The DS 9 sedan features advanced design and cutting-edge technologies. DS delivered 39,481 vehicles globally in 2020. [Photo provided to China Daily]

International premium car brands, especially European ones, are often favored in China. But French premium marque DS of Stellantis, which was formed from the merger of PSA and FCA, is a rare exception.

This is mainly because of its obscure image and a small number of models.

The brand has decided to give it a new try though, considering the ever-growing middle class, who are trading in for better cars and would like to embellish their life with elements of art and fashion.

So this time DS-pronounced “de-esse”, which means goddess in French-is considering learning from the success of designer clothing and bag brands in Paris.

“For instance, we will launch vehicles as classic ones and limited ones,” said Li Xinyang, managing director of DS China, in an interview last week.

Li, a veteran in the auto industry, joined DS late last year. He worked for more than 10 years at General Motors, making Chevrolet one of the most popular choices for young Chinese customers.

Now his job is to turn DS, which he sees as a mobile artwork from Paris, into a niche brand with a distinctive following, including French culture fans, designers and artists.

“We try to make art a part of life and enrich our life with art,” said Li.

Li admitted the task will be tough, partly because of a weak legacy and increasing competition in the country.

DS came to China in 2012. At its zenith, DS sold around 27,000 vehicles a year in the country. Last year, it was less than 1,000. The brand’s global deliveries totaled 39,481 in 2020.

Yet there are around 20 dealerships in China, with owners totaling 75,000.

“We hold them dear to us,” said Li, calling them the seeds of DS’s future. He said new investors are coming to open new showrooms in the country.

The carmaker launched the DS 9 sedan last week in Beijing, which it called the starting point of its new journey in China.

The vehicle, a flagship model of the brand, is available in seven variants and six colors. It features elements of classic French haute couture but also cutting-edge functions, some of which are not found in vehicles from other brands in the segment.

Li said that six more product events are scheduled in the next 10 months to maintain momentum.

“We don’t imagine overnight success and I tell our dealers to be patient,” said Li. “But if we repeat a correct move again and again, we will make something out of it.”

He has a three-year blueprint for the brand. One of the goals is to develop China into DS’s second-largest market after France. An even more challenging one is to project a clear image.

“For me, the biggest goal will be eight out of any 10 DS owners will use the same words when they are asked to describe the brand,” Li said.