Initially, France was among the pioneers in car manufacturing. At the beginning of the previous century it produced the most advanced vehicles and boasted the world’s largest car market.
After the World War II, however, France lost its know-how in high luxury production, and only a few prestigious models were left.
The French automotive industry is 13th-largest in the world by unit production. Lately, France has been steadily climbing back to the top, making more and more sophisticated and powerful vehicles. Still, there have been almost no French car brands sold in the US in 25 years, since Peugeot, Citroen, and Renault left the North American market.
Top-selling French car brands
Peugeot offers a wide range of models at competitive prices. Being one of the country’s economy cornerstones, it makes almost a million vehicles annually (in conjunction with Citroen). Peugeot managed to survive in spite of financial challenges, partly due to the fact that some of its production sites were moved to other countries.
Many models from its range lack some of the modern technological options, but Peugeot has made a breakthrough recently. We can definitely mention 3008 crossover and RCZ coupe that set up new standards in style and performance.
The popularity of Citroen among French car brands lately could be partly explained by its wise pricing policies. It offers a wide range of affordable and stylish vehicles. Also, this company is starting to regain its fame as the maker of excellent sports cars. C4 Cactus and DS5 models are definitely an example of engineering excellence.
Quality, medium-priced sedans and SUVs have made Renault one of the most popular French car manufacturers from the EU to Asia.
The product range varies greatly. In addition to top-selling sedans and SUVs (like Logan and Duster), it includes family cars (Twingo supermini, Espace MPV), practical Renault Scenic, as well as sports models.
Bugatti Veyron Sports is sometimes named the world’s fastest car. Another Bugatti star is its 1500-hp Chiron – the hypercar claiming a top speed of 261 mph. Excellent design is one of the characteristics that makes Bugatti vehicles stand out in the crowd.
The history of Bugatti had its ups and downs, in fact, it is the history of three separate companies that followed each other: Automobiles Ettore Bugatti (1909-1963), Bugatti Automobili S.p.A. (1987-1995), and the present-day Bugatti Automobiles.
Other car brands
French brand Microcar was founded in 1984. Its urban 2-seat micro car Newstreet has a fixed demand among French youth. 16-year-old persons without a drivers’ license are allowed to drive this car model. There is a safety bow installed behind seats, which protects a driver and a passenger. The car can put on full speed 45 km/h. There are also two series of front wheel drive super compact cars intended for elder buyers in the program of the brand Microcar.
The make Hommell refers to a super car created by an editor of a French car periodical specialized on motor sport and sports cars. The car was named after its creator Michel Hommell. The first model of Hommell was designed in the 1994. The make was engaged in creation of special cars for participation in the French action movie “Michel Vaillant: Need for Speed”. Three ears of wheat became the emblem of Hommell.
It is a French-British car manufacturer. For this moment, the production of cars under this make is terminated and all rights for the make belong to the French concern PSA. The emblem of Talbot is a stylized image of the letter “T” in a circle.
The engineer Bernard Cournil created a small firm that was specialized in cars` rebuilding in the city of Aurillac (France). Jeep cars abandoned after the war by troops of allies were adapted by Cournil for use in agriculture. By the beginning of the 60s, he produced his own transport vehicle meeting the requirements of farmers. It received the nickname of Tracteur Cornil. From 1960 until 1970, that car received a number of changes to match with actual norms. The changes happened to its heating system, seats, a speedometer was installed.
Simca is a French automobile industry company. The name Simca is an acronym formed from the full name of the French car maker La Societe industrielle et mecanique des constructions automobiles, which was founded in France in 934 by an Italian Henri Théodore Pigozzi, who decided to expand the market of sale of Fiat cars. The Simca emblem is a coat of arms base separated into a blue and a red background inside. In addition, the red background takes 1/3 more place than the blue one. There is a stylized image of a white swallow in the upper blue part of the emblem.
The serial models and prototypes of Matra are rather an original page of the French cars` history. Racing cars and serial cars were produced under this make from 1964 to 2003. At present, Matra is engaged in the production of eco-friendly electric vehicles. It is a subsidiary of the company Lagardere S.C.A.
Minor car manufacturers from France
ACMAT, Panhard General Defense (Auverland) and Alpine can be named among French car brands associated with Renault. ACMAT makes cross-country and tactical military vehicles, while Panhard General Defense is well-known for its armored fighting vehicles and four-wheel-drive cars resembling Jeep. Both are divisions of Renault Trucks. Alpine gained recognition for its racing and sports cars equipped with rear-mounted Renault engines.
De Clercq, DeLaChapelle, Exagon Motors, SECMA, PGO, and Venturi should also be mentioned among minor French carmakers.
Founder: Jean Rédélé
Headquarters: Dieppe, France
Alpine is an automotive manufacturer known for producing high-performance vehicles. The company specializes in luxury sports cars and is owned by the Renault Group. With its headquarters in Dieppe, France, Alpine operates production facilities in various locations, including the Dieppe plant where its iconic models are assembled. Known for their sleek design and exceptional driving dynamics, Alpine cars have gained a reputation for delivering an exhilarating driving experience.
Founder: Claude Poiraud, Gérard Godfroy
Headquarters: Fontvieille, Monaco, France
Venturi is a renowned automobile manufacturer specializing in electric vehicles. The company is currently owned by Gildo Pastor, who took over in 2001. Venturi is based in Monaco and operates in an ultramodern facility called Venturi Global Headquarters, situated in the Fontvieille district. This cutting-edge facility serves as the hub for the company’s research, development, and production of innovative electric cars, showcasing their commitment to sustainable mobility.
Founder: Guy Ligier
Headquarters: Abrest, France
Parent: 21 Investimenti Partners
Ligier is a renowned automotive manufacturer specializing in the production of microcars and light commercial vehicles. The company, owned by the French Groupe PSA, focuses on developing innovative and eco-friendly transportation solutions. With its headquarters located in France, Ligier operates globally, catering to customers’ mobility needs across various regions.
Corre La Licorne
Founder: Jean-Marie Corre
Headquarters: Levallois-Perret, France
Corre La Licorne is an esteemed automotive manufacturer known for its exceptional craftsmanship and innovation. Under the ownership of the prestigious Delahaye family, the company has been producing high-quality vehicles since its establishment. Located in the picturesque city of Courbevoie, France, Corre La Licorne operates from a state-of-the-art facility, where skilled engineers and designers work tirelessly to create cutting-edge automobiles that combine elegance with performance.
Founder: Gilles and Olivier Prevot
Headquarters: Saint-Christol-lès-Alès, France
PGO is a French car manufacturer, owned by the Prevot brothers. Established in 1985, the company specializes in producing sports cars with retro designs. The company operates from its headquarters in Gard, France, distributing vehicles globally with notable presence in Europe and Asia.
Headquarters: Aix-les-Bains, Savoie, France
Aixam, a French automobile manufacturer, specializes in producing microcars. Owned by Polaris Industries since 2013, its operations span Europe, focusing primarily on France and Italy. Aixam is noted for creating compact, fuel-efficient vehicles that require no driver’s license to operate in some regions.
Founder: Louis Delage
Headquarters: Levallois-Perret, France
Delage, a French luxury automaker, is owned by Lesage Motors. Specializing in creating high-end, custom-built vehicles, Delage has captivated the auto world with its innovative designs. The company operates from its base in France, providing bespoke automobile solutions worldwide.
Founder: Marius Berliet
Headquarters: Vénissieux, France
Parent: Citroën (1968-1974), Renault (1974-1978)
Berliet, a historic French manufacturer of automobiles and commercial vehicles, is a subsidiary of the Volvo Group. Headquartered in Lyon, the firm designs and produces vehicles for various industries, spanning Europe and beyond. As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, Berliet no longer operates as a standalone brand but contributes to Volvo’s diverse portfolio.
Founder: Groupe PSA
Headquarters: Paris, France
Owner: CGroupe PSA (PSA Peugeot Citroën)
DS Automobiles, a premium marque of Groupe PSA (now Stellantis), excels in manufacturing luxury vehicles. Born in France, the brand has extended its operations across Europe and China. Renowned for its avant-garde design and technological innovation, DS remains committed to enhancing the driving experience.
Founder: Jean Daninos
Headquarters: Paris, France
Facel Vega, a French car manufacturer, was established in 1954 by Jean Daninos. Specializing in luxury vehicles, the brand became iconic for its combination of elegance and power. Following financial struggles, it ceased production in 1964. The company was headquartered and operated in Paris, France.
Founder: René Panhard, Émile Levassor
Headquarters: Paris, France
Parent: Renault Trucks Defense
Panhard, a French vehicle manufacturer, specializes in military vehicles, owned by Renault Trucks Defense. Headquartered in Paris, they’ve served the defense industry worldwide since their shift from civilian vehicles in 1967.