Vanessa Castanho is one of the top executives at Grupo Stellantis, owner of 14 brands and two divisions that make up FCA and PSA. From mid-2021, Paulistana, who joined the industry 25 years ago as an intern at Renault, is the first woman to lead Citroën in South America. In addition, he is the Executive Director of Eco2Energy, a photovoltaic panel company in which she is a partner with her husband. He is also a consultant for InPact, an NGO in João Pessoa (PB) dedicated to environmental conservation, and works in at least one other charity. In between the busy schedule, the French brand’s vice president spoke to Estadão about last year’s performance and 2022 trends.
In 2021, how did Citroën perform in Brazil and South America?
2021 was a revolutionary year in every way. We had a very good performance, the best since 2016. When the market grew 2%, we grew 77%. In the case of the (SUV) C4 Cactus, sales doubled. In services, we recorded a 123% increase in sales. In August 2022, we had already completed the entire volume of 2020. In other words, this shows that our strategy is right and that we have put Citroën on track for growth. Therefore, 2021 was also important for the construction of the next chapter. This includes new products. This is the case of the new C3 (compact will be made in Porto Real, Rio de Janeiro), which will be presented in 2021 and will be the first product of the c-Cubed platform (a new basis for small models), which will provide an increase of three products in the Americas South. They will be designed for the region, with support from local suppliers and targeting the customer profile here. We launched two smaller C4 Cactus ranges, the new Jumper Cargo (van) and our first electric vehicle, the e-Jumpy (van). This is part of the “Citroën 4 All” plan, which runs until 2024. We have a very clear direction about where the brand wants to go. This gave great confidence to the dealer network. We will develop a solid program and have a wide range of products. There is only happiness from now on.
What are the next steps towards electrification?
In Brazil, we have two important advantages. One is that our energy production comes from hydroelectric plants. Of course, there is a water shortage, but it is better than in countries that have to burn coal, for example. We also have ethanol, because we need to look not only at the use of electricity, but at the entire chain of production of that energy, from the beginning to the end. Ethanol is the energy that will help us switch from a combustion engine to an electric one. We are very well prepared. We have more than eight international brands that use electricity as well as various mobility solutions. For example, the AMI (small electric car sold in Europe from €6,000) is very innovative. The Urban Collectif, launched in 2021, is a self-driving electric skateboard that can be customized. In other words, the trend is not only for clean energy, but also to provide products that can have a consumer face, focused on meeting their specific needs. We started with services because it is in this segment that sales have increased the most. Electric vehicles have low maintenance costs, which is one of the main concerns of these customers. We will keep an eye on the infrastructure, to bring more products as it develops.
Has the speed of digitization affected sales performance in 2021?
Plans had already been made, but the disaster hastened it. Recently, I saw a study that shows that, despite this pandemic, digitalization has continued for ten years. First, we had to think about the welfare and safety of the people. Obviously, we accelerated everything possible regarding new communication channels and solutions for our customers. The pace was fast and it also changed the mind of the customer, who began to do, electronically, things that he believed he could not do. Therefore, we should be ready to provide quick answers and solve questions with the help of new tools, such as software. We are very focused on that. We have to provide innovations that are accessible and meet the needs of our customers. We want more and more Brazilian customers to discover this.
Will Citroën continue to be positioned as a premium brand?
Citroen is seen as an attractive and desirable brand. This image was created to provide a good product. We will not leave this bias of expectations, but we will offer a product (compact C3) in one of the main market segments. For this, it should be found. When a brand is seen as premium, it can seem a little distant to consumers. And we want to be close to our customers. So, let’s take all the good that has already been done and help build this image of Citroën, making the brand something more accessible and closer to consumers.
Have you ever felt like you are treated differently for being a woman?
It happened, of course. And we should talk a lot about it so that we don’t need to talk more in the future. Many times people do not realize that they are having sex. And, for us, it’s a secret (laughs), but I often realized that I was in favor of sex. There is a big difference between being and being. As long as I am in a leadership position, I will have a big responsibility to try to change this situation. In other words, help reduce the difference. I created a very different team. Broad diversity, which includes gender, race, sexual orientation and nationality, is very positive. At Citroen South America, 50% of the team is made up of women, of different ages and nationalities. A different culture makes us make better decisions. And that affects the company’s results. I was chosen as Stellantis’ ambassador for sexual relations, and I am also one of the group’s trainers worldwide.
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