When you get into a conversation with the DS automotive brand director Martina Bedrnová at the DS ambassador’s Natali Ruden fashion show, you end up talking not only about fashion and women's topics, but through design and luxury materials, you easily get to cars as well as her profession. For LP-life.com, she reveals what she likes about French cars and what makes them original and different, as well as what lies behind the success of the brand she has been leading for three years.
You've now been the head of premium French car brand DS for 3 years, what were your beginnings in the rather male-specific automotive sector? Are you a technical type of woman?
I'll start with the second part of your question. I'm not a technical woman at all, and I never thought I would ever work with cars. But, as luck would have it, upon returning from maternity leave some 19 years ago I was asked to join the communications and PR department of a car brand, even though I had previously worked for French companies of a completely different nature and rather in a consulting and economic advisory role. Yet, the opportunity came up and I liked it. A car is a beautiful product, and I found that technology wasn't quite what I needed to master in communication directly. Fixing a car or understanding engines isn't quite what's required.
Was it difficult to enter the saturated premium car market in this country, which is mostly dominated by German brands and bring French cars here?
It is not easy. Of course, in the Czech Republic, there's the so-called "German Three" of premium brands, which is very established. We are a market that is very close to Germany, but I think the French have something to say because they see their products and their lifestyle in a completely different way. We've actually brought that refinement, that French luxury, a certain sophistication, kind of a "chic" style together with a focus on materials and truly premium quality, fashion and so on to the premium car category. I think that's something that our market will appreciate as well.
The most difficult thing was to really get to know the products, because of course in the beginning, when a person who is not familiar with the automotive industry comes into the car sector, you need to soak in a lot of new information, go through various training courses, touch and drive the cars. So at first, you might be a little bit shy, but eventually, you find that you can really enjoy it. And as I say, it's a really beautiful product, for me it would definitely be much more difficult to sell things that are intangible, for example, that you can hardly show to people. Whereas the car itself simply gets you excited, and then you pass on your enthusiasm and get others around you excited.
The cars of our brand are characterized by a distinctive and unique style, an avant-garde approach, solutions unusual in the automotive sector. DS was born in Paris and that is why the interiors of our vehicles are named after famous Parisian places such as Montmartre, Bastille or Opéra. Our cars are very comfortable, very pleasant; in terms of premium materials, they’re inspired by the jewellery industry, so you'll find various wrought metal materials, glass crystals, diamond-inspired designs, even the "Bracelet" interlacing that the straps of Chanel watches use, on the leather seats. So you can really see that so-called haute couture there. And that's what perhaps sets the brand apart the most.
It's kind of related to what I just said. They are for customers who have their own style and want to show their style, who are not afraid to own something special. They don't want to fit in, but on the contrary, they want to stand out from the crowd and express their personality through their car. For them, it is not just a means of transport from A to B, but essentially part of their lifestyle and personality.
I would say both genders, of course, women are more interested in the materials, the beautiful colours and the different combinations we offer. Men, on the other hand, appreciate the different technical masteries and the more technical nature of our vehicles. Although I was talking about design, our cars are also very advanced technologically. We have both hybrid and electric cars, they have matrix headlights with a 500-metre range that turn into corners, we offer adaptive chassis, just a lot of things that men enjoy. So both genders find their own thing and we have both men and women among our clients.
Your showroom was the winner of the Czech Top Shop 2021 in March. How was this space created, what makes it special and what should attract even more clients there?
Our showroom is called the DS Store, it’s situated in Prague on Černý most and it is the only DS showroom in the Czech Republic. Our brand has showrooms that are not the usual ones that people usually know from other car dealerships. We do our sales in a space that's set up like a luxury boutique, which means the showroom is in black and we display a smaller number of vehicles, so it's not all filled with cars. We've done it in a way that the cars can stand out, and we put a lot of emphasis on the environment itself, so that people can breathe, they have enough space, they can sit in a nice seat, even experience virtual reality. The other cars that are not in the showroom right now can actually be experienced through a 3D virtual reality setting, that will take them directly to Paris at Place de la Concorde. They are also impressed by our own perfume, which is part of our showrooms and our signature music. It's just this whole host of different things; we like to have a good coffee with the customer, we discuss everything in peace and calm, and then, of course, follows the test drive. Our showroom is truly inspired by Parisian boutiques. It could sell expensive handbags as well as our cars.
You've already mentioned that you have both hybrids and electric cars. What pros and cons do you see in this kind of cars?
I think they have many positives. First of all, they are environmentally friendly, and that is probably the number one issue for all of us, to help our environment, and secondly, they are very economical, both the hybrid cars and the fully electric ones. They have very good driving characteristics. These are cars that have quite the takeoff and powerful engines. Back when I did not know what electric cars were, I had this layman's idea that they were some kind of Eco-friendly "caddies", like you have in a ZOO, and that they can only ever go slow. But it's not true. Today, these cars are absolutely standard in every way and have normal performance. On the other hand, the network of charging stations is not yet fully developed, so to some extent, the customer has to know whether such a car is suitable for him. It is certainly suitable for customers who are able to charge the car at home or at work. Because if they were only reliant on a network of public charging stations, they would be managing their life according to where they are and how much time they need to spend at the charging station. So we always discuss this with customers too, to see if they are so-called compatible for electric mobility, so that they are not surprised that they cannot use an electric car as comfortably as they had imagined. As far as a hybrid car is concerned, it is a little bit different there, because such a car also has a normal fuel tank. It can also run on an internal combustion engine if necessary, so there is more freedom there. You can drive shorter distances around town using the battery, which of course you also have to recharge somewhere. However, if you aren’t charged at the moment, you can run on petrol, so you have more freedom.
We are observing this situation as well. Obviously, we see our customers' journey going through electronic media to a large extent at the moment, through websites, configurators and various electronic enquiries. Of course, we are prepared for this so that a person can chat with us from the comfort of their home in the evening, for example, send us an enquiry or configure a car. But we think that the actual sale itself is then still interesting for the customer to take place in an environment where the person discovers their product and that is just important to them. For people who come to buy our car, it's a special moment and they want to experience it in the luxurious environment of our showroom. But of course, we see a tendency that people have less and less time and we already have clients who, for example, want to have the car brought to their home. They just don't want to pick it up at the showroom, it's more comfortable for them to have the car they bought delivered to their home and of course we do that. We also have our sales team set up in a way that it can serve the customer wherever they want, but so far the vast majority of customers are buying and collecting their car at the DS Store, which just has the right atmosphere.
I, for one, drive a DS 7 Crossback E-Tense, where the "E" means electric. It's a plug-in hybrid car, a mid-range SUV. I'm perfectly happy with it; it's very nice, luxurious and comfortable. It has this warm color, Byzantine gold, which symbolizes the lights of Paris at night. When you arrive there by plane at night, it glows orange, just like my car. So, of course, that speaks to me as well, and I can only recommend it.