The French automakers were the first to come into the USA and Canada at the end of the 19th century. At the beginning the French car industry was the most advanced and the French market was by far the largest.

The first car was l'Obéissante made in Le Mans, France in 1873. It had a steam engine. As anecdote, during the first drive in Paris, the driver received 73 fines although the car could not go over 30 mph...

L’Obéissante, Amédée Bollée, Le Mans, 1873

L’Obéissante, Amédée Bollée, Le Mans, 1873

The French pioneers worked hard to develop steam, electric and gasoline engines to determine the bases of the biggest industry in the world.

The gasoline engine had been created in 1860 in Paris by Etienne Lenoir but it only got patented in 1884 by Edouard Delamare-Deboutteville. The two first gasoline cars were produced in 1883 and 1884 but the chassis got destroyed during the testing and the project was abandonned. Meanwhile a first electric car engine had been designed in 1869, but it was only in 1881 that the first electric car was operated. In reality it was a bus to make the connection between Place de la Nation and Versailles ! As anecdote, the bus had 9 tons of accumulators !

It wasn't until 1886 that the Germans started to have an interest for cars. Close to Stuttgart, Daimler and Maybach created a very small air cooled gasoline engine which developed 1,1 horsepower. The German market didn't exist so Louise Sarazin - Daimler and Maybach representative in Paris - convinced Emile Levassor that France had a market for such a small engine. Emile Levassor thought immediatly to his client Peugeot Frères.

Peugeot Type 1 with Daimler / Maybach engine, 1889

Peugeot Type 1 with Daimler / Maybach engine, 1889

The Type 3 had the engine designed by Daimler, but was licensed for production in France by Panhard et Levassor and then sold to Peugeot. It was a 15° V-twin and produced 2 bhp, sufficient for a top speed of approximately 18 kilometres per hour (11 mph).

A lightened Type 3 was entered into the 1895 Paris–Bordeaux–Paris, finishing second and maintaining an average speed of 21.5 kilometres per hour (13.4 mph).

Peugeot Type 3, 1891

Peugeot Type 3, 1891

Citroën's car factory in 1918

Citroën's car factory in 1918

In the 60's and the 70's most the American carmakers were in France and the French Big Three (Peugeot - Citroën - Renault) were in North America. Chrysler had a specific brand in France called Simca which were imported into the USA.

Simca dealer in the late 60's

Simca dealer in the late 60's

Due to the regulation, some French cars had different headlights and bumpers in America.

Citroën North America suffered a significant financial blow during the 1973 oil crisis. In 1974, the carmaker withdrew from North America due to design regulations that outlawed core features of Citroën cars. Since 1974 Citroën never officialy came back to the USA or Canada.

Citroën DS euro / usa versionsCitroën DS euro / usa versions

Citroën DS euro / usa versions

US Citroën dealership in the 60's

US Citroën dealership in the 60's

The 80's were the beginning of the end for Peugeot and Renault in the USA and Canada.

The situation for Renault USA was very complex. In 1979 Renault bought American Motors Corporation when AMC was bankrupt. The agreement included a loan of 135 million USD to AMC and a place for renault in the US AMC dealerships. This came as good news to the already struggling AMC dealers in the US. In order to expand AMC, Renault decided to invest more by opening the Bramalea Assembly which was the most advanced automotive assembly plant in North America. Futhermore Renault found the way to sell some Jeeps to China in the middle of the cold war.

The Bramalea Assembly became of significant interest to Chrysler, who wanted to rent part of the advanced assembly lines to build their own cars. AMC could afford not to explore this option due to its significant financial backing from Renault.

In the mid-80's the sales were declining and AMC had to fight against rumours as they wercked some production lines. The Pentagon had also problems with AM General, a significant defense contractor, being managed by a partially French-government-owned firm. The U.S. government would not allow a foreign government to own a significant portion of an important defense supplier. As a result, the profitable AM General Division was sold.

Georges Besse, new Renault's CEO, continued to champion the French firm's future in the North American market, pointing to the company's completion of the newest and most-advanced automotive assembly plant in North America as well as the recent introduction of the thoroughly modern, fuel-injected 4.0 L and 2.5 L engines. In addition, Jeep vehicles were riding an unprecedented surge in demand. It seemed to Besse and others that AMC was on course for profitability. However, on November 17, 1986, Georges Besse, who had a high profile among French capitalists, was assassinated by Action Directe, a clandestine militant extremist group variously described as communist, anarchist and Maoist, which professed strong sympathies for the proletariat and the aspirations of the Third World.

Under pressure from Renault executives following Besse's death, Renault's new president, Raymond Levy set out to repair employee relations and divest the company of its investment in American Motors.

On March 9, 1987, Chrysler agreed to buy Renault's share in AMC, plus all the remaining shares, for about US$1.5 billion. Chrysler immediatly benefited from the new Jeeps and the new engines, easily recuperating their investment but changing to name from AMC to Eagle-Jeep. The buyout was an attractive deal for Chrysler.

Ironically the sale came at a time when the automotive press was enthusiastic about the proposed 1988 lineup of Renault and Jeep vehicles, and reports that the financial outlook for Eagle-Jeep were improving.

Afterward Renault left the North American car market. Nevertheless they partially came back in 1999 when Renault bought Nissan. Today some Nissan cars use Renault's chassis and you can easily find the Renault's technology in the Nissan and Infinity vehicules.

Renault LeCar advertising

Renault LeCar advertising

Regarding Peugeot, the situation was vastly more different. Peugeot had a prestigious image which participated at the expansion of the US car industry. For instance, Peugeot was the first non-american automaker to win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1913 with a speed of 150 kph / around 94 mph.

So why did Peugeot leave the North American market ?

Officially it was because of the price competition between American and Japanese automakers. Let's say that the 80's were not the best time for the US market. Automakers had to make significant price cuts to sell their inventories. Meanwhile Peugeot launched the all new 405, a great car with a positionning between the middle and premium market segments as Oldsmobile at the beginning of the 2000's.

Resulting was the failure of the all new 405, essentially pushing peugeot to stop producing cars for the North American markets even if the 605 was ready to be launched...

Peugeot 405 advertising

Peugeot 405 advertising

Basically, the French pioneers were a great inspiration for the world automakers, but the Second World War destroyed all the French know-how in high luxury production. However, some prestigious models had been made such as the Citroën DS, the Renault Alpine, the Peugeot 404 coupé or the Facel Vega cars...

Today the french car industry is steadily climbing back to the top. Month after month the new models are more sophiticated and more powerful. The high quality of the recent models can only bring them back to where they should be.

WHY AREN'T FRENCH CARS SOLD IN AMERICA ?WHY AREN'T FRENCH CARS SOLD IN AMERICA ?WHY AREN'T FRENCH CARS SOLD IN AMERICA ?

Comment on this post

Chopper 11/28/2016 23:07

Why are french cars not sold in the US.......simple, because Americans are smart enough to realise that french built cars are essentially rubbish ie lack performance, unreliable, always breaking down, and like here in Australia, the dealers lack in after sales back up and support with parts.

Wolfsbane 08/23/2016 08:16

It's a shame they aren't sold here anymore. I remember the Peugeots sold in the 80s and early 90s. The 505 and the 405 were nice cars, but a little quirky for American tastes. The 405 Mi16 was a rocket, DOHC 4 valves. 150hp 1.9l. The turbo version of the 505 was comparable to 5 series BMW.

Reznik 05/24/2016 22:47

WHY AREN'T FRENCH CARS SOLD IN UNITED STATES ?

tommy 09/25/2015 12:07

We are now in greece have rented a fiat panda and love it, we also see citreon,alfa romeo peuguot and love the styling,options and looks of all europeon cars. Wish we had this variety in Canada

Mike T 02/01/2015 06:06

True; it is a question of will and marketing savvy, neither of which is present in abundance at PSA right now. Additionally, very few of the present production of PSA would be easy to sell here. Peugeot and Citroën are competing in the shrinking mid-range, which is being invaded by the upmarket brands like M-B and Audi. I can imagine, for example, the 508 sedan being a convincing argument for anyone in North America, given that it has a 1.6 litre engine!

The compressed air cars are not coming to market; PSA has abandoned the idea for now.

I drive a nice new RCZ 5400 km in Europe last summer. I would have one of those for sure.

Chris T 06/20/2015 23:01

I saw a Citroën H van in Taylor, Michigan last week - I wonder how it got there. This was a funny looking French van from the 50s through the 70s, neither expensive nor special enough to become a collector's item...as far as I know it was never marketed anywhere but France and Belgium, let alone across the pond. Odd.

Back in Paris (where I've been living for years) I've been driving mostly French cars. Right now I'm contemplating buying the new Renault Kadjar - an unbelievably economical crossover utility vehicle that claims 74.3 mpg and CO2 emissions of 99 g/k in its 1.5 dCi diesel engine version (at par in frugality with the TTR hybrid powertrain system of Peugeot 3008 HYbrid, which, in turn, beat the Toyota Prius).

(BTW, Mike T, are you by any chance the MD that came to Malakoff for a crash course in drug safety analysis a few years back? If you are, I'd be glad to get back in touch with you).

Mike T 02/01/2015 06:07

...and I DROVE an RCZ....oy vey

Mike T 02/01/2015 06:07

Nuts, more typos. I meant to say I CAN'T imagine the 508 being......etc.