To celebrate the beginning of summer and the slow opening up of Europe we’ve taken a revised look at our top five French car brands.
France is famous for a lot of things, good food, great wine and all things romantic with Paris known worldwide as the city of love. One thing it’s not as well known for, though it should be in our opinion, is its automotive industry.
Though it might not have powerhouse brands like Germany there are a number of great brands that come from France, and today we’ll highlight our top five.
Peugeot is one of the oldest vehicle companies in the world if you base it on when the business was first opened which was in 1810. However, it didn’t begin life as a car manufacturer, in fact in 1810 the company was a steel foundry producing coffee grinders, band saws and umbrella frames.
The business was a family one founded by brothers Jean-Pierre and Jean-Frédéric Peugeot who learnt from their father’s business endeavours who in his live had a weaving business, a dye works, an oil mill and a grain mill.
In 1889 Peugeot produced their first car, making them the world’s second-oldest car manufacturer and the oldest continuous car brand. Since 1929 Peugeot have been using their recognisable numbering names like the original 201 or today’s 308.
One thing we all recognise a Peugeot for is their iconic lion badging. This was originally introduced in 1947 and has been through several changes since then but we can all recognise a Peugeot for the lion badge as well as their engine’s roar.
Peugeot are today the flagship brand for the PSA Groupe, who controls several other car brands including Citroën, DS and Vauxhall-Opel.
Like Renault, Peugeot has had great success in motor racing, across all forms including Le Mans and Rally and continues to compete to this day.
Renault was founded nearly a 125 years ago in 1898 by three brothers, Fernand, Marcel and Louis Renault.
Louis was already an engineer and an industrialist but his true passion was automobiles and so he asked his brothers to help him in setting up their own business so he could pursue this. The company was established by Fernand and Marcel in 1898, and their brother Louis remained an employee of the company so that he could dedicate all his time to design and wasn’t worried about the management of their business. Together they all decided on the name of the Renault Frères Trois, which translates to the Three Renault Brothers in English.
In 1899 Louis and Marcel started to race their own cars starting the company’s lifetime association with motorsports, which has gone on to see many motoring accolades including winning the Le Mans 24 Hours, F1 World Champions, and Rally wins.
The company was nationalised in 1945 but was later privatised again in 1990. It has formed strategic partnerships with other companies in order to help keep the brand competitive in the ever-evolving automobile market, most notably with Nissan and then the two of them with Mitsubishi in the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance.
Renault also owns major shares in the Dacia brand, the Russian AVTOVAZ brand and owns Samsung Motors who sell cars in the South Korean market.
In the modern era Renault is known for producing a number of great family vehicles, from small city hatchbacks through to large MPVs it covers the entire range.
They also have their RS versions of several of their best sellers that put the Renault into the hot hatch arena, with their higher performance and speed offerings.
Check out our best Renault leasing deals here or scroll down to see the rest of our top five French brands.
DS started life as a model range within the Citroën brand but has now evolved into its own brand entirely. But given their intwined history and continued close relationship with shared technology, design and production we’re going to cover them both together.
In 1919 Citroën was founded by Andre-Gustave Citroën who revolutionised the motor industry when he purchased the patent for a chevron-shaped gear that was used in milling, that he saw whilst on a trip in Poland. The innovative gear revolutionised his production capabilities enabling him to make a large number of small and cheap cars quickly.
The chevron design was later adapted into the company’s logo which is still used to this day.
Citroën understood the power of a great marketing campaign and between 1925 and 1934 they managed to employ the Eiffel Tower as the world’s largest advertising sign, displaying their name prominently for all of Paris to see.
Over the years we’ve seen many iconic cars come from Citroën like the cult-classic 2CV, which maintains fans and its own racing series to this day despite production stopping in 1988. The DS was so popular that as mentioned earlier it’s now become a brand of its own and continues to sell models around the world.
It might surprise you to learn that one of the biggest supercar producers is French, but Bugatti is a French brand and is in fact one of the oldest supercar manufacturers pre-dating Lamborghini, Ferrari, Porsche and McLaren.
Italian-born French automobile designer and manufacturer Ettore Bugatti set up his own company, Automobiles E. Bugatti, in 1909 in the city of Molsheim which is in the present-day Alsace region of France.
Jean Bugatti, Ettore’s oldest son, worked alongside his father as a designer and test driver to help the company develop a strong reputation across racing competitions, including the Grand Prix, and their Bugatti Type 35 wone the first-ever Monaco Grand Prix.
Jean died at the young age of 30 in 1939 the business struggled and was sold in 1963 and remained fairly quiet until the brand was purchased by Volkswagen in 1998 and brought life back to it with the Bugatti Veyron.
The model was named after Bugatti’s long-standing test driver, Pierre Veyron, and was the first production car to ever have more than 1,000 bhp and a top speed of 253 mph and the supersport version was even quicker at 268 mph.
Despite their iconic status, Bugatti made a huge loss on each model sold with some estimates putting it at a £4 million deficit between production costs and their selling price of £1 million.
Bugatti continues to produce supercars, with super price tags, but if you can afford to spend the money then you’ll really experience the thrill of driving.
Alpine is the youngest and the least known brand that made it onto our list.
In 1955 after some success in rallying Jean Rédélé, who had previously been the youngest Renault dealer in the country, decided to set up his own company and so Alpine came into existence. The name was chosen as a nod towards his racing success and the roads that he won on.
Previously, in his racing Jean had raced in the Renault 4CV and this connection led to a close relationship between the two companies until Renault finally purchased Alpine in 1973.
They remain a separate subsidiary brand and continue to produce their own vehicles until 1995, from then until 2017 production of Alpine cars ceased and the brand was dormant. In 2017 Renault decided to relaunch the Alpine brand with the A110 model which has seen success across the world going from just 7 cars sold in 2017 to over 4,000 in the last year.
For more great articles, including our top five Italian, German, Asian, and American brands head back to our blogs home page or if you want to find out more about leasing then check out some of our guides.