequitur, Toyota's "The car in front is a Toyota" springs to mind every time I encounter an asthmatic Starlet being driven hesitantly down a narrow country lane at an unsteady 45 mph, braking for each slight bend and maintaining this speed through 30 mph restricted villages. 

The question no-one seems able to answer is, "What is CitroŽn UK's target market?" It can't be confined to the gullible chap mentioned above - there can?t be more than half a dozen in the entire country. Politically incorrect lesbians? Viagra users? What image is CitroŽn UK trying to create for the Xsara Coupť? Are they trying to woo the archetypal Essex Man - ex XR3i owner, gold medallion, etc., etc.? 

Or maybe, given that men are supposed to think about sex four times an hour (or whatever the statistic might be), CitroŽn hope that they will associate curvaceous, leggy, naked blonde with sex and therefore think about the Xsara four times an hour. It's just as likely that every time a man sees a Xsara (about once a fortnight!) he will think about sex...

I'm sorry, the whole thing is just too confusing.

CitroŽn is no stranger to using women in their ads. The 5CV was advertised back in the Twenties with pictures of women behind the wheel and this theme was employed on many subsequent models - presumably the intention was, somewhat patronisingly, to infer that the controls were sufficiently light and the cars sufficiently manoeuvrable to allow the little lady to drive it without too many problems. 

Gina Lollobrigida was used in the DS launch (although she kept her clothes on) and pictures of Brigitte Bardot were also employed later. 

In the fifties and sixties women were kept away from the steering wheel however. Perusing old advertising pictures shows the woman either in the passenger seat or draped seductively over the paintwork - to the extent that a 1961 publicity shot of the Ami 6 has a combination of woman and foliage almost totally obscuring the car (see above regarding distracting the punter from the styling). 

This insistence on keeping the woman out of the driving seat was taken to extremes in a British brochure for the DS which showed an outline drawing of a DS with photos of a seated nuclear family pasted into the drawing. There was no steering wheel in front of the male person in the right hand front seat. This self same illustration originated in and was used in France. Of course we had a mirror image of the French picture where the male person was in the front left seat.

Despite motoring back then being a mainly male preserve (Barbara Cartland excepted), both CitroŽn Cars Limited and SA Andrť CitroŽn pitched the Bijou and Ami 6 respectively at women - or rather at their husbands who would be the ones dipping into their wallets - ideal for the shopping trip or taking the children to school.

Several years ago, Ford, the then masters of auto-clinicing, invited women to come up with a wish list for a car and built a number of "female features" into an Escort show car. These included a built-in shopping trolley, a handbag grip, a large make up mirror, etc. I remember that Christina, my wife, was quite infuriated by what she considered to be a patronising exercise. She made the point that for a car to appeal to a woman the only criteria she could think of that might be applicable would be seating and controls designed for use by people who are smaller and weaker than the average male. In many a two car family, he drives the big, four door automatic car with power steering while she makes do with a small three door hatchback without power steering - and size notwithstanding, a big car with PAS is much easier to manoeuvre than a small one without. And then the men say women are no good at parking. CitroŽn, along with many other manufacturers has addressed itself to this by introducing PAS in some Saxo models.

To return to the Xsara, I understand that even the dealers are mystified by the Schiffer campaign. One dealer to whom I speak regularly told me he has sold three Xsara Coupťs - one to a 79 year old (Viagra user?) male, one to a "thirty something" female heterosexual and one to a "fifty something" young grandmother. Presumably Essex Man (who I now understand is known as "Mondeo Man") doesn't find the Xsara sufficiently sexy in appearance to fulfill its function as a Viagra substitute, Claudia Schiffer notwithstanding.

What next? The Saxo replacement called Sexo? Which leads nicely on to a question that a Dutch friend asked me by e-mail. "What name do you think CitroŽn will use for the XM replacement?" I came up with:

Xavier - in recognition of the great Director General. 

This name, with its initial letter X, recalls great CitroŽns of the past like the BX and AX. Up market models will be called Karcher.

Xenophobe - a French market only version with built in wine bottle holder, yellow headlights and specially sprung (employing horizontal, interlinked springs) egg basket carrier.

This name, with its initial letter X, recalls great CitroŽns of the past like the BX and AX. 

Xenophile - intended for the Eurocrats of Brussels and Strasbourg.

This name, with its initial letter X, recalls great CitroŽns of the past like the BX and AX.

Xasperate - a retro styled model that places retro demands on the DIY servicer (this car will not be serviced by our official dealer network since it requires 37 hours to change the handbrake pads). 

This name, with its initial letter X, recalls great CitroŽns of the past like the BX and AX.

XS- for the pluted bloatocrat, this model is designed with the new Eurostandard styling rendering it identical to the BMW, Mercedes and Peugeot equivalents.

This name, with its initial letter X, recalls great CitroŽns of the past like the BX and AX.

Above - not an official publicity shot but one of a series of "art pictures" taken in the Bois de Boulogne in the twenties

© Julian Marsh 1998