The automotive industry in France is one of the oldest globally and is in the top 3, second only to specialized industries in Germany and Spain. And it cannot be otherwise because steam engines’ birthplace is a potential reference point for the entire global automotive industry. That is, we can say that the transport equipment literally «left» France.
Proof of the leading position is a considerable number of brands that are known abroad and whose cars are a welcome sign of prestige. Renault, Peugeot, Citroën, Valeo, Bugatti are only a small part of the popular brands, in cars of which half of the world travels.
What is French Car Brands?
Two companies were considered the most prominent representatives of the French automotive industry: Groupe PSA and Renault Group, which owned the main brands. But the first of them was abolished in 2021, becoming part of the Stellantis NV corporation, registered in the Netherlands. So now the brands Citroën, Peugeot, and DS belong to the Dutch manufacturer, although they remain French.
Simultaneously, there are much fewer French car brands than British ones because the French is not focused on quantity. There are only two largest representatives of the country’s automotive market who have taken over all government reins in the French automotive industry. These are PSA Peugeot Citroën, a Citroen and Peugeot cars manufacturer, and Renault, which produces the Dacia and Renault brands’ passenger cars.
This category is represented by the only car brand — Bugatti. The key features of her models are the atmosphere of luxury, ergonomics, beauty, and convenience. They are also exceptional in design and performance. The dynamic performance is especially high since supercars are the upper segment of a wide sports car class. Engine power is calculated in hundreds of horsepower, and the top speed is 300 km / h. Naturally, the cost is also the maximum. And one more thing: for all representatives of this category, exceptional tuning is important, which they can boast of.
1 Bugatti (1909-Present)
The automaker specializes in cars’ production: design, assembly, tuning, production, sale. The company entered the market in 1909, firmly occupying its niche, despite the founder — Ettore Bugatti, a designer with Italian roots. Having passed a very difficult path, the brand survived and came into the Volkswagen Group’s possession (in 1998), which practically revived it and breathed a second life into the iron «shell,» under which unprecedented power, beauty, and grace are hidden. The brand is currently called Bugatti Automobiles SAS.
Luxury Car Brands
The French luxury car sector is represented by just one brand from Citroën. She designs and assembles elegant machines that are pleasing to the eye and characterized by increased driving comfort. It is this criterion that forms the basis of the French car industry. A clear combination of beauty and practicality is characteristic of the French: it is extremely important to transport equipment drives and how it looks. The DS models feature true French chic.
1 DS (2009-Present)
The premium brand was created by Groupe PSA and is a sub-brand of Citroën. It was formed in 2009 under an abbreviated name, which stands for «Distinctive Series» or «Different Spirit,» depending on the source. Also, there is another meaning hidden in the dry «DS.» In French, these two letters are pronounced as «déesse,» which means «goddess» in translation. In 2015, the luxury series became an independent structure. Citroën is involved in developing the newest cars under the DS brand and is no longer his lines.
Mass Market Brands
Although the mass segment of French car brands is not as widely represented as in other countries, it is on the verge of being exclusive. After all, the French know a lot about beauty, so their mass-market cars look no worse than luxury cars. This category includes the three most widespread companies in the world, which are familiar to everyone. These are Citroën, Peugeot, and Renault. They are the top three in the domestic market.
1 Renault (2009-Present)
This brand appeared at the end of the 19th century and was created by three Renault brothers — Louis, Marcel, and Fernand. The first was an engineer, so he got actively involved in the business, raising the brand to a high level. Today it is the giant of the global automotive industry: it ranks ninth in the top 10. It is part of the same name group, which owns several subsidiaries and has established joint production with enterprises from different countries. Renault’s headquarters are located near Paris, in Boulogne-Billancourt.
2 Peugeot (1896-Present)
The automobile company’s roots go back to the early 19th century and are associated with the steel factory. Its founder is Armand Peugeot, who at first made saw blades and then bicycles. It is the largest structure: it occupies the second line in European car manufacturers’ rating, behind only the German concern Volkswagen. Moreover, her cars’ quality and impeccable design have been repeatedly noted: she has six European Car of the Year awards. Today the brand is owned by PSA Peugeot Citroën.
3 Citroën (1919-Present)
Citroën cars have been on the road since the first half of the 20th century, when the company, owned by André-Gustave Citroën, launched its first products. Today it is the giant of the French automotive industry, which has been part of the Stellantis group since 2021. Its head office is located in Saint-Ouen-sur-Seine. In addition to mass-market cars’ production, the brand is known for innovative technologies used in various car models. For example, he invented turning headlights to improve the roads’ visibility, was the first to use self-leveling hydropneumatic suspension, and much more.
The French automotive industry is focused on a small but incredibly high-quality segment of passenger cars and sports cars. The preference is given to elegant options with high-tech filling and a powerful engine under a flawless bonnet. Therefore, French cars flaunt not only on their country’s domestic roads — they are equally well in demand abroad. By the way, some firms have production sites abroad that produce affordable and equally luxurious designs. These include the Dacia brand located in Romania. Other car manufacturers are also known to offer high-end transport technology.
1 Alpine (1955-Present)
The company has been producing sports and racing cars since 1955. It belongs to Renault, being its sub-brand, and is located in the city of Dieppe (France). Jean Rédélé (its founder) owned a collection of passenger cars from the very beginning. Moreover, throughout its history, the company has been closely associated with Renault. It has achieved success in motorsport thanks to a sports car manufactured immediately after World War II. It was a Renault 4CV. In 1976, the French car industry giant completely absorbed Alpine, introducing the brand into Renault Sport. In 1995, the brand ceased to exist, but in 2017 it was relaunched, presenting its new model — the sports car Alpine A110.
2 Dacia (1966-Present)
It is a Romanian automotive brand located in the town of Mioveni (Arges County). It has existed since 1966, making affordable economy cars. The brand got its name in honor of Romania’s historical region, but at first, it was known as UAP (Uzina de Autoturisme Pitești). The first car of the Dacia 1300 series appeared in August 1969. He was presented at the Paris and Bucharest exhibitions. In 1970, the passenger car came out in two versions: 1300 (standard) and 1300L (luxury class). Four years later, the plant released the next version of the car — 1301 Lux Super with an exclusive interior trim, heated rear window, and double-sided rear-view mirrors. In 2021, Dacia became a business unit of Renault Dacia-Lada.
3 Aixam (1983-Present)
The French minicar manufacturer is based in Aix-les-Bains (Savoie region), where it appeared in 1983 after the purchase of Arola. In 2013, the subcompact car brand was taken over by Polaris Industries, an American company that has expressed a desire to acquire Aixam-Mega from Axa Private Equity. The deal went through. The brand now offers the Aixam A.7XX line of vehicles and the Smart microcar. Some branded models are limited in speed and can only accelerate to 45 km / h, making them an inexpensive urban transport group. Moreover, in some countries, you can drive them without a driver’s license since these small cars do not belong to the high-speed category.
4 Ligier (1968-Present)
The company was founded in 1968 on the initiative of the former racing driver and rugby player Guy Ligier. It specializes in the production of minicars for car racing. Also, the brand is known for being actively involved in the Formula 1 World Championship from 1976-1996. Also, the company has established a partnership with Automobiles Martini and has produced several prototypes of sports cars under the joint Ligier-Martini division. The headquarters of the car brand is located in the city of Abrest (France).
5 Microcar (1984-Present)
This French company has existed since 1984, producing small cars. In 2000, she moved to a new custom-built factory, and after eight years, she moved to Ligier Automobiles. This merger resulted from the emergence in Europe of the second-largest manufacturer of microcars and minicars, which do not require a driver’s license to drive. At the same time, each company (Ligier and Microcar) has retained its individuality.
6 PGO (1985-Present)
It is a French car brand operating in the exclusive sports car segment. It was founded by the three Prévôt brothers, fans of everything related to cars. Their names formed the basis for the name of the company — P (Patrick), G (Gilles), O (Olivier). In 1980, the brand focused on replicas but later switched to its custom-made models. The first to appear was a two-seater sports car in retro design. It was introduced in 2000. Later, more than half of the company’s rights passed to the Al-Sayer Group, which allowed it to intensify its work, expand the range, and replenish it with the Cévennes roadster.
7 Venturi (1984-Present)
The French luxury electric vehicle maker entered the market in 1984 thanks to Claude Poiraud and Gérard Godfroy. The company is located in Fontvieille (Monaco). She designs, assembles, and sells her products. In 2001, the brand was acquired by the millionaire Gildo Pallanca Pastor, who retrained the car industry for electric motors, resulting in the Fétish model.
Defunct Car Brands
There are many interesting manufacturers in the category of former French brands. They clearly show the automotive industry trend and illustrate the evolution of the tastes of the population. But, of course, each business was shut down for individual reasons. Of the recently closed companies, it is worth highlighting Panhard (operated until 2012), Hommell (produced sports cars until 2003), and Talbot (retired in 1994). However, many other French car industry representatives did not stop and continue to move forward at the international level actively.
1 Panhard (1887-2012)
Panhard & Levassor, named after its founders, became the first company in the world to sell vehicles with an internal combustion engine. It was launched in 1887 and two years later began producing «self-propelled wagons» with Armand Peugeot’s support. Moreover, the company used internal combustion engines of its design because it received the right to manufacture them personally from the creator — the German engineer Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler.
In 1891 the company switched to serial production of machines. She constantly modernized them, introducing many new models that won the races. In the post-war period, nothing changed: the company continued to develop in the chosen direction until it became part of Citroen in 1965. The new owner converted the brand to the production of military equipment. The last passenger car to be embellished with the circular Panhard logo with a monogram of the letters «PL» came out in 1967
2 Hommell (1990-2003)
The Hommell brand was named after its creator, car shop owner, and race car driver Michel Hommell. His first sports car, presented in 1990, was well received by the public, so it was decided to start mass production. Four models with different characteristics were released, but in 2003 the company closed due to financial problems. She used a rather unusual logo for an automaker: three golden rice ears in a blue gradient circle.
3 Talbot (1903-1994)
Talbot is an international car manufacturing company in both France and the UK. The fact is that initially, it was supposed to sell French-made cars to the British. But the count, who financed this project, was so inspired by the success that he decided to organize their release in his homeland, in the British Kingdom. Foreign factories stopped making Talbot cars in 1985. There were also problems in France: the cars’ quality was not very high, and no one wanted to buy them. Passenger cars left the market in the late 1980s. The brand has now been abolished, although PSA Peugeot-Citroèn still owns it. The alliance wanted to revive Talbot by giving the brand a new life and its famous blue and white T logo connected to a ring set against a red circle. But this project was never realized.
4 Berliet (1899-1978)
The French car manufacturer Berliet was founded in 1899 by car designer Marius Berliet, who loved technical experimentation and self-propelled vehicles. At first, the company made passenger cars, but it changed its course of activity in the post-war period, switching to buses and trucks. In 1974 the company became part of the Citroen cargo division. And four years later, the Berliet company was bought out by Renault and closed. Its models became the basis for the new Renault series. At the same time, the Berliet name and logo were no longer used. The brand icon was minimalistic. It looked like an arrow piercing a ball, but it consisted of three simple geometric shapes: a triangle, a circle, and a rectangle.
5 Simca (1934-1970)
Simca is an abbreviation for the full company name Societe Industrielle de Mechanique et Carrosserie Automobile. The company was founded in 1934 for the production of FIAT vehicles. The production of self-developed models began in 1951. They proved to be incredibly popular and allowed the company to buy a new factory. Despite this, 15% of the Simca were sold to Chrysler. In 1970, the American concern completely bought out the French brand to create a Chrysler-France division on its basis. The Simca emblem had the appearance of a quadrangular shield divided into two segments. Above, against a blue background, a swift was depicted. The bottom was red and contained the brand name.
6 Facel Vega (1939-1964)
The Facel Vega automobile company was founded in 1954 from the metallurgical plant FACEL, which produced bodies for the Ford, Simca, and Panhard models in the past. The production of cars continued for ten years, but the owner was forced to liquidate the brand due to its bankruptcy. And all because of the Pont-a-Mousson engines: they were so unreliable that they ruined the Facel Vega’s reputation. It was because of them that the round yellow and black emblem, containing a large red letter «F,» a small «V» and a gray ring with six stars, and the inscription «FACEL VEGA PARIS,» did not inspire much confidence among buyers.
7 Delage (1905-1953)
French engineer Louis Delâge opened his own automobile company in 1905. Delage assembled stylish and fast vehicles that were making progress in motorsport. But during the financial crisis, demand for them dropped sharply. The owner was forced to sell the rights to the brand to his competitor, Delahaye. The new management fired Louis, and he soon died in poverty. And the Delage brand lasted only until 1954. The only reminder is a blue badge with an oval, where its name is written in white letters.
8 Corre La Licorne (1901-1949)
Corre La Licorne was formerly known as Corre. She added the second part of the name, inspired by the racer’s achievements, whose family crest was depicted as a mythical animal — the unicorn. He also adorned the automaker’s logo: the designers made it gold and placed it inside the red circle, complemented by a ring-frame in the form of a belt with the inscription «LA LICORNE.» The company closed in 1949 because the global changes in the automotive market took place connected with Pons Plan.