A bit of light reading for everyone wishing they were in Geneva, munching on some pain au chocolat while paying $8 for a Nespresso. CAR magazine contributor Stephen Bayley has a very entertaining essay entitled “The End of the French Car“, in which he laments the demise of the quirky, compact French automobile.
Bayley’s thesis is that once France lost it’s cultural capital, the cars began their inevitable decline
When did the decline start ? Back in those first paragraph student days, I could sit on a train for thirty-six hours to Madrid and have for company only my French philosophers and the latest copy of Auto Journal with all its fabulous news of new French cars with oleo-pneumatic suspension and strange seating arrangements. Who can say whether it was cause or effect, but when French culture as a whole lost its authority, the cars became boring. Who reads Sartre today ? Exactly.
Sure, the death of the Citroen C6 was a bit of a turning point; the large French luxury sedan with superb ride quality and great design (and admittedly, not much else) had finally lost any relevance in the wider marketplace. But I’m not so sure that it’s time to bury French cars for good.
The Renault 4 and Citroen 2CV that Bayley venerates are no longer with us, but in their place, we have the Dacia. Not as quirky or memorable, sure, but designed to fulfill the same promise of cheap transportation for those who may not have been able to afford a new car. The Peugeot 205 GTI may be dead, but just around the corner, there is a Peugeot 208 Hybrid with a two-cylinder engine that will hit 60 mph in about 8 seconds (roughly the same as a 205 GTI, maybe a bit quicker, depending on who you ask) and weighs a couple hundred pounds less than the 205. If anything, the demise of French cars won’t come from a lack of competent product, but market forces that have little to do with the cars themselves.