history and models sold


"The United States is not treated properly." In his joint press conference with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, held on Wednesday, October 16 at the White House, Donald Trump has again complained about trade agreements between the United States and the European Union. A phrase from the US president caught the attention of auto experts. "It's really difficult. Our agricultural products are struggling to get in, our cars have trouble getting in. And yet, they send us Mercedes, BMW, Volkswagen … or Renaultin the case of France ".

Gold, the firm of Billancourt is officially absent from the American market since the end of the 1980s. Peugeot has not been more lucky, leaving the country in 1991. Citroen had already set sail in 1974. Clearly: the history of the tricolor builders in the United States is painful …

SLIDESHOW – Renault and Peugeot models (formerly) marketed in the United States

Dauphine rust in the port of Le Havre

As early as the 1920s, French manufacturers were exploring the possibilities of the world's largest car market. But customs barriers, very high at the time of triumphant protectionism, limit sales to cars to a few luxury models. After the Second World War, individual initiatives of importers sell a few hundred Renault 4CV or Citroen Traction.

It was in the mid-1950s that the first tricolor offensive in North America took place. Pierre Dreyfus, boss of the Rnur, intends to compete with Volkswagen and its Ladybug. He set up a company: Renault Inc., responsible for distributing cars assembled in Europe and benefiting from small adjustments. The potential is there: the 4CV, Dauphine and Caravelle (US version of Florida) flow to more than 100,000 copies in 1959. However, the Dauphine adapt poorly to the local climate: they rust at the seaside – and sometimes from the port of Le Havre where they are stored – and let dust in the arid areas. Sales plummet and Renault goes on standby in America, importing a few hundred cars a year (R10, R15, R16, R17 …).

Previously, Billancourt had already put the holds of his ships at the disposal of … Peugeot. The Lion was summoned by the State, since 1957, to export vehicles to restore the balance of trade of France. A few thousand of 403 and 404 cross the Atlantic during the next decade. So we see Lieutenant Frank Colombo driving a 403 cabriolet in the famous crime series.

Side Citroen (which is then linked to Michelin and not Peugeot), the 2CV and DS also flow – to a few hundred copies. The futuristic machine is particularly intriguing for the rounds of leather on the east coast, but the initial reliability concerns and the low availability of the LHM – the hydraulic fluid – are detrimental to the image of the sedan. The SM is highly regarded as the "Motor of the Year 1972" by Motor Trend Magazine. But the herringbone business collapses in Europe at the time of the first oil crisis. Citroen leaves the United States as of 1974, at the time of his marriage with Peugeot.

Dreams of glory at Renault

In the mid-1970s, AMC is the fourth largest US automotive group. Problem: its original Pacer, Gremlin and Matador are costly recalls, while its subsidiary Jeep produces vehicles too greedy fuel. Market share plummets below 2%. A extensive distribution agreement between Renault and AMC signed in 1978 : the Renault 5, curiously renamed The bus, is exported to the United States while the Jeep find their place in the European diamond concessions. of the R18 and Fuego also cross the Atlantic.

The American Renault 5 was – despite the context of higher oil prices – too small to appeal to US customers.

Most importantly, the National Board is progressively increasing the capital of AMC, finally taking control in 1983. The Kenosha (Wisconsin) plant assembles European models adapted to the local market. We thus see Renault Alliance (derived from the R9) and Encore (R11). At Jeep, we "downsize" with the release of the compact Cherokee. The team seems promising and could allow AMC to pick up the "Big Three".

If the car press is enthusiastic at first, the doubtful reliability Alliance and Encore Mounted on the spot weighs on sales. At the same time, the economic recovery of the Reagan years is pushing American consumers again towards more massive vehicles than the "small" Europeans.

In 1986, AMC loses $ 91 million and plumbs Losange already in trouble in France. The assassination of the boss of Renault, Georges Besse, by members of the group Action direct, puts an end to the American ambitions of Renault.

His successor, Raymond Levy is in charge of restoring order: from 1987, he gradually gives up control of AMC to Chrysler. Too bad for Renault. Because the brand new factory in Brampton (Canada) was preparing to release the Premier, derived from the R25. It will eventually be marketed under the brand Eagle, invented for the occasion. And Jeep – the "nugget" of the group – was just starting to take off, anticipating the wave of SUVs …

Derived from the R25 (without the tailgate), the Premier had delighted the American press, which praised its road qualities and its interior space. But it was marketed only under the Eagle brand, after the departure of Renault.

Half success for the 505

And at Peugeot? Unlike the diamond, the Lion brand has never produced a vehicle in the US. The 304, 504, 604 and 505, come directly from the chains of Sochaux or Mulhouse. The acquisition of Chrysler Europe in 1978 opens up a small distribution network. Competitive prices despite the customs barriers, adapted architecture (propulsion and station wagons), robust mechanics … The 505 appeals to a "traditional" public little tempted by German cars, while the taxi companies plebiscite its moderate consumption. In 1984, Peugeot reaches the honorable bar of 20,000 annual sales.

=> Advertising campaign for the Peugeot 505 in the United States: "If you think it's in the room that the French are the best …" (video)

But the 505 is aging. The arrival of the 405 – and his victories at Pikes Peak – must restart the machine. Sadly, the reliability is not at the rendezvous on the first copies, facing Japanese competitors with the impeccable reputation in the field. Registrations are falling inexorably; the Avenue de la Grande-Armee, then piloted by Jacques Calvet, ends the experiment in 1991.

=> The most spectacular cars of the Pikes Peak odds race

For three years, Carlos Tavares suggests that a return of Peugeot in the United States is under study. This time, the White House may have something to worry about …

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