André Citroën was not just a gifted engineer who created cars, he was able to market them. The image of the Tour Eiffel with the word Citroën in lights on the side is iconic. And the cars themselves, for years, were leaps ahead of anything else on the market: the Traction Avant of 1934 was a low-slung berline with front-wheel drive; the 2CV a people’s car that did for poorer French what the Tata Nano is trying to do for Indian scooter buyers in 2008. Citroën’s DS—Déese, or goddess—was designed by a sculptor and while it had carryover Traction bits underneath its bodyshell, it still looks like something out of the future today.
However, such adventurousness did not always mean a return for the shareholders, and Citroën, after absorbing Maserati, found itself in trouble in the 1970s. While there was the glorious SM sports car, Citroën found itself a subsidiary of Peugeot by 1974, which began to be more rational about its cars. While there were still a few bright sparks—the CX was just weird enough to satisfy the Citroënistas—Peugeot-derived models such as the LN, Saxo and Xsara indicated the company had lost its quirks.
In an age of branding, quirkiness sells Citroëns, and the company began rediscovering its roots with the C3, C4 and C6 models, which hark back to models of old without being too complex for buyers to grasp.
Citroën also is a popular brand in Red China, its first model coming out in 1992, and the cars are badged Dongfeng Citroën there.