French car makers have a definite leaning towards manual gearboxes, simply because French drivers like to make their own gear changes.
So small export territories like New Zealand don’t always get the exact models they want – and when it comes to transmissions, our market prefers automatics.
Automatic versions of the new Peugeot 207 will take the lion’s share of local sales, even though some versions come only with manuals.
NZ Peugeot distributor, Sime Darby Automobiles, says one in three 207s sold here in the first year will be 1.6-litre XSP automatic five-door hatches.
Add in the 207 Sport which is only offered as an auto, and the auto SW wagon and CC cabriolet 207s, and autos will comprise an overwhelming 73 percent of all 207s sold here.
Only 135 of the projected 500 sales to December 31, 2007, are expected to be manuals, even though smaller Peugeots have traditionally had a sporty reputation.
It might seem bizarre that the 1.6-litre so-called Sport model can’t have a manual box but marketing manager Rod Cunningham says there’s simply no demand for manuals, especially around the key Auckland market.
The 207 has just gone on sale here and will rival the larger 307 as the biggest selling Peugeot model in New Zealand from day one.
In fact, Sime Darby expects 307 sales to drop by 50 unit a year, to 500 – the same volume predicted for the new 207 in its first nine months on sale.
The 207 is predicted to lift Peugeot’s New Zealand sales by 20 percent this year. It and the 307 will each make up 36 percent of the marque’s 1400 projected sales in 2007.
The 207 replaces the 206 whose sales dropped to 182 last year. That total will fall to 30 in 2007 as the old car bows out.
We’ll see a phased introduction of 207 models, starting with the entry-level 1.4-litre XS manual, the XSP auto, Sports auto and HDi turbodiesel, all with 1.6-litre engines.
At launch, only the 1.4-litre manual and 1.6 HDi diesel are available. Sime Darby is predicting only 65 diesel sales this year, a figure that would be much higher if an automatic version was available.
The RC GTi and CC arrive in June, followed by the SW in September.
Prices start from $24,490 for the XS and jump to $31,990 for the XSP auto. The
HDi diesel manual is $33,990, and the Sport auto $36,990. All are five-door hatchbacks.
The 1.6-litre, 130kW GTi is expected to cost around $40,000.
All 207s come with six airbags, ABS with electronic braking force distribution and
assist, electrically-operated door mirrors, six-speaker RD4 radio with CD, height-adjustable front seats, rake and reach adjustable steering column, and air-conditioning.
The dashboard is well designed with excellent instrumentation and better quality trim materials than the 206.
No complaints, either, about the superb form-fitting front bucket seats, although rear cabin room is tight.
In the quest to improve pedestrian impact safety, the engine compartment and bonnet have been designed to provide the maximum possible space between the engine and bonnet to create a crumple zone.
Electric power steering is new, providing more assistance at low speed to ease parking and manoeuvrability at urban speeds.
Shopping-bag hooks are standard, and the 207 is the first Peugeot in New Zealand to offer an optional fragrance diffuser that sits in the top centre of the dashboard.
The 207’s styling is clearly a progression of the 206’s, and incorporates elements of the 307 and 407 in the distinctive front end.
The low waistline blends with the unusually-shaped door mirrors that offer better visibility. Though the glass area is bigger, it’s still difficult to see the car’s front end from the driver’s seat.
New taillights use light emitting diodes and the car has a fivestar Euro NCAP safety rating.
The 207 has big shoes to fill: the good-looking 206 has been Peugeot’s best selling model, with more than 5.3 million built.
New Zealand 206 buyers have tended to be older private motorists but lately there’s been a switch to businesses and younger people.
Peugeot is putting more emphasis on male customers for the 207 which it perceives as having more masculine appeal than the 206.
The 207 body shape builds on thepopular 206’s, but will the similarity between the two deter some buyers?
Time will tell, but there’s no question that the new Peugeot is a competent and well-behaved addition to the small car sector.