Automakers Series: Sweden (9B) SAAB/Scania

We begin our journey of Swedish car makers with SAAB, even though they are now defunct, because to the American mind, SAAB is one of the two big car makers in Sweden (alongside Volvo which we already covered in Part 9A.) As you will soon see, the whole saga is quite the soap opera.

SAAB

A defunct car manufacturer that was founded in Sweden in 1945. The first production model, the Saab 92, was launched in 1949. In 1968 the parent company merged with Scania-Vabis, and ten years later the Saab 900 was launched, in time becoming Saab’s best-selling model. In the mid-1980s the new Saab 9000 model also appeared.

In 1989, the automotive part of SAAB Scania was spun off into a company called Saab Automobile AB, which GM soon bought half of. This era gave birth to two landmark models the Saab 9-3 and the Saab 9-5. In year 2,000, GM bought the rest of SAAB Auto AB. In 2010 they flipped it to Dutch automobile manufacturer Spyker Cars N.V.

A year later the company struggled to remain solvent. They attempted to sell to a Chinese manufacturer, but GM blocked the deal, as they objected to the possibility of their technology going to China.

SAAB The Beginning

To understand a little of what happens next we must go back to the very beginning. SAAB started it’s life “Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget” (Swedish for “Swedish aeroplane corporation”), a Swedish Airplane Maker that would eventually become an aerospace and defence company. In 1937 however, the company formed expressly for the purpose of building aircraft for the Swedish Air Force to protect the country’s neutrality as Europe moved closer to World War II. (History buffs will tell you how that turned out.)

As the market for fighters began to peter out, the company began looking to diversify. Cars were a natural choice and part of the Trollhättan factory was converted to build Project 92. BTW SAAB 91 was a single engine trainer aircraft. They pragmatically moved right to the next project.

Side note: While the aircraft headquarters remained in Linköping the car division would eventually be run entirely out of Trollhättan.
SAAB 96 w/ Trademark Grill Shape.

The company made four prototypes named “Ursaab” or “original Saab”, numbered 92001 through to 92004, before designing the production model, the Saab 92, in 1949. 20,000 cars were sold through the mid-1950s. In 1955 the thoroughly redesigned and re-engineered SAAB 93 gained a third cylinder and what would become a trademark grill shape.

1960 brought another big makeover, the SAAB 96, which would be the first car widely exported. The car was both odd and popular, selling nearly 550,000. All these early models of SAAB featured the 3-cylinder 2-cycle engine, which required adding oil to the gas tank, and all were front-wheel drive. They also featured “freewheeling” a clutchless column shifter.

Finally in 1968, SAAB designed their SAAB 99 which was not only a complete break from their early models, it introduced most of the hallmark features which would be included in all subsequent models. Features like wraparound windscreen, self-repairing bumpers, headlamp washers and side-impact door beams.

SAAB did have a stint with Scania which will be detailed in the Scania Section below.

The End of SAAB

After many years establishing a sound engineering reputation and ultimately a luxury price tag, Saab failed to build its customer base beyond its niche following. June 2012, a newly formed company called National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS) had bought Saab Automobile’s bankrupt estate. NEVS’ plan was to build only purely electric vehicles with an electric version of the current 9-3 model available in 2013/2014, as well as to continue development of the replacement to the 9–3, the PhoeniX. GM continued to refuse licensing of the technology in the Saab 9-5 and 9-4X, so these models would not be produced.

Full production restarted on December 2013. These were gas-powered 9-3 Aero sedans just like before the bankruptcy. The goal was to restart supply chain re-establish distribution while attempting to develop new, all Electric, NEVS-Saab products. NEVS lost its license to manufacture automobiles under the Saab name in the summer of 2014 (SAAB aerospace retained that authority). NEVS was able to create an EV version of the Saab 9-3, which will go into furthur below, but the name SAAB on cars appears to be gone forever.

NEVS

It won’t surprise you that the company headquarters is in Trollhättan, Sweden as the company formed to buy SAAB and create a line of EV’s on the 9-3 design. They were set to start manufacturing in 2017. To do that they formed a few strategic partnerships starting in 2015 with a collaboration agreement between them and the Chinese company Panda New Energy. They also signed a battery contract with Contemporary Amperex Technology in 2017.

There were some bumps along the way as in early 2019, NEVS acquired a 20% stake in Koenigsegg for €150 million, which Koenigsegg has since bought back. Also in 2019, Chinese Real Estate Conglomerate,  Evergrande Group bought 51% of NEVs. (Technically through one of their subsidiaries which was no more connected to the auto industry either.) Evergrande expanded to full ownership in 2020 and decided to privatize, however, by 2021 Evergrande, the parent company, was in deep financial trouble. They began looking to sell off their car investment. When they do, the marque will likely change.

Scania AB

Logo is a three spoke bicycle gear on a modified crest of Skane.

Maskinfabriks-aktiebolaget Scania (I know, gesundheit), was a Swedish bicycle manufacturer established in Malmö in 1900. The company rapidly expanded to manufacture other products like precision gears, vacuum cleaners, cars and trucks (and engines). They officially went defunct in 1911 when they merged with Vabis, to form Scania-Vabis.

We’d could just jump to Scania-Vabis except that the story of how Scania Manufacturing got into cars is interesting and really where our story begins.

British bicycle manufacturer Humber & Co started a Swedish subsidiary in Malmö in 1896, but moved their operations to Stockholm in 1900. Local entrepreneurs taking over the Malmö workshop and continued making bikes under the new name Scania, which was the term the romans gave to Skåne.

The Scania A1, their first car, was prototyped a year later and went into production in 1903. It was soon followed by their first line of trucks. By importing engines, gearboxes and other parts imported from France and Germany, the company made and sold their first 70 automobiles by 1908. At that point they began making their own engines.

From the 1909 trip from Malmö to Stockholm

The first export sale of a Scania truck was in 1910, to Saint Petersburg, Russia to be used as a cable repair truck for its tramway. A group of six factory reps drove 1.8 tonnes of cargo, 520-kilometres in three days (Malmö to Stockholm) which was the first long distance motorized cargo trip in Sweden. It’s considered a huge achievement.

The engines were the most successful part of the business for Scania, so they stopped making anything else, including bikes, and started looking for a coach builder to partner with. Enter Vabis.

Steel manufacturer Surahammars Bruk, opened Vabis (Vagnfabriks Aktiebolaget i Södertelge) in 1891, but his coachworks business was in bad shape by 1910. The companies merged to form Scania-Vabis (later Scania AB) Vabis was based in Södertälje and the Scania part of the business eventually migrated there (ironically out of Skåne.)

Scania-Vabis

Today Scania AB is a major Swedish manufacturer of commercial vehicles—specifically heavy lorries, trucks and buses as well as large diesel engines for marine and industrial use. They are a worldwide operation with production facilities in Sweden, France, the Netherlands, Thailand, China, India, Argentina, Brazil, Poland, Russia and Finland.

Scania has modern Scania is a subsidiary of Traton, part of the Volkswagen Group. But the early years were interesting.

Sweden had plenty of cheap import cars in the early 1910’s so Scania_Vabis decided to focus on luxury cars and sports cars. Their limos were pretty successful but profits were stagnating when WWI broke out and the company shifted to war vehicle production to supply the Swedish Army.

After the war, Scania decided to continue building trucks. Sadly, it put them in competition with all the surplus trucks from the war. By 1921 they were broke. An infusion of cash from by the Wallenberg family by way of one of their banks.

Scania-Vabis manufactured briefly in Denmark and Norway as well as Sweden, but WWII shifted them to military vehicles.

They expanded their target market in the 1950’s becoming agents for the Willys Jeep and the Volkswagen Beetle, even rivaling Volvo with their 1954 L71 Regent truck. By the end of the 1950s, their market-share in Sweden was between 40 and 50%, (70% in the heaviest truck sector). Exports accounted for around 10% of sales in 1950’s but they expanded that to 50% by 1960.

Scania truck (L80 successor to the Scania-Vabis L56)

Part of their success was a Norway based company called Beers. After becoming the official importer of trucks for Scania-Vabis, Beers offered things like training programmed for both mechanics and drivers,  free twice-yearly overhauls of their customers vehicles, and mobile service throughout the Netherlands with their custom-equipped service trucks. After Beers took this concept to 20% market share in Norway, Scania began rolling out similar programs at home and in other countries where they had dealerships.

The 60’s brought massive growth to the company beginning with a plant in Brazil. Aside from their early attempts to build in nearby Denmark and Norway, all vehicles were made at the original plant in Södertälje. The new plant in Brazil took two years, but was so successful at growing their sales, they built another in Zwolle, Netherlands, from which they could deal trucks more effectively into France and Germany. Expansion continued from there, not just new factories, but also by buying up companies that had once made parts for them and their competitors.

After a lawsuit from Mercedes forces a logo change in 1968, Scania rebranded and dropped Vabis from their name. They also gave new model designations to all vehicles produced afterward.

Saab-Scania (1969–1989)

In 1969, Saab AB merged with the Swedish commercial vehicle manufacturer Scania-Vabis AB to form Saab-Scania AB, under the Wallenberg family umbrella.

The 99 range was expanded in 1973 with the addition of a combi-coupe model, a body style which became synonymous with Saab. The millionth Saab automobile was produced in 1976.

Scania R 730 LA4x2MNB

Saab entered into an agreement with Fiat in 1978 to sell a rebadged Lancia Delta as the Saab 600 and jointly develop a new platform. The agreement yielded 1985’s Saab 9000, sister to the Alfa Romeo 164, Fiat Croma and Lancia Thema; all rode atop a common Type Four chassis. The 9000 was Saab’s first proper luxury car but failed to achieve the planned sales volume.

1978 also was the first year for the 99’s replacement: the Saab 900. Nearly one million 900s would be produced, making it Saab’s best-selling and most iconic model. A popular convertible version followed in 1986, all of which were made at the Saab-Valmet factory in Finland, making up nearly 20% of 900 sales. Even today, the “classic 900” retains a cult following.

Scania Post SAAB

After the SAAB era, Scania survived two takeover attempts. One by Volvo in 1999, which would have created the second largest Heavy Truck manufacturer in the world. The second in 2006 when German truckmaker MAN AG launched a hostile offer. MAN AG later dropped its hostile offer, but managed to increase voting rights to 17% in 2008.

Volkswagen gained ownership of Scania by first buying Volvo’s stake in 2000. then bought out Investor AB in March 2008, raising its share to 70.94%. Apparently this time the EU didn’t step in to block the VW from a monopoly like they had Volvo, and by January 2015, Volkswagen controlled 100% of the shares in Scania AB.

Footnote: Shockingly this VW monopoly would be accused of price-fixing by 2017 and fined 880 million euros. One wonders if the fine was paid to the same entity that allowed the monopoly. To be fair the scandal also hit cartel partners DaimlerDAFMANIveco and Volvo/Renault.

Auto Maker Series: Sweden (9A) Volvo

Introduction to Swedish car maker series.

Polaris

Polestar is a Swedish automotive brand established in 1996 by Volvo Cars partner Flash/Polestar Racing and acquired in July of 2015 by Volvo. The racing team changed its name to Cyan Racing, but maintained good relations with Volvo. Polestar shares began trading on the Nasdaq exchange in June of 2022.

Headquartered in Gothenburg, Sweden, the company origins can be traced back to the foundation of Flash Engineering in 1996. In the 2000s, team was sold and rebranded to Polestar Racing, where they began engineering their own racing Volvos. The brand became the official Volvo partner to modify existing models in 2009, and in 2015 Volvo bought the brand so they could offer enhanced models directly from their resellers.

For a review of the Polestar 2 BST Edition – Review follow this link.

Polestar 2

Polestars first concept car in 2010 was the C30, with its 400 BPH, which they unveiled at the 2010 Gothenburg Motor show. The 2.5L Turbo engine with larger intercooler and KK & K 26 turbo, modified pistons, conrods and inlet camshaft power this beast. Giving it that race car handling Haldex AWD with Quaife mechanical differential brake front and rear, Öhlins shock absorbers and springs with 2.25 ratio steering rack, Brembo 380 mm front brake discs with six piston calipers, Brembo 330 mm rear brake discs with four piston calipers.

The C30’s heir, the Volvo S60 Polestar Concept, pushed the break horse power to 508. This car does 0 to 60 in 4.9 seconds and tops out at 190 MPH. And of course it looks cool.

Volvo

Volvo cars got their start on on April 14, 1927, because that’s when the first Volvo rolled off the assembly line, not when they were incorporated as most car companies typically consider their date of founding. Volvo the company got their start in 1915 as a subsidiary of SKF, a ball bearing manufacturer.

Currently, The Volvo Group, is a Swedish manufacturing corporation headquartered in Gothenburg. It’s  the world’s second-largest manufacturer of heavy-duty trucks, but they also make buses and construction equipment, marine and industrial drive equipment. The name means “I roll” in Latin, which is sort of funny given that Swedish is primarily derived from German.

1999, Volvo Cars sold to the Ford Motor Company and as of 2010 they are owned by the automotive company Geely Holding Group.

The first Volvo car

The idea behind the 1927, Volvo ÖV 4 was to build cars that could withstand Sweden’s rough roads and cold temperatures. Only 280 cars were built that first year. The next year Volvo made their first truck, which quickly became popular in Europe. The cars were not well known outside Sweden until after WWII.

Volvo began trading on the Stockholm Stock Exchange in 1935, and over the next few decades they acquired a few companies, all vehicle makers, which diversified their manufacturing. In the 1970’s they acquired non-manufacturing companies and veered further and further from being a car maker at all.

In 1977 Volvo attempted to merge with SAAB but was rejected. By 1981 auto sales accounted for only a quarter of Volvo revenue so the car portion was spun off into it’s own entity. French car maker Renault had been collaborating with Volvo since 1970, and when Volvo Car became it’s own entity Renault became a minor shareholder, only to sell back that share two years later. The 1990’s brought a deeper partnership between the two companies, sharing testing, development, and safety technology. In 1997 an attempted merger fell through and the two companies parted ways for good.

Volvo Museum in Gothenburg

Also in the 90’s, Volvo joint ventured with Mitsubishi at the former DAF plant in Born, Netherlands. The effort, called NedCar, would produce the first generation Mitsubishi Carisma and the Volvo S40/V40 in 1996. Volvo also dabbled in joint ventures with GM in the 90’s and attempted to merge with major commercial vehicle maker  Scania AB. The latter effort was blocked by the European Union.

Ultimately, Volvo Group sold Volvo Car Corporation to Ford Motor Company for $6.45 billion in January 1999, and went back to focusing on heavy haulers and big commercial vehicles. Ford made good use of the deal with the second generation Land Rover Freelander designed on the same platform as the second generation Volvo S80. The Volvo T5 petrol engine was used in the Ford Focus ST and RS performance models, and Volvo’s satellite navigation system going into select Aston Martins.

Volvo Group dabbled in Mitsubishi Motors, then sold that off a year later to DaimlerChrysler who were making a larger move on the company. Later Volvo Group acquired most of Renault’s heavy industries, including Mac Truck, and Renault continued to acquire shares in Volvo and Volvo group bought shares in Nissan Diesel, a part of the the Renault-Nissan Alliance. Volvo Group took complete ownership of Nissan Diesel in 2007. If this is already confusing, just know it gets worse from there and has little to do with car making.

Volvo cars is currently owned by Geely, a massive Chinese car maker, which we’ll cover in the Automakers Series Part 7.

Lynk & Co

This Chinese-Swedish automobile brand owned by Geely Automobile Holdings was founded in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2016, to target a young professional demographic by exploring internet connectivity and innovative purchasing models.

Lynk & Co 01

Yes it’s owned by the same parent company as Volvo and represents a close partnership. China Euro Vehicle Technology AB or CEVT developed a standard platform for Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) which Volvo uses and Lynk & Co announced three designs on that platform they intend to manufacture. Namely the crossover 01, the 03 sedan, and the 02, a smaller crossover based on the Volvo XC40. The 01 and 03 are already in production in China as of 2017.

Inspired by Tesla, Lynk & Co. sells directly to consumers over the net, though they opened 221 retail outlets in China as of 2019 and are expanding into Europe. In their first full year of sales, 2018, Lynk & Co reported sales of 120,414 vehicles in China.

Auto Maker Series – France (6F) Defunct

As we wrap up the French part of our Automakers Series we need to hit a few makers that are more or less no longer in business, because as a whole they contributed to the vehicle manufacture business in France in a significant way…or maybe they just had an interesting story. Check it out.

Matra

Founded in 1945 as a business, Matra began making cars in 1965. Headquartered in Romorantin-Lanthenay, France. This French industrial conglomerate focused on aeronautics, weaponry and following the acquisition of vehicle maker, Automobiles René Bonnet, automobiles.

Noteworthy: Matra is an acronym for Mécanique Aviation Traction.

The serial models and prototypes of Matra are rather an original page of the French car`history. Racing cars and serial cars were produced under this make from 1964 to 2003. At present, Matra is engaged in the production of eco-friendly electric vehicles. It is a subsidiary of the company Lagardere S.C.A.

Matra Bagheera

While non-car enthusiasts might better know the name Matra from their involvement in the European Space Agency (ESA) they’ve also been into media, weaponry, aeronautics, automobiles, music distribution, and various other state of the art technologies.

Trying to focus on just transportation you still discover everything from a fiberglass 14 ft sailing dinghy with an innovative double-bottom, self-bailing hull, called “Capricorne” as well as E-bikes and E-Scooters.

Matra got into cars in 1963 when they acquired Automobiles René Bonnet. Matra focused on sports cars like the  Renault-powered Matra Djet (pronounced “jet”), and the Bagheera, and later a type of SUV called the Rancho.

Avantime

The got into racing first with F3, then F2 and later F1 where they continued to at least supply engines up to 1982. They got into Le Mans endurance racing in 1972 where they were world champs in 73 and 74. Then they quit racing, perhaps because they also sold their entire car division to Chrysler Europe.

Through a series of partnerships via some of their subsidiaries they were back in vehicles by the mid 80’s where they helped Renault to develop the Espace minivan. As the Espace sales faded Matra tried again in 2001, the Renault Avantime, which flopped. By 2003 the car division was bankrupt and parted out.

Corre La Licorne

Founded in 1901 by Jean-Marie Corre. Headquartered in Levallois-Perret, France until it went defunct in 1949. Cars were produced until 1947. The first cars were named Corre, but due a few racing wins by driver Waldemar Lestienne, who came from an old family with a crest featuring a unicorn, the company took the name Corre La Licorne. When the name got routinely shortened it was Licorne that stuck.

Business began with the production of tricycles and a single-cylinder quadricycles. Waldemar Lestienne, gave the company recognition and sales improved to a point that rivaled more established brands like Renault, and Peugeot.

1910 saw the model list include three models but as with all European car makers, WWI happened. Unlike most other car companies that folded or shifted to a military contract, Licorne moved its factory and kept selling best they could. After the war they brought out a 1.2-liter engine version of a prewar model, but had to branch out into commercial vehicles and busses to remain afloat.

By the 1924 motor show Corre-La Licorne was up to four models, all torpedo bodied, the biggest seating six.

In 1927 the factory moved again, this time to Courbevoie where they began buying subassemblies from Citreon. Their dependence on that partnership would grow and eventually kill them.

Here’s why: Industry wide cars shifted to all steel bodies in the 1930’s. Companies that came through the war with fat military contracts had enough money to retool their factories with presses for the steel parts. Many other car makers needed to buy their body parts from a steel press, who priced to cover their own capitol investment. Many of these car makers transitioned to luxury or even bespoke custom models and survived on a tiny number of annual sales. Others switched to commercial vehicles. Licorne always went after the lower priced end of the market and boasted a wide range of models. The exact wrong business model for the market mega-shift.

In a desperate attempt to survive, Licorne patterned their cars after Citroen so they could use the same panels. Since they were also using Citroen motors, they were essentially making Citroens and charging less. It actually sort of worked because Citroen had pioneered front-wheel drive by this point, leaving Licorne to make the rear-wheel drive version.

This arrangement allowed them to fight through to roughly the end of WWII, at which point they weren’t a big enough employer to be included in the Pons Plan (government control of resources). They officially closed business in 1950 having produced 33,962 cars. So if you ever lay eyes on one it’s truly rare, take a picture for us.

Delage

Founded in 1905 by Louis Delage and headquartered in Levallois-Perret, France. The company was acquired by Delahaye in 1935 and ceased operation in 1953. They made luxury automobile and racecars. Interestingly the association “Les Amis de Delage,” which was born in 1956 acquired the Delage brand announced the re-founding of the company Delage Automobiles on November, 7, 2019. (Our hearts go out to anyone trying to launch a business in 2019.)

The beginnings were about as humble as you’ll find in the car industry–Delage left his job and borrowed 35,000 Franks to buy two lathes and hire three employees. One of those employees was Peugeot’s former chief designer. Delage scraped through their first couple years by making bodies for Helbé.

1924 Delage GL Skiff-Torpedo

Delage participated in motor racing, entering the Coupe de Voiturettes held at Rambouillet in November 1906. One of their cars wrecked in the rain but the other came in second. In 1907, the factory moved to the Rue Baudin Levallois though weak showing on the race track caused a delay in making too much use of the extra space. Fortunes changed in 1908 with a win at the Grand Prix des Voiturettes held 6 July. Having all their cars finish the race pushed sales to 300 units that year.

During WWI Delage produced munitions. After the war, Delage moved away from small cars and made its reputation with larger cars, starting with the CO and later the DO, the first passenger car with front brakes.

The 1920’s were good to Delage. In 1923 they went into Hillclimb racing. They continued to create bigger cars with bigger engines. By 1925 they added a supercharger to their latest engines and brought their horsepower to 195, which is a long way from 9 hp just 20 years before.

1939 Delage D8-120

The 1929 economic crash was brutal on luxury car makers, and Delage continued on to release the two models they’d been designing in the early 1930’s. Dalage licensed their transverse leaf and wishbone independent front suspension to Studebaker. Still, in 1932 Louis Delage was forced to take out a 25 Million franc loan in order to finance the tooling needed to put the D6 into production. He also had marital problems and was forced to sell his home on the Champs-Élysées to restructure his personal finances. On 20 April 1935 the factory in Courbevoie went into voluntary liquidation.

Delage would not admit defeat, and with the help of a businessman called Walter Watney created the Société Nouvelle des Automobiles Delage (SAFAD), to market Delage cars. Then the Germans marched into Paris essentially ending every hope of rallied sales.

The running prototype of the D12 (2022)

After WWII, Delage floated a Limo prototype which went no where. They managed to market some a 6-cylendar engine which other makers (Chapron, Letourner & Marchand and Guilloré) could build some cars around. Louis Delâge himself, lived in poverty and quasi-monastic isolation since bankruptcy in 1935 essentially transfered control of his company to longtime partner company Delahaye, and died in December 1947, and during the next few years any residual autonomy that Delage had as a company disappeared.

One final note on the brand. As mentioned above, 2019 saw a relaunch of the brand with Laurent Tapie, son of Bernard Tapie, at the helm. The flag ship product is a street legal hypercar called the Delage D12. This car is powered by a V12 engine of 990 hp coupled to an electric motor of 110 hp for a total of 1,100 hp. It is made in France and they plan so sell 20 a year for $2 million each.

Facel Vega

Founded in 1939 by Jean Daninos, a Greek-French constructor of cars, Facel Vega was headquartered in Paris, France until it went defunct in1964. Facel (acronym of Forges et Ateliers de Constructions d’Eure-et-Loir) in December 1939 started as a spin off of a French subcontracting company for military aeronautics Bronzavia. WWII caused the separation of companies along the lines of their different focuses.

After the war Facel merged with Métallon, and began making short-run special bodies, coupés or cabriolets for SimcaFord of FrancePanhard and Delahaye. They would ultimately make 2,900 cars of all models total–all hand-built in Facel’s short existence.

Panhard

René Panhard, Émile Levassor founded Panhard et Levassor in 1891 near Paris France, making it one of the earliest automobile makers ever. While the company would go through several incarnations before eventually being swallowed, merged and rebranded by Renault, it’s rich history as a French car maker deserves a closer look.

Panhard has an interesting early history with plenty of drama. Their first few cars were made for sale but as one off, highly innovative, designs they were more like our current idea of a concept car. All that experimenting and the fact that it was shared with  Gottlieb Daimler made Panhard a big part of the creation of automobile design going forward.

All this sharing came about because Panhard’s first car (made and sold) in 1890 was designed around Daimler power plant, which he got through a license deal via Daimler’s friend, attorney and representative-to-France, a man named Edouard Sarazin. Apparently Sarazin also became friends with Panhard until his sudden death, after which Panhard married his widow, Louise, through whom he met Gottlieb himself. Daimler and Panhard collaborated informationally on several cars from there.

Panhard et Levassor (1887-1895)

In 1891, the company built its first all-Levassor design, called the Système Panhard consisting of four wheels, a front-mounted engine with rear wheel drive. Making it work together was a crude sliding-gear transmission considered “state of the art” until 1928 when Cadillac came out with a much better design.

In 1895 Levassor, piloted one of the cars in the Paris–Bordeaux–Paris race finishing second in 48¾hrs. Only one year later, during the 1896 Paris–Marseille–Paris race, Levassor was fatally injured trying to avoid hitting a dog.

Arthur Krebs took over the reigns of the company and built it into a market topping success until WWI. Panhard et Levassor developed the Panhard rod, which came to be used in many other makers cars and they continued racing success up through 1903.

During the war, Panhard made military trucks, V12-cylinder aero-engines, gun components, and large 75 and 105 diameter shells, but was most recognized for making the cars that transported the President of France and his most senior generals around. (Panhard’s engines were desirable because of their piston sleeves.)

1933 Panhard et Levassor X74

Between wars, Panhard returned to making economical 4 cylinder cars, and since their engine design was pretty much dialed in, they focused on upgrading electronics. The did, however, upgrade to steel cylinder sleeves (instead of cast iron). Panhard did display some 6-cylinder and 8-cylinder models in the late 1920’s but had dropped to back to only two models in the early 1930’s in response to the terrible world economy.

1960 Panhard DB Le Mans

Post World War II the company was renamed Panhard (without “Levassor”), and produced light cars. One noteworthy hiccough came from a decision by Jean Panhard (the founders son and new leader). Steel was being rationed so they made the brilliant choice to use aluminum which was lighter and stronger. However, the cost was miscalculated because of material excess that’s cut away during the die process. The company had nearly gone bankrupt retooling for the aluminum parts and now they needed to retool back to steel. They actually left unaltered as much of the dies as they could, which meant many of the 1955 Dyna Z models had steel bodies at the thickness required for aluminum. What was meant to be a lighter vehicle was really a tank, now, but a little under powered for the weight.

Panhard had success in racing after the war but that ended in the deadly 1955 La Mans. The last Panhard passenger car was built in 1967. They continued to build truck parts for Citroen for several years, ultimately to be acquired by Citroen, who retired the brand. They continued to employ the factory and workers to make armored cars after that.

1963-1967 Panhard 24

Of course Citroen was eventually part of the whole PSA Peugeot Citroën thing eventually. In 2004, Panhard lost a competition to Auverland, for the supplier of PVP to the French Army. Auverland then bought Panhard and as they had the better name recognition, they began making armored cars that bore a Panhard badge.  

So is Panhard dead or not? Well, in October 2012, Renault Trucks Defense (division of Swedish Volvo Group) finalized the acquisition of Panhard. So at this point the only thing baring the name Panhard is the Panhard rod, a suspension link invented by Panhard that provides lateral location of the axle. Aka the Panhard bar, is a common upgrade on vintage vehicles if they weren’t already installed in the original.

Simca

Henri Pigozzi was into the car business in the early 1920s when he met Fiat founder Giovanni Agnelli. In 1922 they started a business together scrapping old automobile bodies by sending them to Fiat for recycling. Two years later Pigozzi became Fiat’s General Agent in France, and in 1926 founded SAFAF (Société Anonyme Française des Automobiles Fiat). In 1928, SAFAF started the assembly of Fiat cars in Suresnes near Paris, and licensed the production of some parts to local suppliers, selling as many as 30,000 Fiat cars by 1934.

Despite France being occupied, Simca cars continued to be produced in small numbers throughout the war. Obviously Pagozzi and Fiat were Italian and their factories weren’t bombed heavily in WWII causing rumors to fly regarding their real allegiance.

Simca 1000 GL (1974)

After liberation in 1944, the Italian connection became a liability and the French Government eyed them as part of their automotive industry restructuring efforts. As the Pons Plan came into force, and the government pushed Simca into a merger with companies such as Delahaye-Delage, Bernard, Laffly and Unic. They called the proposed company “Générale française automobile” (GFA).

The French government also decided GFA’s first car should be a small family car based on what Volkswagen was doing. They likely got this idea from Albert Grégoire an influential personality with considerable engineering talent. Gregoire believed in front-wheel drive and aluminum as a material for car bodies. A couple weeks after the liberation, Grégoire joined the Simca board as General Technical Director.

Renault had already been nationalized, the threat of that fate was very real for Simca. Pagozzi fought to keep his place in his own company and he found a willing accomplice in Jean-Albert Grégoire, in exchange for a promise to make a two-door people’s car he designed.

Simca Aronde (1956)

The four-door version of this car, also designed by Gregoire, went into production as the Panhard Dyna. Pagozzi hated the look of the car and had his designers dress it up as best he could, eventually landing on something looking a lot like the Peugeot 203. By the end of 1946 enthusiasm for the project had drained even from the government. The project was scrapped and Gregoire resigned in 1947.

During most of its post-war activity, Simca was one of the biggest automobile manufacturers in France. The French economy was soft so they pushed for exports. It was also difficult since they couldn’t compete with Fiat, their major shareholder.

After WWII Simca bought Ford, which dominated the 1950’s. After Simca bought Ford‘s French subsidiary, became increasingly controlled by Chrysler. In 1970, Simca became a brand of the Chrysler’s European business, ending its period as an independent company. Simca disappeared in 1978, when Chrysler divested its European operations to another French automaker, PSA Peugeot Citroën.

Best of the Web: Bond Cars…

Meet the Man Who Owns 41 James Bond Vehicles

Link to Original Story

Doug Redenius, co-founder of the Ian Fleming Foundation, started the collection with the submarine from For Your Eyes Only.

BYKRISTIN V. SHAW| UPDATED NOV 23, 2021 3:22 AM

“There’s a risk that if these vehicles were sitting mothballed, we’d eventually run out of money,” Redenius says.

Auto Maker Series – France (6E) Other

Some of the most interesting car makers are the small, boutique companies that technically create vehicles but not really for the commercial sales market. France is particularly loaded with this kind of automotive innovators and customizers.

Rumen 4 Stroke

4 Stroke Rumen

The story of the Rumen 4-Stroke begins in Sophia Bulgaria in1944 (still under Soviet control) with the birth of Roumen Antonov. Antonov graduated with a degree in Nuclear Physics though he studied engineering and design because of his interest in automobiles. He was also passionate about medicine and worked to cure atherosclerosis. His most notable contribution to automotive innovations was designing the direct shift gearbox.

Noteworthy: Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) automates two separate “manual” gearboxes (and clutches) contained within one housing and working as one unit. By using two independent clutches, a DSG can achieve faster shift times and eliminates the torque converter of a conventional epicyclic automatic transmission.

Antonov moved to  Le Mesnil-Amelot, France (1998) where he was able to build a prototype car–a rebodied Toyota Aygo made to resemble the Bugatti Atlantic of 1938. The power for this car was an unconventional, valveless, four-stroke engine connected to the Antonov Automatic Drive transmission. The prototype made two appearances; at the 2002 Paris Motor Show and at the 2005 Frankfurt Motor Show. Antonov saw the car as appealing to wealthy women in the US and UK and felt that building the car in France suggested high-end luxury and refinement.

The cars body is carbon fiber composite on steel frame and it was powered by a three-cylinder 998cc engine with a five speed sequential semi-automatic gearbox. All for a meager $70,000 in 2007.

Bolloré

This French conglomerate headquartered in Puteaux, on the western outskirts of ParisFrance was officially founded in1822. In 2004, the group ranked amongst the top 200 European companies with interests worldwide from olive groves in the US to oil storage and pipelines in France.

Bolloré Bluecar charging at Autolib’ Station on boulevard Diderot, Paris

Bolloré manufactures the Bolloré Bluecar, a small electric car, initially produced to showcase the company’s range of electric power cells. The Bluecar was introduced in December 2011 as part of the Autolib’ carsharing service in Paris.

Bollore’s key to success seems to be partnerships like the one they formed with Pininfarina, to create a concept car, the  Pininfarina B0 (“B Zero”) a four-seat hatchback featuring a roof-integrated solar panel with a solid-state lithium-polymer battery, supercapacitors, for a 153 mile range. Or the one they have with Autolib to charge electric vehicles and eBikes at stations around Europe.

Bolloré Bluebus 22 is a 6-metre-long electric microbus with a capacity of 22 passengers of which only two have been made, but we await updates on the future of this project.

MDI – Motor Development International

Prototype – powered by compressed air

This Luxembourg-French based company designs products in both mobility and energy storage using a compressed air engine.

Established by Guy Nègre with company headquarters in Luxembourg and production departments based in Carros in southeastern France. The company’s goal is an environmentally sound way to move people. Their approach is quite novel.

As a company MDI marketed their zero-emission technology to car companies around the globe with several takers buying the license to the technology pioneered by MDI, including a company called Zero Pollution Motors in the United States. However, when MDI didn’t produce a finished production model most of the companies haven’t done anything with the tech. The project remained theoretically possible from 2009 to 2012 when Tata motors of India succeeded in putting an MDI designed motor in one of their cars.

2022 Airpod Concept Car

Confusion ensued as news spread that Tata motors would begin production of the MDI OneCat prototype, but was cleared up eventually. 2016 was a eventful year for MDI as founder Guy Nègre, passed away and they became one of eight finalists for the United Nations‘ Powering The Future We Want program. Losing that program didn’t kill the company however, and Tata Motors announced a year later that they had completed the industrialization phase of development and were on track to start making cars in 2020. The pandemic has no doubt caused delays in these plans but the world may yet see a commuter car that runs on compressed air.

This leaves only one question. How environmentally sound will the power be that compresses the air into the tank on the vehicle. Still, by eliminating the non-recyclable batteries which need components you get by strip mining and weigh a thousand extra pounds per car, there are significant advantages over EV’s. It’s too bad the United Nations went all in on EV’s for some reason…

5 One Hit Wonder Cars

Ford Pinto

In the automotive world, there are many one-hit wonders. These cars made a big splash when they were first released but quickly faded into obscurity. While some one-hit wonders disappeared for good, others stage a comeback and become cult classics. This blog will look at some of the most famous one-hit wonder cars. We’ll explore their history, examine what made them so famous and try to answer why they ultimately fell out of favor.

Amphicar

While the Amphicar may not have had the longevity of some other vehicles, it certainly made a splash upon its launch. The Amphicar was a unique concept – a car that could also function as a boat. While it wasn’t the first amphibious vehicle, it was certainly the most successful.

Production of the Amphicar happened from 1961-1968, and its total production was 3,878 units. While the Amphicar may have been ahead of its time, it ultimately failed due to reliability issues. Nevertheless, the Amphicar remains an iconic example of innovation and is worth remembering.

Ford Pinto

When the Ford Pinto first hit the road in the early ’70s, it brought a lot of excitement. Lee Iacocca challenged his design team to create a car in two years, that was less than 2,000 lbs, and could retail for less than $2,000. The Pinto was fuel-efficient and featured rack and pinion steering, which was an innovation at the time. However, the Pinto soon began to lose its luster when rumors started swirling about corners being cut where safety was concerned. There were reports of faulty structural design, and this caused many people to lose faith in the car. The Pinto managed to limp along for a 10-year production run within which the automaker produced 3 million units. While it may not have been the most successful car on the market, it made its mark in automotive history.

DeLorean DMC 12

The DeLorean DMC 12 looked like a car ahead of its time. The DeLorean was unique with its rear-mounted engine, brushed stainless steel body panels, and distinctive gull-wing doors. Though its production lasted for only 30 years, DeLorean garnered a cult following due to its portrayal in the Back to the Future film series. Today, film fans still revere DeLorean, and it will remain an iconic car for years.

BMW Isetta

The BMW Isetta came to the auto market in 1953 and quickly became known for its unique design. The entire front of the car could open up, making it easy to get in and out. In addition, the car was incredibly lightweight, which made it fuel efficient. Despite its quirky design, the BMW Isetta was a commercial failure. BMW only sold 160,000 units before discontinuing production in 1962. However, Isetta’s innovative design helped to put BMW on the map as a leading auto manufacturer. And while the Isetta may have been a flop, it still holds a place in automotive history.

Peel P50

The Peel P50 is a car that lasted only two years, between 1962 and 1965. The automaker produced only 47 units, making it one of the rarest cars in the world. The P50 came as a ‘city car,’ and its tiny size (just 54 inches long) makes it perfect for maneuvering through busy streets. The P50 also holds the distinction of being the lightest car ever produced, weighing in at just 49 pounds. Despite its small size, the P50 is fully street-legal and can reach up to 30 miles per hour.

So, if you’re ever in the market for a unique piece of automotive history, keep your eye out for the abovementioned units. They’re few and far between, but they’re out there.

Auto Maker Series – France (6D) Bugatti & More

We thought we saved one of the best for last, since Bugatti is one of the quintessentially French car makers alongside Citroen and Peugeot. We thought Bugatti was the last independent car maker in France to cover. However, Bugatti is now owned by VW Group and we found a few more cars in the process of researching that means we’ll have at least two more posts in this series. Still, there’s there’s plenty of interesting facts to check into.

We’ve covered VW Group, this German multinational automotive manufacturer headquartered in WolfsburgLower Saxony before.

Of course this installment isn’t only about Bugatti. There are a few other interesting car makers in France worth checking out.

Bugatti Automobiles

Ettore Bugatti

Founded in 1909 and now belonging to VW group Bugatti makes fast, well-designed cars. Most well known for their Veyron, which has held records for speed some years, their current fastest model is the 1500-hp Chiron, a hypercar with a top speed of 261 mph.

Though VW Group considers modern Bugatti to have been founded in 1998, the Bugatti name was first made famous by Ettore Bugatti (1881–1947), who built sports, racing and luxury cars.

The company is currently based in MolsheimAlsace, France, though Ettore founded the company in in Molsheim Germany. It probably makes things less confusing to know that the mountainous border region currently known as Alsace has been traded back and forth between France and Germany.

Another potential confusion, if you hear the name Bugatti and think Italian you’d be right. Bugatti was born into an art family in Milan, but took an opportunity to design for Baron Adrien de Turckheim in Alsace.

Side Note: The Franco-Prussian War had left De Dietrich with two car factories in two different countries–Alsace, had been part of Germany since 1871, reverted to French control only in 1919.

Before launching his own car factory, Ettore left the Baron’s employ in 1904 to form “Mathis-Hermes (Licence Bugatti) with his new friend Émile Mathis. Then he set up a “Research centre” at Illkirch-Graffenstaden, now a suburb on the south-side of Strasbourg where he built several prototypes.

Going out on his own Bugatti became known for some of the fastest, and technologically advanced road cars of its day. Exceptionally engineered Bugatti’s cars had great success in early Grand Prix motor racing, including victory in the first Monaco Grand Prix.

Ettore was Italian living on the border of France and Germany, while he was displaced from his home during WWI he cooled his heels designing airplane engines that were never put into production. Between the wars Bugatti designed a successful motorized railcar dubbed the Autorail Bugatti, then won a contract to build design and build airplanes for the German government though WWII broke out before he could make money from it.

Bugatti Type 59 Grand Prix

Bugatti’s son, Jean, was killed in 1939 at the age of 30 while testing driving a car, and the factory was destroyed in WWII. Bugatti had 6 kids and two wives, a reputation for bad customer service, and died in an apartment he owned in Paris because his the French government seized his estate during the “post-liberation frenzy.” He collapsed into a coma in the summer of 1947 (from “mental fatigue”) and never knew that he won his property back in court two months later.

Why so much about Ettore Bugatti of history?

Well, because modern Bugatti was established in 1998 as a wholly owned subsidiary of Porsche SE. An Italian man by the name of Romano Artioli owned a string of car dealerships (primarily Ferrari and Suzuki) when he bought the Bugatti trademark name in 1987 with Jan K Breitfeld, under a holding company of course.

Bugatti Divo 2018 Paris Motor Show

He managed to produce the Bugatti EB 110 between 1991 and 1995, he went bankrupt and then sold the rights off Volkswagen in April 1998. In 2000, Volkswagen officially incorporated Bugatti Automobiles S.A.S. and bought  Ettore Bugatti‘s guest house near Molsheim, Château Saint Jean, and remodeled it as the company’s headquarters. They failed to get Bugatti’s manufacturing plant from French aerospace engine maker, Semca (now Safran Aircraft Engines) so they built their own small plant on the property near their headquarters. The company managed to produce 700 luxury sports cars between then and 2020 when Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess declared the unprofitable brand as ballast and announced that it was up for sale.

2021, Bugatti made and delivered 77 cars, turning in their most profitable year. July 2021 Bugatti joint ventured with Croatian car maker, Rimac Automotive. December 2021, Bugatti officially created its own bespoke division – Sur Mesure (French for “Tailored”).

Bugatti Cars

Bugatti Veyron

Volkswagen commissioned Italdesign‘s Giorgetto Giugiaro to design a series of concept cars, all of which used a first-ever on a passenger vehicle W-configuration engine–basically 3 V-6 engines side-by-side. However, these cars would require major factory overhaul and though VW did unveil a winner to go to production for a cool $1.4 million each, they decided instead to focus on a replacement for their successful Veyron.

The Company designed the Veyron in 2000 and 2001, though the prototype was called the EB 16/4 for 16 cylinders/fourth design. Initially, production was scheduled to start in 2003 and actual production began in September 2005. On June 26, 2010, the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport set the world speed record for road-legal production sports cars with a top speed of 267.86 mph.

This all-wheel-drive 16-cylinder car has an 8.0-liter engine with four turbochargers and an engine-output of 987 horsepower.

Bugatti Chiron

2015, Bugatti announced that the successor to the Veyron, the Chiron (in honor of Monegasque racing driver Louis Chiron). February 29, 2016, Bugatti unveiled its new Chiron hypercar at the Geneva Motor Show. Same 8.0-liter, 16-cylinder engine with four turbochargers, but now with 1,479 horsepower (and 1,600 Newton meters of torque.) Zero to 62mph in 2.4 seconds (186 mph in 13.1 seconds) with a top speed of 261 mph.

In July 2019, Bugatti built the 200th Chiron & September 2019, Bugatti will break the 300-mile barrier with a modified Chiron (a first in “production” cars).

Starting in 2018 Bugatti began making limited run vehicles like: the Divo hypercar (limited to 40 units),
the La Voiture Noire (only 1 made), La Voiture Noire (Black Car), Bolide (still in production) and eventually the Mistral.

Modern Bugatti has won countless awards and in 2019 unveiled a titanium brake caliper, the largest printed titanium component ever in the world. Ironic since Ettore once told a customer who complained about difficult braking, “I make my cars to go, not stop!”

Ligier

Founded in 1968 by former racecar driver and rugby player Guy Ligier and headquartered in Abrest, France.

Ligier is best known for its Formula One team, Équipe Ligier, that operated from 1976 to 1996. Ligier entered Formula One in 1976 with a Matra V12-powered car, winning its first Grand Prix with Jacques Laffite in 1977. Ligier also competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1970 to 1975.

Ligier JS2.

Ligier now specialized in the manufacturing of microcars and microbuses. The firm entered the automobile business with the Ligier JS2, a mid-engine sports car for the road powered first by a Ford V6 and later Maserati V6 engine. The 1973 energy crisis caused such a decline in the market for the JS2 they ceased making these cars. However, In August 2018, Ligier teased a new road-going sports car to celebrate their 50th anniversary. 

The Ligier vehicle that’s gained the most attention, is EZ10 EasyMile, a self-driving shuttle bus for light city transit. EasyMile SAS develops and markets the autonomous vehicles, and is a joint venture formed in June 2014 by Ligier and Robosoft Technology PTE Ltd (France).

Ligier EZ10 self-driving minibus

The CityMobil2 project is joint venture with Seventh Framework Programme for research and technological development. One EZ10 minibus can take between 8–10 passengers, and its speed is up to 25 mph. In 2017, EZ-10 was introduced on the grounds of National Taiwan University in Taipei, and in TallinnEstonia. The buses will serve one line, including a stretch of tram line under reconstruction, and will run in Tallinn until the end of August.

Least we confuse our readers, Ligier is technically owned by the Italian private equity firm 21 Investimenti Partners

Microcar (brand)

Founded in 1984 to service a very specific niche, Microcar makes a two seat car that 16-year-olds can drive without a license. A “safety bow” takes up the room behind the driver and passenger seat and provides additional protection for occupants. The car also tops out at 45 km/h which restricts the kind of roads it can use.

Microcar NewStreet Cabriolet

Founded as a division of Bénéteau group, a major sailboat manufacturer, Microcar was acquired by none other than Ligier Automobiles in 2008. Microcar and Ligier brands are to retain their separate identities and production facilities, though they now technically form the Europe’s second-biggest microcar maker, and largest maker of quadricycles, or “sans permis” (license-exempt) vehicles.

After the merger Microcar launched their first model in 2009, the M.Go model, which was available in 6 trim packages. Prior to that they had a long-running MC Series models, sold as the MC1 and MC2. The M.Go was produced with a petrol engine for the UK market and around 2015 it was replaced with the creatively named M.GO-3.

Prior to the merger Microcar also made a commercial run-a-bout called the Sherpa, though it was a rebadged Ligier X-Pro. This model didn’t survive the merger.

M.Go 3
Side Note: The M.Go was available in an extended version that was 40mm longer incase you need leg room.

It seems natural for a maker of tiny cars to go EV, and in a way they did.  ZENN Motor Company of Canada began buying Engineless Chases from Microcar and installing their own electric drivetrain. Microcar started distributing Zenn in Europe. While Zenn wasn’t an EV by modern todays thinking it was a “Neighborhood Electric Vehicle“(NEV) with a top speed about 25MPH. Then in 2009 Microcar brought EV moto building into their own factory so Zenn ceased to exist.

Genty Akylone

Founded and developed in 2011, built in Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule since 2017, Genty makes sports cars–15 coupés and 10 roadsters so far. Not 25 models, 25 cars. Never let it be said the Kicker writers don’t do there research. These cars are rear-wheel-drive, mid-engine, which are 6.0L Chevrolet twin turbo V8
5.2L Alpha Lamborghini twin turbo V10 (Prototype), and the transmission is 6-speed sequential + 1-reverse gear, limited slip differential.

Hommell

Founded in 1992, the first model of Hommell was designed in the 1994. Creator Michel Hommell is an editor of a French car periodical specialized on motor sport /sports cars. The make exists to manufacture cars for the French action movie “Michel Vaillant: Need for Speed.” It doesn’t get much tinier than this, folks.

The company is based in Lohéac, near Rennes, Brittany. A 2-seat sports coupe, powered by a mid-mounted 2.0lt Peugeot engine and 6 speed gearbox in a tubular steel chassis with all-round independent suspension was shown at the 1994 Geneva Motor Show. So they do also have a production model.

Auto Maker Series – France (6C) Stellantis

Today we return to exploring the car makers of France, one of the other large automakers in Europe. In fact this post will cover three of France’s most storied, most successful companies that ultimately became the core of Stellantis one of the most dominate vehicle manufacturing conglomerates in the world. Check it out.

Here is a link to Stellantis Italy and here Stellantis America Part 1 and Part 2.

Citroën

Founded in 1919 by French industrialist André Citroën, who was from a Jewish Diamond family. Andre’s influences were the death by suicide of his father when he was six, and watching the construction of the Eiffel Tower for the World Exhibition, and the writings of Jewels Verne.

The company name is eponymous, but the name itself came about from Andre’s grandfather in the Netherlands who sold citrus and took a name meaning “lime-man” which Andre’s father changed to Citroen. Upon moving to France, one of Andre’s grade school teacher made it French by adding the diaeresis over the e. All of this is only interesting to Americans who might wonder at a car maker names “Lemon.”

Although virtually unheard of by Americans (aside from those who visited Europe) Citroen is one of the best selling French brands in Europe.

Their popularity could be attributed to savvy pricing and it’s wide range of “style-forward” vehicles. At one point Citroen gained a reputation for their sports cars, and while that reputation faded for several decades it has returned with their C4 Cactus and DS5 models (recognized for engineering excellence).

What Andre Citroen is best known for his application of double helical gears. A helical gear is one that has angled ridges in place of teeth. Essentially a double helical has two of these gears fastened together with one reversed of the other. As the story goes Andre saw a carpenter working on a set of gears with a fish bone structure while on vacation. These gears were less noisy, and more efficient. Citroën bought the patent for very little money and created the first of several innovations in automotive history.

Side Note: The Double helical gear looks from the top like a row of V’s which is why Citroen’s Logo is two Chevrons.

Among these innovations was the world’s first car to be mass-produced with front-wheel drive, four-wheel independent suspension, as well as unibody construction, the 1934 Traction Avant. Citroen went on to cell roughly three quarters of a million units of this car line.

Another innovation came in 1954 with the world’s first hydropneumatic self-levelling suspension system. Their 1955 DS, became the first mass-produced car with modern disc brakes, and in 1967 the built some of these models with swiveling headlights that allowed for greater visibility on winding roads.

History of Citroen

In 1908 Andre became chairman for the automotive company Mors, where he did well. During WWI he built ammunition for the French army. As the war drew to a close, Andre realized he would soon have a factory making a product for which there was little demand, so he went back to what he knew–cars.

Citroën asked the engineer Louis Dufresne, previously with Panhard, to design a technically-sophisticated 18HP automobile even before the war ended, however Andre realized, like Ford, that the best way forward would be lighter, quality cars, made less expensive through modern production efficiency. So in February 1917 Citroën contacted another engineer, Jules Salomon, who earned a reputation for designing  Le Zèbre.

March 1919, just four months after the guns fell silent, Citroen announced his new Type A, a 10 HP car that would be more robust and less costly to produce than any rival. Two months later the first Type A was made and it sold by the end of June.

Citroen nearly sold out at that point to GM, but instead remained independent until 1935. Andre seems to have been handy at marketing as he convinced Alda business owner, Fernand Charron, to lend him the show-room (Number 42) on the Champs-Élysées in Paris which normally sold Alda cars. The relationishp with Charron continued and Charron later became an investor in Citroen, who still uses this location to display its concept cars.

Side Note: Citroën used the Eiffel Tower as the world’s largest advertising sign, as recorded in Guinness World Records.

Here’s what you really need to know about Citroen:

Nearly every car built at the time, the 1920s and early 1930s, followed the Ford Model T pattern. Bolt everything onto a steel ladder-like base, use a stiff rear axel the connects the engine via driveshaft. It produced cars cheaply, but with other problems, they were heavy for one.

Andre saw an opportunity to build a whole new kind of car. One where the body itself produced the strength to hold hold everything–even the engine. The quest to develop this and the resulting other innovations required more and more capital without seeing a return. In 1927, the bank Lazard brought much-needed investment, and renegotiated Citroën’s debt (Getting a seat on the board).

In December 1934 Citroen went bankrupt, Michelin, already the car manufacturer’s largest creditor, became its principal shareholder and Pierre Michelin became the chairman of Citroën early in 1935. Later that year Andre Citroen died of stomach cancer.

The gamble on innovation worked out. The Traction Avant became the car that pioneered the mass production of three revolutionary features–Unibody Frame, four wheel independent suspension and front-wheel drive. Basically it was the first modern car and it met with market acceptance.

What’s significant about the Michelin era is that the VP of Michelin, a man named Pierre-Jules Boulanger soon became the head of Citroen. JP was a WWI air reconnaissance photography specialist where he won both of the highest medals available in the French military. He was bold and not a fan of Germany. During Nazi occupation of France in WWII, Citroen made Wehrmacht trucks as slowly as possible, many of which had dipsticks that tricked operators into underfilling the oil, which led to engine failure. In fact JP Boulanger was on the Nazi hitlist be the time Allied troops landed on the shores of France.

More importantly for Citroen, JP was able to keep top researchers working in secret on three revolutionary designs, one of which (the DS) would later place third in the 1999 Car of the Century competition for it’s  hydropneumatic self-levelling suspension system, modern disc brakes, power steering, semi-automatic transmission. All in 1955!

JP would die in 1950 before the DS came to market, but his contribution to automotive design is about as big as you can ask for.

What could go wrong?

It’s hard to explain why Citroen would go bankrupt yet again, this time in 1974. They followed their same strategy of leading with innovation, which had earned them a loyal following. Without taking their foot off the gas of innovation they needed to create a car that would fill a gap in their line up, and they needed to get a more powerful car to compete as an exporter. They literally didn’t have a car to compete in the midsized car category, which was the biggest market. (Post WWII France taxed cars with big engine which prevented car makers from creating an affordable car that would carry a family.)

This lead them to spend 15 years buying companies like Panhard, Berliet, and Maserati. They also joint ventured on the  Wankel engine through a subsidiary known as Comotor. They actually succeeded in creating the mid-size Citroën GS, that would sell about 2.5 million units in the early 70’s. But it was too little too late this time.

In the late 1960’s Michelin decided to return to their roots making tires and as part of that effort they sold a 49% share of Citroen to FIAT. In 1973, Fiat sold back to Michelin its 49% stake.  The 1973 energy crisis basically made all their energies working with Comotor and Maserati to make a bigger engine pointless. In 1974, the carmaker withdrew from North America due to U.S. design regulations that outlawed core features of Citroën.

Ironically, Citroen would spend a ton of money to develop a number of innovative new models that it could no longer capitalize on. The GSGS BirotorCXSMMaserati BoraMaserati MerakMaserati Quattroporte II, and Maserati Khamsin were very advanced cars for their time. When Maserati sold in 1974, new owner (De Tomaso) was grateful for the injection of technology and made money on his  Bi-Turbo models.  Berliet was sold to Renault.

Fearing massive unemployment the French government stepped in and negotiated a takeover/merger with Peugeot and PSA Group was born. Peugeots’ influence can be summed up by saying they expanded into new markets and countries by erasing everything unique about Citroen’s design and appearance.

Citroen would go on to perform well in China and has recently entered the market in India. The new CEO, as of PSA, and former CEO of Citroen, launched an ironic initiative in 2020, to explore success through brand differentiation.

DS Automobiles

Founded in 2009 makes DS Auto one of the new kids on the block. Headquartered in Paris and created by Citroën to make Luxury cars. DS has been a standalone brand since 2015. The name is a bit confusing as in French it’s pronounced like the word déesse, meaning “goddess,” it’s now rumored to stand for Different Spirit or Distinctive Series.

If the name DS sounds familiar it’s because Citroen’s model DS was their best seller for decades. The French love this goddess play on words, which is lost on buyers in the US.

The story of DS is pretty straight forward. Neither Peugot nor Citroen have ever been successful at creating a luxury model. In an effort to do what similar to Chevrolet/Buick or Honda/Acura did, PSA created DS.

2020 DS Aero Sport Lounge

It makes a lot of sense that PSA would go to Citroen for a brand that requires differentiation, but then they hired Korean designer Jin Joo to design a logo that looks nothing like the double chevron and they release what is basically rebadged versions of the DS3, DS4, and DS5. According to PSA CEO Carlos Tavares, DS would would distinguish itself from Citroën cars by using “separate manufacturing and engineering standards.” Which sounds to us a lot like saying, “we can make better cars if you pay more.”

There’s not a lot to say here as the experiment will need more time to succeed or fade. There are some troubling signs.

Peugeot

Founded in 1882 Headquartered in Currently in Poissy, the company was born in Sochaux where they maintain a factory and museum. The Peugeot family made hand tools and kitchen equipment as a company starting around 1810 and graduated to steam tricycle (in collaboration with Léon Serpollet) in 1889. They made their first combustion engine car a year later, by using a  PanhardDaimler engine.

The family owned a foundry and began making everything they could that was comprised of steel. If it seems like a stretch from kitchenware to cars this is the chain of products–metal ribs for  crinoline dresses, then umbrellas, then bicycle wheel spokes, then bicycles and then cars.

Peugeot was an early pioneer in motor racing, with Albert Lemaître winning the world’s first motor race, the Paris–Rouen, in a 3 hp Peugeot which steered via tiller and had solid rubber tires, although they technically came in 2nd to a steam powered car which was a violation of the rules. By their third race Michelin soon put pneumatic tires on the car which weren’t very durable.

1899 Peugeot made a third of all the cars sold in France (300/1,200), and by 1903, they made half of the cars built in France, despite quitting racing in 1901. By 1912 Peugeot was back in racing. They wracked up a string of wins including a 1915 win at the French GP and Vanderbilt Cup.

During the First World War, Peugeot turned largely to arms production, becoming a major manufacturer of arms and military vehicles, from armored cars and bicycles to shells. After the war, car production resumed and racing resumed. Georges Boillot, one of the three original engineer/drivers known as Les Charlatans of Peugeot, entered a car with 120,000 miles on it in the 1919 Targa Florio, and won through superior driving.

1929 brought the Peugeot 201, the cheapest car on the French market. It was also the first car to use the naming convention or three numbers with a 0 for the middle digit. (The first digit indicates the size and the third indicates the generation. This has since become a registered Peugeot trademark.

Note: 1934, Peugeot introduced the 402 BL Éclipse Décapotable, the first convertible with a retractable hardtop.

Peugeot as with most car makers faced several periods of struggle as a company. Clearly WWI & WWII impacted every car company that existed through those times as did the fuel crisis during the 1970’s. As many but not most makers, they survived in large part by moving their manufacturing to other countries where it could be done cheaper.

Peugeot somehow continued to make cars through German occupation though mainly by using up supplies they’d already stockpiled.

Peugeot range of models is wide and their prices competitive. The company has traditionally not been on the cutting edge of design, innovation or luxury although they’ve recently turned a corner with their 3008 crossover and RCZ coupe which get high marks for performance. Peugeot has received many international awards for its vehicles, including six European Car of the Year awards.

With the 1975 takeover of Citroen, the goal was to maintain separate brands while sharing technology and resources. The group then took over the European division of Chrysler, which were formerly Rootes and Simca. (In 1978 Chrysler America struggled to exist.)  

At one point PSA group had three partners, one of which was Talbot. The whole Chrysler/Simca range was sold under the revived Talbot badge until 1987.

In March 2012, General Motors purchased a 7% share in Peugeot for 320 million euros as part of a cooperation aimed at finding savings through joint purchasing and product development. In December 2013, GM sold its entire Peugeot stake, taking a loss of about 70 million euros.

Peugeot 208, 2020 Car of the year in Europe

February 2014, the shareholders agreed to a recapitalisation plan for the PSA Group, giving Dongfeng Motors and the French government each 14% stake in the company. So far the biggest expansion of sale is in Asia, although PSA continues to pursue markets where they don’t yet have a toe hold.

Peugeot, like Citroen was part of the PSA group prior to the creation of Stellantis. If we haven’t spent much time talking about their car designs it’s because they just don’t stick out very much as you can see from the pictures.

Auto Maker Series – France (6B) Renault

Groupe Renault aka Renault Group, but legally Renault S.A. is a true car maker of France as you’ll learn below. As a company, they produces a range of cars and vans (and in the past trucks, tractors, tanks, buses/coaches, aircraft and autorail vehicles) on a multinational scale.

In 2016 Renault was the ninth biggest automaker in the world (production volume) and in 2017, the Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi Alliance had become the world’s biggest seller of light vehicles. Renault group is made up of the namesake Renault marque (below) and subsidiaries, Alpine, Renault Sport (Gordini), Automobile Dacia from Romania, and Renault Samsung Motors from South Korea.

ACMAT, Panhard General Defense and Alpine could be named among French car brands associated with Renault. Since ACMAT makes (cross-country) tactical military vehicles, and Panhard General Defense is better-known for its armored fighting vehicles and jeep-like four-wheel-drives only Alpine really belongs in the car category. Both ACMAT and PGD are divisions of Renault Trucks. Alpine gained recognition for its racing and sports cars equipped with rear-mounted Renault engines.

Renault Part 1

Founded in 1899; 123 years ago and headquartered in Boulogne-Billancourt not far from the capital, Renault has a lot to be proud of. The Renault–Nissan Alliance built their popularity in Europe and Asia through Quality, medium-priced sedans and SUVs.

The product range varies, the Logan and the Duster are their top selling sedan and SUV, but includes family cars like the Twingo supermini and Espace MPV. The Renault Scenic is a practical car with solid, consistent sales, but they also have sports models.

There are three key factors in Renaults early success. First it was founded by three brothers, LouisMarcel, and Fernand. Louis Renault was a brilliant automotive mechanic and designer with experience under his belt before founding his own company. Marcel and Fernand ran the business. Having competent and trustworthy business partners really helps a company get up and running, and that’s what they did in 1898 when they sold their first car, the Renault Voiturette 1CV, to a friend of their fathers.

1901 Voiturette Renault Type D Série B

The second key factor in their success were taxis. In 1905, just two years after the Renault began making their own engines, they made their first large sale to a taxis company in Paris. These vehicles were later used by the French military to transport troops during World War I which earned them the nickname “Taxi de la Marne.” Renault would go on to supply taxies in London and New York.

The third factor in their success was racing. I the early 1900’s racing was the way you got exposure and the Renault brothers were keenly aware.  Both Louis and Marcel raced company vehicles, but Marcel was killed in an accident during the 1903 Paris-Madrid race. Louis stopped racing but the company continued participation with great success winning the first Grand Prix motor racing event in 1906.

Renault Reinastella

By the end of 1909, only Louis remained alive, (Fernand died of illness). Louis visited a Ford plant in 1905 and began adopting modern production techniques to increase production and reduce the cost of his cars to the public. The company never really got out of the commercial vehicle market adding busses and commercial trucks to their line up. Louis’s engine designs were so innovative even Rolls Royce patterned their aircraft engines off his V8 engines.

The combination of great design, modern production, and experience with commercial vehicles made Renault a natural pick for military vehicles in both world wars. Louis would go on to create the revolutionary Renault FT tank that would earn him and his company the Legion of Honour.

Side Note: Renault introduced new models at the Paris Motor Show that was held in September or October of the year. This led to confusion about model years. For example, a “1927” model was mostly produced in 1928.

The US Stock Market crash and Great Depression were hard on all car companies even in Europe. Post WWI Renault reworked their tank design into a tractor and went into agricultural equipment. The Great Depression caused to spin most of his extra companies off to their own concern and kept the car business close to his chest. He needed to compete with some of the fuel efficient cars coming out of the rebuilt Germany. Early in the 1930 Citron surpassed Renault in both innovation and total sales but Citron got hammered by the Great Depression while Renault’s other military and farm equipment saw them through without going bankrupt.

Side Note: There was a particularly bad labor strike among Autoworkers in France from1936 to 1938, which Renault put down via firing 2,000 workers.

Renaults handling of the worker strike would come back to bite him. Under German occupation Louis refused to make tanks, instead sticking to trucks. His factory was leveled by allies anyway, twice. When the war ended Louis attempted to rebuild, in Billancourt, which happened to be a stronghold of the resistance party. In the wake of German occupation France became divided between the Communists and the Anti-Communists. As an industrialist Louis wasn’t popular in Billancourt and Billancourt was not popular with the de Gaulle presidency.

Louis was accused of supporting Hitler, turned himself in. He was arrested and died in prison awaiting trial. The French government took over the company, the only one they federalized, and has never given it back to the family despite repeated attempts to get compensation.

Post War…

Under the leadership of Pierre Lefaucheux, Renault experienced both a commercial resurgence and labor unrest, that was to continue into the 1980s. The injustice didn’t end for the Renault family. In secret Louis continued to work on his ability to compete with the super affordable VW bug and the Minor. He created the rear engine 4CV which Pierre Lefaucheux launched with great success after Louis died.

Renault built to a million cars a year under the French Government control, often because the person they put in charge of the day to day operations ignored the Government’s odd demands, like ending car production to concentrate on trucks.

The story goes on, and is one for the history books but we’ll leave it for now and talk about some of the companies Renault acquired over the years.

Automobiles Alpine

Founded in 1955 by Jean Rédélé. Headquartered in Dieppe, France.

The Alpine car marque was created in 1954, after founder, Jean Rédélé, had some success racing his modified Renault 4CV. Redele went from garage owner in Dieppe to car manufacturer after class wins in a number of major events, including the Mille Miglia and Coupe des Alpes. In 1955 he became a pioneer in auto glassfibre construction and produced a small coupe, based on 4CV mechanicals, called the Alpine A106, which he sold under the name Alpine (pronounced Al Peen in France).

Coach Alpine A106 Mille Milles 1955 (First alpine)

The company has been closely related to Renault through its history, and was bought by it in 1973, and the Alpine competition department merged into Renault Sport in 1976. Production of Alpine-badged models ceased in 1995, was relaunched with the 2017 introduction of the new Alpine A110, then in 2021 Renault announced that Renault Sport would again merge into Alpine.

The 70s saw rally wins at Monte Carlo and they built factories in several countries including Spain, Mexico, Brazil and Bulgaria. The 80s saw more variety of car for more kinds of racing, ultimately Alpine would begin creating F1 & F2 cars as well.

One problem that plagued Alpine was that the rights to the name Alpine in the UK were owned by Sunbeam. Eventually mega conglomerate Stellantis would end up owning the rites to the name in the UK in 2021 ending any chance that Alpine will ever sell their under their own name.

Alpine Racing

Alpine A521

Alpine’s motorsport division, made up of the Alpine subsidiaries Alpine Racing Limited and Alpine Racing SAS. In 1976, the Alpine competition department was merged with Gordini to form Renault Sport. Alpine-badged racing activities re-emerged in 2013, as part of the promotional activities for the launching of Alpine roadcars. With the help of Signatech and Oreca Alpine has entered and racked up wins in World Endurance and Formula One throughout the 2000’s.

Berliet

Founded in 1899 we could have put Berliet in the category with other defunct French car makers, but they were part of Citroën (1968-1974), and it was eventually Renault (1974-1978) who closed them down so we’ll include them here.

Founded by Marius Berliet in Vénissieux, France this care maker’s emblem is one of the more puzzling features of the company, although certainly not the only oddity.

The company produced Automobiles, buses, military vehicles, trucks. Apart from a five-year period from 1944 to 1949 when it was put into ‘administration sequestre’ Berliet was in private ownership until 1967 when it then became part of Citroën.

Berliet took over the plant of Audibert & Lavirotte in Lyon in 1902, having experimented on cars for 8 years. Some of his experimenting was on single cylinder engines, then twin, and his first manufactured models were four cylinder. By he was also offering 6 cylinder upon request.

Berliet CBA at the Verdun Memorial museum. The CBA became the iconic truck on the Voie Sacrée, supplying the battle front at Verdun during 1916. It continued in production till 1932.

Berliet had to expand his factory during WWI as the French government began ordering trucks for the Army. While Renault and a company called Latil also made trucks to fill the need, the Berliet CBA became the iconic truck on the Voie Sacrée, supplying the battle front at Verdun during 1916 with 25,000 of these 4/5 ton trucks. The number of workers increased to 3,150, and a new principle factory was built between Vénissieux and Saint-Priest.

After WWI Marius Berliet was faced with a good problem. He had wartime factory capacity with no army contract. He needed to rebuild his market so he gambled on making one truck model and one car model. He chose his 5 ton CBA that he made for the army as the truck model which meant he didn’t have to retool part of his factory.

For the car he tried a slick trick and copied a popular American Dodge model with it’s torpedo-shaped body and high headlights, which he called the “Berliet Type VB.” While the car was initially well received the engineers who performed the copy didn’t take into account that American steel is stronger and they reliability issues in early models.

By the time they had fixed the issues and repaired the damaged to their reputation, Berliet was 55 million in debt. The banks took over for about ten years though they left Marius in operational control. He diversified his car offerings by 1925, to five models–all 4-cylinder, and by 1929 he’d regained financial control of the company.

Berliet spent the great depression economizing, reducing models, reversing course on their new 6-cylinder models, switching to diesel, and by 1939 they stopped making through own bodies. The last few hundred Berliet Dauphines produced used the body of a Peugeot 402 with a custom made Berliet hood/bonnet and radiator grille.

The End of Cars

Regular passenger car production for Berliet officially ended in 1939 and Trucks continued. The Germans discovered around 20 new cars in the factory when they took over, and those were quickly requisitioned. Under German occupation, the Factory cranked out 2,330 trucks for the Nazi’s.

After the war, enough car parts were found around the factories to assemble another 65 sedans.

Marius Berliet, who died in 1949, had however refused to recognize legal actions against him after the war. Likely as a result, the company was given back to Marius Berliet’s son Paul in 1949, in stark contrast to the fate of the Renault family.

Berliet manufactured the largest truck in the world in 1957, the T100 6X6, which they turned into everything from dump trucks to delivery “loris.” A separate company called MOL Trucks of Hooglede, Belgium bought the design rights and began making two models of the truck as well.

The End of Independence for Berliet

In 1967, Berliet was taken over by Citroën, Berliet share holders got Citroën shares in exchange for their Berliet stock. Citroën itself had been owned by Michelin since 1934 following it’s own cash crisis. After the 1973 oil crisis, Michelin decided to divest itself of these two companies and concentrate on tires. They sold Berliet was to Renault in 1974, and Citroën was sold to Peugeot.

Renault proceeded to merge Berliet with Saviem to form Renault Véhicules Industriels in 1978. Elements of Berliet continued for a time, a bus, an armored personel carrier and an engine design, but the Berliet brand was phased out at that time.

Renault Part 2

Pretty much a picture of every modern Renault Vehicle.

In 1994, plans to sell shares to public investors were officially announced after coming to the conclusion that the company’s state-owned status was a detriment. After privatization the company expanded into markets in Eastern Europe and South America and supported it with infrastructure investments including a new factory in Brazil and upgrades for its infrastructure in Argentina and Turkey.

Renault’s financial problems were not all fixed by the privatization. Deputy President, Carlos Ghosn, was given point on fixing them and he created what would be called the “Renault Production Way” based on the Japanese system of producing cars. He also cut costs by reducing the workforce, revising production processes, standardizing vehicle parts and pushing the launch of new models off for two years.

Carlos Ghosn

If you are tempted to believe Ghosn a hero we should mention that Brazilian-born Lebanese businessman (and citizen of France) is currently an internationally wanted fugitive. But that’s topic for a few paragraphs from now. Ghosn was at various points the CEO of Michelin North America, chairman and CEO of Renault, chairman of AvtoVAZ, chairman and CEO of Nissan, and chairman of Mitsubishi Motors Ghosn was also the chairman and CEO of the Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi Alliance, earning him the nickname, “Mr. Fix-it.”

Renault searched for a new partner to cope with an industry that was consolidating, and they landed on Nissan. Starting on 27 March 1999, the Renault–Nissan Alliance is the first of its kind involving a Japanese and a French company, including cross-ownership. Also in 1999, Renault bought a 51% majority stake of the Romanian company Dacia for £408.5 million.  The next year, Renault acquired a controlling stake of the newly formed South Korean Samsung Group‘s automotive division.

To finance its inversions and acquisitions Renault sold its industrial automation subsidiary, its 50% stake in bus/coach manufacturer Irisbus, it’s Véhicules Industriels to Volvo, and its agricultural machinery division, Renault Agriculture, to CLAAS. Thought it took much of the 90s and 2000s to accomplish the moves concentrated Renault’s manufacturing on cars and buses.

Renault developed a reputation for distinctive, outlandish design. The second generation of the Laguna and Mégane featured ambitious, angular designs that turned out to be successful, The 2000 Laguna was the second European car to feature “keyless” entry and ignition. What didn’t work for them was their upmarket/luxury models they tried to create–the Avantime and the Vel Satis. Although the latter inspired the design of their biggest success, the second-generation Mégane.

In 2008 Renault acquired control of Russian carmaker AvtoVAZ, which would give them the distinction of being the most experienced European car maker in the Russian market and eventually give them a giant headache. But first, in 2010, Renault–Nissan announced an alliance with Daimler that would give them a dominant position in Diesel powered small cars.

Also in 2010, Renault opened their zero emissions factory near Tangier, Morocco, with an annual output capacity of 170,000 vehicles though they expect to increase output to 400,000 in the future. Renault formed a joint venture with Dongfeng Motor Group named as Dongfeng Renault, in 2013 and was back out of that deal by 2020.

Renaults Return to Financial Woes

Renault now believes that small (B-segment) diesel cars in Europe and some mid-size (C-segment) will no longer be diesels by 2020. However, the pandemic has thrown off the world market of everything so it’s hard to tell what’s really causing the latest round of financial distress for Renault.

Two things we do know: Friday, 13 January 2017, Renault shares fell as the Paris prosecutor started an investigation into possible exhaust emissions cheating. Renault denied any foul play but recalled 15,000 cars for emission testing and fixing.

November 2018, Ghosn, now CEO, was arrested by Japanese officials for allegedly underreporting his Nissan’s salary. This lead to a dizzying series of regime changes at the top of Renault until January 2020 when they settled on Italian Luca de Meo as its new CEO.

Now the plan to recover from the pandemic is in full swing with eliminating 15,000 jobs worldwide (10% of their workforce), and dividing its automotive division into four business units: Renault, Dacia and Lada, Alpine, and its new “new mobility services” called Mobilize.

A Final Controversy

With the February 2022 Russian Invasion of Ukraine most western businesses pulled out of Russia. Renault got their but not fast enough for their critics. They were able to sell their interests in AvtoVAZ to NAMI with the option to buy it back at some point in the future.

Auto Maker Series – France (6A) Indies

Now that we’ve finished covering the “Big 5” car making countries (US, Germany, Japan, Italy, UK) it’s time to cover some of the other countries that make cars you may be less familiar with, which might make it even more interesting as you’ll be running into more manufacturers that you’ve never heard of or don’t know much about.

Today we start on France, one of the other largest and oldest automakers in Europe. France has a long history of making great cars and of dominating both the racing and business worlds. France was a pioneer in vehicle manufacturing. At the beginning of the previous century it made the most highly advanced vehicles with the world’s largest car market.

WWII took a heavy tole on the French industrial complex, especially anything cutting edge. France is clawing its way back though, reaching 13th-largest in the world by unit production. The US wouldn’t really know that, however, the big three French Auto Makers (Peugeot/ Citroen/ Renault) pulled out of the US Market 25 years ago. In fact it’s not easy to get information about a lot of the boutique car makers in English. So check out what we found.

De La Chapelle

De la Chapelle got it’s start as a Bugatti replica maker in the early 1970s. This French independent car builder was founded by Xavier de la Chapelle, a former Venturi director.

Even though modern De la Chapelle goes back to the 70s the family have a long legacy with automobiles. Brothers brothers Guy owned a Burgundy wine estate when they bought a Mors 5hp in 1896. In 1901 they created the Stimula marque brand and started making motorcycles and Tricars.

The brothers were joined by cousin Neyrand and they began to make cars. They created a grill with a hill-shape at the top to simbolize their commitment to quality. Between 1907 to 1914 Riviere drove the a Stimula in several races with great success. When Carl, the engineer of the group, gets injured in a gas attack during WWI the company can no longer stay in business.

They also make mini real-cars for children.

At age 26 Xevier decides to reopen the family car business, making classic roadster replicas powered by BMW (Straight-6).

In 1989 through 1992 Xevier went to work for Venturi.

In 1996 De la Chapelle unveiled a sports car which was to to be made in India, but tragedy struck again when their partner in India disappeared putting a halt to their Bombay factory build.

In 1998 they created the Roadster powered by Peugeot (Straight-4/V6), their second original creation as an independent company.

Like most car makers, De la Chapelle is focusing on Electric vehicles for the future with their 100% autonomous shuttle.

PGO

Founded in all the way back in 1985 by the Prevot Brothers. Headquartered in Saint-Christol-lès-Alès, France.

If you are a connoisseurs of individuality and style, you’ve come to the right place with PGO. for the last 37 years this French car manufacturer, produced an exclusive series of sports cars. Brothers Patrick, Gilles and Olivier Prévôt, hence PGO, began by making replicas but soon moved onto their own designs like the Speedster II which debuted at the Paris Motor Show in 2000. It seems counter-intuitive to label your first car Speedster 2, but this two-seater sports car merges retro-style with modern specifications so it fits in a hard-to-explain way.

Subsidiaries of the Al-Sayer Group acquired controlling interest in the brand by 2005 which financed R&D for their next two cars, the Cévennes roadster and the Hemera. Both are lovely looking cars with great performance capability. You may have noticed that, unlike large market production models, these high-end supercars only need to create a new model every five to ten years and may continue to build and sell previous models long after launching their next design.

Venturi

Founded in 1984 by Claude Poiraud, Gérard Godfroy. Headquartered in Fontvieille, Monaco, France.

You may be more familiar with the name ROKiT Venturi Racing with its drivers Edoardo Mortara and Lucas di Grassi. Which is currently, and quite successfully racing in the Formula E World Championship which they were the first to commit to.

This is, however a niche they lucked into. Venturi started under the name MVS (Manufacture de Voitures de Sport), with the purpose to compete in the “Grand Tourisme” market. A handful of startups came about in France during the 1980s as they attempted to rebuild the Frances place among the greats of luxury sports car makers. A place they held prior to being the battlefield for two world wars.

As with other’s pursuing this goal like PGO, and like their predecessors  Facel VegaMonica, and Ligier which we’ll discuss in future posts, they were woefully under funded, couldn’t get enough trained staff, and were complete unknowns in the industry. In year 2,000 they declared bankruptcy, and were rescued in a sense by Monegasque Gildo Pallanca Pastor who took refocused the company on electric-powered motors. It worked, and they produced the first electric sports car in the world, the limited-production Fétish.

Since then, in addition to their racing efforts, the brand developed 5 other innovative concept cars and become recognized for high performance electric vehicles destined to break records or to operate in extreme conditions.

The Antarctica vehicle in the Venturi showroom in Monaco

What does that mean exactly?

We’ll the company has joint ventured with some of the most brilliant minds in Electric Motor and Automotive knowhow to take on 5 impossible missions. Ranging from setting a land speed record (for EVs), to crossing Africa North to South, to creating the go to vehicle for the South Pole…which is bold, daring AAAND stupid. (It takes a lot of battery life to keep humans from freezing in sub-zero temperatures.) But everyone has their windmills to tilt.

Aixam

Founded in 1983 and headquartered in Aix-les-Bains, Savoie, France. It is 44% owned by Polaris Industries.

Though it started in the 80s and is an independent automotive brand, Aixam is different in that their goal was always to make Microcars. As a car company they can trace their history back to the establishment of Arola in 1975, a small manufacturing company based in Lyon-CorbasFrance, which manufactured a range of microcars. Under Axiam, they wen to make a more stylish set of cars 325D, followed by the 400D in 1985. T

he market for these cars were European countries that allowed vehicles under a certain power output to be driven without a license. The maximum speed on a Aixam A.7XX series (their current offering) powered by a diesel Kabota engine is (28 mph). So it’s basically a lawnmower with safety features that allow it to be driven with license created for 4-wheelers.

In 1995 Aixam came out with their Mega line. These were full sized cars, but to look ate them they’re clearly larger versions of a microcar aesthetic. In 2006 Mega launched the electric Mega City. These cars have used various powerplants even from one year to the next in the same model so they are doubtless a delight to work on, but otherwise they’ve earned a solid reputation as a runabout for urban dwellers. The companies future might be in question as this niche puts them in direct competition with small electric vehicles that are better suited for this kind of duty. What might keep them alive is the EV makers desire to be accepted as “real cars” and never be associated with “toy cars.”