The word ‘French’ unexceptionally calls up the same associations from majority of people. It’s elegance, charm, splendor, finesse, originality, beauty and style. All the characteristics could be undoubtedly applied to French car brands. Though, at the same time French car manufacturers put quality and safety above all.
Throughout its history the French automobile industry has passed a hard way to win the world recognition. It was a French inventor Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot who produced the first self-powered vehicle with steam engine in 1769, though all the laurels are often ascribed to Karl Benz who invented the first car powered by an internal combustion engine.
From 1900s till 1930s France was the leading power in car manufacturing having produced in its peak 253 thousand cars in 1929. But in the mid 1930s due to unstable economic situation it gave the pas to British and German automobile industries.
In course of time the French manufacturers achieved great success as they developed technologies and introduced some new car body-styles so as their cars catered for different needs of people. They also began to produce the so-called economy cars to make them affordable for all.
It’s no surprise then that the French cars can boast of numerous European Car of the Year and the World Car of the Year awards. Nowadays with annual production of about 3 million vehicles the French automobile industry is one of the ten largest in the world alongside with Japan, USA, Germany and China.
Major French Automobile Companies
In the automotive world France is renowned for its giant companies PSA Peugeot Citroën and Renault S.A. PSA took commercial roots in France about two centuries ago. For this time it has grown into huge multinational corporation with automobile plants around the world and produces about 3 million car brands Peugeot and Citroën per year. Renault group unites three brands: Renault, Dacia and Renault Samsung Motors selling about 2,8 million vehicles annually. It is represented in 128 countries with a core market in Europe. Other minor brands as Venturi, Bugatti, Alpine also deservedly have the admirers.
Founder: Jean Rédélé
Headquarters: Dieppe, France
Alpine is a French car manufacturer which specializes exclusively in production of racing and sports cars. It was founded by Jean Rédélé, a garage proprietor, in Dieppe in 1955. Throughout the whole history the company worked closely with Renault S.A. as they used their engines and received much financial support. With a petrol crisis in 1973 Alpine found themselves in hard position. But the problem was sold out with takeover by giant Renault. It worth saying that Alpine cars won several national and international competitions like Tour de France and World Rally Championship. Nowadays Alpine produces mostly Renault Sport brands, though they previously launched several street models such as A108, A110, A310 and others.
Founder: Ettore Bugatti
Headquarters: Molsheim, Alsace, France
Bugatti is indeed a household name of luxury and high-performance cars which won the international recognition and love for their splendid design and numerous race victories. The company was founded by Ettore Bugatti in 1909 in the city of Molsheim which belonged to the German Empire then. The manufacturer produced about 8000 cars which impressed the world both with their beauty and racing power. The first racing fortune dates back to 1929 when Bugatti Type 35 won an inaugural Monaco Grand Prix. The company reached the pinnacle of success in the late 1930s when driver Jean-Pierre Wimille won the 24 hours of Le Mans twice. But the great fortune soon changed for tragedy: Bugatti’s son, Jean Bugatti, died while testing a race car. In 1947 the brand founder Ettore Bugatti died which practically meant the end of the marque. It is currently owned by the German Volkswagen Group.
PSA Peugeot Citroën
Founder: André Citroën
Headquarters: Saint-Ouen, France
Parent: Groupe PSA
The history of establishment of this giant automobile manufacturer is rooted in an early 1810 when brothers Peugeot transformed their grain mill into steel plant producing articles for dressmaking and watchmaking. In 1890 Armand Peugeot launches his first petrol car thus laying the foundation of automobile business. In 1976 Peugeot S.A. acquired Citroen company which was near to bankruptcy then. Since that time the joint company is widely known as PSA Peugeot Citroen and sells its vehicles under Peugeot and Citroën brands.
Nowadays the Group is the main French exporter contributing about €4.5 billion to the country’s trade balance. Since 2011 PSA Peugeot Citroën has almost completely renovated its production line working out and launching conceptually new brands. In 2012 it was Europe’s second largest car manufacturer giving way only to Volkswagen Group. Recently PSA has focused on development of its interests in China, Latin America and Russia.
Founder: Claude Poiraud; Gérard Godfroy
Headquarters: Fontvieille, Monaco
Owner: Gildo Pallanca Pastor
Venturi Automobiles is a French car manufacturer established in Monaco in 1984. Its founders – engineers Gérard Godefro and Claude Poiraud – had the only purpose to compete in ‘Grand Tourisme’ alongside with such much-talked-of luxury brands as Bugatti, Ferrari and Porsche. But though Venturi cars made some excellent performances in different competitions the brand itself was little-known abroad and had a minor capital. In 2000 these problems led to bankruptcy. In 2001 Gildo Pallanca Pastor acquired the company and changed its direction to electric-powered engines and electric cars production. Thus in 2006 a new brand Venturi Fétish appeared which proved to be the first electric sports car in the world.
Founded: 25 February 1899
Founder: Louis Renault; Marcel Renault; Fernand Renault
Headquarters: Boulogne-Billancourt, France
The history of Renault company starts on 24 December 1898 when Louis Renault drove his invention – direct-drive transmission car Voiturette – up the sharp incline of rue Lepic in Paris. The event sparked furor in Paris and the same evening Louis Renault got 12 orders for the car. Soon after, in 1899, Renault brothers founded Société Renault Frères producing cars mostly for motorsport races. No wonder that for more than 115 years Renault company has always been closely linked to motorsport competitions.
Renault S.A. is acknowledged as one of the most innovative car manufacturers in the world. And there is a good reason for it as the company produced principally new types of cars which met different requirements of people. To name the few, among them is the first family hatchback Renault 16 – Car of the Year in 1965; a breakthrough of 1984 Renault Espace which appeared as the world’s first minivan.
Nowadays the company is represented in 128 countries and unites three big brands: Renault, Dacia and Renault Samsung Motors.
The French car brands listed above are not in full. There are also minor current manufacturers producing good cars:
- De La Chapelle
- Exagon Motors