By on June 13, 2012

After taking you on trips to Monaco, the world for an eventful April World Round-up and the Top 100 best-selling models worldwide over the First Quarter of 2012, this week I will take you on a trip through space AND time, going through the cars the French have been buying for the last 60 years.

And the answer is yes: they are all French. Never has a foreign model managed to top the sales charts in France, not even on the podium or in the Top 5…

Enough of the French? I don’t blame you, so you can visit 163 additional countries and territories in my blog, go on, you know you want to!

Back to the French…

First of all may I just say that this is just a summary.

And if you are interested in lots and lots of data (as I know some of you are), you can check out the best-selling models in France for each and every year since 1949 here. I’ve even pushed the envelope to display the sales of absolutely every single model in France from 1984 to 1993, a rare Top 20 including imports for 1966 and 1967, and every monthly Top 10 ranking from January 1982 to December 1992 and from June 2004 onwards…

There. This should keep you occupied for a few days…

Back to the summary.

Since 1949 it’s either a Renault or a Peugeot that topped the models ranking in France, except for 3 times: the Simca Aronde was #1 in 1956

…the Citroen Ami 6 was the only Citroen in the last 60 years to hold the top spot in the country in 1966

..no, the legendary 2CV never topped the French rankings…

…nor did the more luxurious and revolutionary DS.

Lastly the Simca 1100 ranked #1 in 1972.

While it’s aiming at the top spot in 2013 with the 208…

Peugeot had 4 cars reigning over the French models ranking, starting in 1969 with the 204

…followed by the 205 in 198419851990 and 1991

…the 206 in 2001 & 2004

and the 207 from 2007 to 2010.

Renault has been the most successful brand in France over the last 60 years, starting with the 4CV in 1949 (the year indicates the start of their stint at #1)…

…the Dauphine in 1957

…the Renault 4 in 1962, it would end up being the most popular car ever built in France with over 8 million units…

…the Renault 12 in 1973

Renault 5 in 1974 (sold as Le Car in the USA….with mixed results to put it mildly)

Supercinq in 1986

Clio in 1992

…and the Megane in 1997 . The Clio is the nameplate that has stayed #1 for the longest: 13 times between 1992 and 2011!

And now, because you have been nice, here is a table of all best-sellers in France since 1949 with their sales volume and market share when available. If you happen to have access to data where it says n/a or ? please get in touch by commenting on here!

If you click on the year or the model it will link you to a proper, full-blown article about that year.

Best-selling models in France 1949-2011:

Year France Best-seller Sales Share
1949 Renault 4CV n/a n/a
1950 Renault 4CV 50,291 28.9%
1951 Renault 4CV n/a n/a
1952 Renault 4CV n/a n/a
1953 Renault 4CV n/a n/a
1954 Renault 4CV n/a n/a
1955 Renault 4CV n/a n/a
1956 Simca Aronde n/a n/a
1957 Renault Dauphine n/a n/a
1958 Renault Dauphine (p) 280,000 30.9%
1959 Renault Dauphine (p) 395,000 38.3%
1960 Renault Dauphine (p) 382,000 36.1%
1961 Renault Dauphine (p) 267,000 36.1%
1962 Renault 4L (p) 197,000 15.5%
1963 Renault 4L (p) 233,000 15.9%
1964 Renault 4L n/a n/a
1965 Renault 4L (p) 182,000 12.8%
1966 Citroen Ami 6 162,000 n/a
1967 Renault 4 177,950 14.5%
1968 Renault 4 174,000 13.4%
1969 Peugeot 204 150,000 11.0%
1970 Peugeot 204 n/a n/a
1971 Peugeot 204 n/a n/a
1972 Simca 1100 n/a n/a
1973 Renault 12 n/a n/a
1974 Renault 5 154,000 11.0%
1975 Renault 5 151,200 10.2%
1976 Renault 5 165,382 8.9%
1977 Renault 5 n/a 10.1%
1978 Renault 5 n/a 10.0%
1979 Renault 5 n/a 10.8%
1980 Renault 5 299,712 16.0%
1981 Renault 5 282,486 15.4%
1982 Renault 5 265,748 12.9%
1983 Renault 5 211,094 10.5%
1984 Peugeot 205 171,702 9.8%
1985 Peugeot 205 226,974 12.9%
1986 Renault Supercinq 219,570 11.5%
1987 Renault Supercinq 239,660 11.4%
1988 Renault Supercinq 241,653 10.9%
1989 Renault Supercinq 236,929 10.4%
1990 Peugeot 205 229,044 9.9%
1991 Peugeot 205 200,781 9.9%
1992 Renault Clio 233,209 11.1%
1993 Renault Clio 172,881 10.0%
1994 Renault Clio 194,034 9.8%
1995 Renault Clio 170,269 8.8%
1996 Renault Clio 163,396 7.7%
1997 Renault Megane 143,821 8.4%
1998 Renault Clio 166,937 8.6%
1999 Renault Clio 180,302 8.4%
2000 Renault Clio 187,660 8.8%
2001 Peugeot 206 211,220 9.4%
2002 Renault Clio 188,210 8.8%
2003 Renault Clio 162,979 8.1%
2004 Peugeot 206 151,250 7.5%
2005 Renault Clio 132,382 6.4%
2006 Renault Clio 134,001 6.7%
2007 Peugeot 207 131,623 6.4%
2008 Peugeot 207 136,283 6.6%
2009 Peugeot 207 131,333 5.8%
2010 Peugeot 207 126,854 5.6%
2011 Renault Clio 123,827 5.6%

(p) indicates production figures.

Data sourced with CCFA, Auto Plus, L’Auto Journal, Wikipedia and L’Argus.

Matt Gasnier, based in Sydney, Australia, runs a blog named Best Selling Cars, dedicated to counting cars all over the world.

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15 Comments on “Best Selling Cars Around The Globe: What The French Have Been Buying For The Last 60 Years...”


  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    I would love to have a Citroen Ami 6. It’s the most endearing ugly car around, and the french are good at making endearing ugly cars.

  • avatar
    Lampredi

    Looks like the Italians have something to learn from the French…

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I’m interested in why a French car is always at the top – national pride, closed market, subsidies, truly the best car…?

    For me, the 2CV and the DS are what come to mind when I think of pure French cars.

    • 0 avatar
      schmitt trigger

      Definitively Citroen is, for better or worse, the icon of french vehicle design.

      However for me at least, the vehicle I associate with France is the Dauphine, having ridden one of those when I was a child…and never forgetting the experience.

    • 0 avatar
      Robbie

      It is a closed market, vehicles without French nameplate tend to be very expensive in France.

      • 0 avatar
        Ibizaguy

        France a closed market? They’re foundres of the European Community back in 1956 which was, before all, a free-trade agreement.

        You could get any German or Italian car even in the 60s.

        IMHO, the French just buy French because of tradition (they know their cars, of course), decent quality (French cars aren’t bad at all) and some chauvinism, of course.

        Spaniards buy SEATs, Italians buy FIATs

      • 0 avatar
        gcorley

        I am afraid you are wrong! France is not a closed market.

        In the past the French have prefered French cars, this is now changing with in particular VW Group cars (VW, Audi & Skoda) increasing entering in the Top 10.

      • 0 avatar
        chalmers

        yeah, chauvinism is probably the best explanation. Additionally the auto rags here still do that whole “the French car nearly always wins H2H match-ups against other cars”
        Autoplus, which the author used as source, runs weekly the top models and market share of the automakers and I have never seen a week where the big French 3 don’t own over 50% of the market (I don’t read religiously, but enough to know that it’s common…)
        One could also argue from the other angle, that the French manufacturers make cars that the French want in a global market where most manufacturers are trying to please all of Western Europe, but it’s pretty much chauvinism IMHO.

        The Toyota Yaris is sold as a “French car, made by French people, for Europe” (it’s put together in N. France) on TV over here.

  • avatar
    Darkhorse

    Ahhh, the 4CV, the 2CV, the R4 etc. Back when cars were simple and people were complicated.

  • avatar
    Joss

    The French may be wowed by any piece of crap. Take the 604. Chop/re-skin a 504 but keep the same back doors. Voila – new luxo-boat with wait for it – 6 cylinders. Share that motor with the other domestic competition. And there you go – a sales loser. The toast of France.

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Brisbane

    In the mid seventies, my employer had a fleet of half Renault 12 wagons and half Datsun 1200 wagons. The Renault was far superior in every way except one. It had better seats, a more comfortable ride, finer fit and finish, more luxury, tighter handling, lower noise levels and greater reliability BUT the Datsun was faster.

  • avatar
    Ibizaguy

    Back in the 80s, what amazed me from French cars is how underpowered they were. I remember you could get a Renault 21 with a 1.4liter engine, whereas in Spain, nobody would accept less than the 1.7liter.

    Then I learned about the previous car tax system, which taxes on “Puissance Fiscale” (Tax horsepower): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tax_horsepower#France which favoured small engine displacements. That’s why my French uncle had that slow R21. Now they use a CO2-based system which allows to save money on taxes driving bigger engines.

    You would be also surprised on how stripped some French cars (sold in France) are… Google Peugeot 205 Junior or Clio Chipie (owned by my cousins).

  • avatar
    dwight

    Still love the Renault 5.

  • avatar
    svenmeier

    I grew up during the ’50s and ’60s and have many wonderful experiences with most of the cars on those lists. My first car was a Citroen 2CV. Wonderful car. It was cheaply built but it was reliable and comfortable and fun to drive believe it or not. The main problem was rust and material wear and tear but those could easily be replaced which meant that 2CV owners could keep the car for a very long time.

    The Renault 4 was also an amazing car. I remember when it was first shown in public and how we were all in awe of how advanced it was. The R4 as we called it was a small car but it was so spacious inside thanks to intelligent design. In France and Switzerland at the time it was considered fairly quick and fast, at least when compared to the 2CV.

    Wonderful cars.

  • avatar
    Pugpal

    I am not a fan of French cars per se, nor am I a fan of Peugeot cars across the board. Indeed, I think PSA have produced a number of very mediocre cars over the years, cars that I would never buy. I just wouldn’t put the 404, the 504 or IMHO, their best car, the 505 in that category. By way of disclosure, I have owned Peugeot 4 or 5 series cars continuously since 1976. It started with a used but well-engineered 1970 404 wagon and later, a used but utterly bulletproof 1974 504 wagon.

    Being 6 foot 3 inches tall, the 404 and the five series cars fit my frame like a glove. Ergonomics are nigh on perfect. Chassis and mechanical engineering is excellent. Thanks to the Italian flair for classic style (Grazie, Pininfarina!) the styling never ages. The 404s, 504s and 505s have been remarkably reliable (with a few exceptions) and are fearless in the worst weather imaginable, including firing up easily during very cold weather, loving to be driven in deep snow (wagons especially) and can handle ice with aplomb – the Michelin X-Ice tires being a big help. The 505 has impeccable road manners and is remarkably spacious for its size: I have had 38 bankers boxes in my wagon.

    Since 1982, I have had every type of 505 except a diesel powered one. (Not by choice, only because I could not find one.) Sedans and wagons, automatics and manuals, four bangers, turbos, V6s, leather, cloth, you name it. They were all exceptional vehicles in almost every respect. Yes, they had their faults and each one of them put me on the side of the road at least once in 30 years, but those were few and easily forgotten when, after every trip, you left the car with a smile on your face and often turned your head to look back at it. No, I don’t worship my 505s, they are man-made pieces of metal, plastic and rubber, but I do appreciate them.

    With my current fleet about 26 years old, and with about 5 more years life left in them under Canadian winter/salt conditions, I have been looking for a suitable replacement if and when they ever die. I will not look forward to that day, for they are old friends and almost part of the family. Acceptable replacements are very few especially a replacement for the formidable 505 wagon. Sedan-wise, the new Passat TDI and the Camry SE/Hybrid are the only cars on my short list at the moment, each with serious reservations. The Peugeot 508, which is available only in Europe, looks promising, but alas, even it lacks some of the endearing qualities of the 505 – perfect sight lines and in the wagon, uncompromised utility.

    The 505 – one of the best kept automotive secrets in North America.


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