The Truth About Cars » french cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 16 Jul 2014 03:28:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » french cars Car Guys and Car Gals You Should Know About: Emile Mathis and His All-Aluminum 1946 VEL 333 Thu, 10 Apr 2014 13:00:58 +0000 Retromobile2008_0236

For a man who once ran the fourth biggest car company in France, behind Citroën, Renault and Peugeot, an automobile manufacturer who produced motorcars designed by Ettore Bugatti and others in partnership with Henry Ford, Emile Mathis is relatively unknown today. Though he made many thousands of cars, ironically he’s better known today because of a car of his that never got to production.

emile mathis

Born in the Alsace region of German nationality in 1880, Emile Mathis was said to have built his first automobile by the turn of the 20th century. Having been formally trained in business, with his interest in cars it was probably natural for him to become a car dealer. The Auto-Mathis-Palace in Strasbourg sold, among others, brands like Fiat, De Dietrich, and Panhard-Levassor, making it one of the leading dealerships in the city. By 1904, he was manufacturing cars under the Hermes brand, building two models designed by Ettore Bugatti. He also had automobiles built with a license from Stoewer.

1904 Mathis Hermes

1904 Mathis Hermes

The first car that he sold under his own brand name, the 8/20 PS, went on sale in 1910 and by the start of World War One two small Mathis cars, the 1.3 liter Baby and the even smaller 1.1 liter Babylette had achieved some measure of success. It was after the war, though, that Mathis started making and selling cars in quantity. By 1927 Mathis was making more than 20,000 cars a year, making the firm the 4th largest automaker in France.


Emile Mathis and one of his early automobiles

It seems that Emile Mathis was attracted to the United States and American cars. Though sales were strong through the end of the 1920s, with the start of the Depression they started to decline and Mathis looked west. Today, joint ventures between car companies on different continents are commonplace, but then it was a fairly novel idea.


In 1930 Mathis made his first attempt to forge an alliance with an American automaker. He and William C. Durant made plans to form a partnership. By then Durant had been forced out at General Motors and had started building cars under his own brand. Mathis wanted the American entrepreneur to build cars for the European market in Durant’s Lansing, Michigan factory. They thought they’d be able to sell up to 100,000 cars a year but Durant couldn’t get the project funded and went out of business the following year.

mathis babylette

Staying in France, Mathis expanded his own firm’s lineup. 1932′s Mathis EMY 8 Deauville was a large, eight cylinder car that was likely modeled after the American Packards. In 1934, he introduced the EMY 4, a 1,445cc-powered car with a synchromesh transmission, hydraulic brakes and eventually fully independent suspension, giving him three different car lines and four different trucks. Though Mathis introduced advanced features like those on the EMY lines before his competitors, sales continued to deteriorate.


Not giving up on his plan of a partnership with an American car company, in 1934 Mathis seemingly hit the jackpot when he negotiated an agreement with Henry Ford. Ford Motor Company wanted to expand production of the Ford Model Y designed for the European market and Mathis’ Strasbourg factory was underutilized. The joint venture with Ford was called SA Française Matford Strasbourg. Ford owned 60% and Mathis the rest. Ford invested a substantial amount of money in the plant which at first produced copies of British and American Fords but by 1936 it was assembling localized vehicles under the Matford Alsace brand. While Matfords are obviously mid to late 1930s Fords, they did have features that distinguished them from non-French Fords, including Mathis’ independent front suspension on some models.

1938 Matford

1938 Matford

Matfords were produced until 1939, but Mathis was both disappointed by lower than expected sales and not comfortable being second in the relationship to Henry Ford so in 1938 he sold his shares in the joint venture. Most of Henry Ford’s business associates eventually parted ways with him. To my knowledge, only a handful of high level Ford employees stayed with the man and his company for their entire careers. Few people maintained relationships with Henry Ford for very long. Mathis was no different.


Again looking to America, after leaving Matford, Emile Mathis moved to the United States and started making marine engines using the Matam brand. After World War II broke out, he stayed in the U.S. for the duration of the war.


Before the outbreak of hostilities, Emile Mathis had reasserted control of his factory in Strasbourg but as war approached the region was likely to be contested so he stayed an absentee landlord. Also, as a German Alsatian, Mathis had been drafted in the German army during WWI, but in 1916, while on a mission to Switzerland to buy truck, he deserted, taking the cash he was given for the trucks’ purchase. He also enlisted in the French army. Once Germany overran France in 1940, his return from America was mooted, and in any case since the Germans considered him to be a traitor and embezzler and had him on a wanted list he wasn’t going back to France under the Vichy government.


In 1946, Mathis returned to France to find his factory in Strasbourg had been mostly destroyed by Allied bombing as it was used by the Germans to make munitions and engines for military vehicles. Well, actually it wasn’t much of a surprise since he had supplied the Allies with the plans to the plants so they could more accurately bomb the production facilities. Before he could build cars he needed to rebuild the factory, which took two years and a substantial amount of money. Once his factory was rebuilt, he tried rebuilding his car company but he ended up being stymied by post war French governmental policies. A book should be written on how trying to structure the French automobile industry per the wishes of politicians and bureaucrats ended up killing off many French car companies. Those policies may also have indirectly led to the death of Emile Mathis himself.


In addition to dealing with the policies enacted under what became known as the Pons Plan, Mathis had been out of the country for 7 years and had few connections with holdovers from the Vichy regime and other bureaucrats in positions of power when he returned to France. You can go over to Wikipedia and read about the Pons Plan (named after Paul Marie Pons, a senior French bureaucrat) in more detail but briefly, starting in 1946 the French government basically decided which of the 22 car and 28 truck manufacturers would survive. Since the government controlled permits and, more importantly, which companies got access to raw materials like steel that were in high demand in the postwar reconstruction period, even companies that didn’t go along with the Pons Plan had to comply with it. The net result in the French car industry was that the large manufacturers, Citroën, Renault, Peugeot and Simca were favored while the second tier and luxury car makers were starved of supplies. Engine displacement based taxes also negatively impacted French coachbuilders and luxury marques.


Getting back to Mathis, with his factory rebuilt he needed a car to build in it, something suitable for a continent rebuilding after war. What he came up with was quite advanced from an engineering standpoint, and while it never got beyond prototype stage, with only 10 examples being built, it was novel enough to give Mathis a place in automotive history that his more successful pre-war endeavors have not quite secured. Considered the first all-aluminum car, it’s also, in a number of ways, very similar to a modern car planned by a new automotive startup.

Mathis-Engine Mathis-Engine

What Mathis came up with was the VEL 333. The name stood for Voiture Economique Légere, a light economical vehicle, that consumed three liters of fuel for every 100 kilometers (78.41 mpg), with three wheels and three seats. It had unibody architecture, with the aluminum monocoque being electrically welded. Though steel was in very short supply in 1946, aluminum was abundant. Demand for the metal from the aircraft industry had declined with the end of the war, plus there was ample surplus from planes being taken out of commission, and scrap from planes shot down in combat.

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The two door body was designed by noted aerodynamicist and designer Jean Andreau. Andreau also was an exponent of adding lightness, known for his slogan, “weight is the biggest enemy”. The three wheels were laid out in reverse trike fashion with two wheels up front and one in the back, packaged in a sporty looking and very modern envelope body. Passengers also sat two in the front with the rear passenger sitting sidesaddle. Power was supplied to the front wheels by a water cooled 707 cc horizontally opposed twin putting out 15 horsepower. It appears that the entire drivetrain and front suspension mounted to a subframe that bolted to the unibody. Top speed was said to be 70 mph, aided by the car’s aerodynamics. Total weight was only 386 kilograms (851 lbs) with the body itself weighing only 78 kg (172 lbs). The VEL 333 also had a novel twin radiator setup, with each cylinder having its own radiator (it’s not clear if each cylinder had its own water pump).


Though he was unable to persuade the French government to let him produce the VEL 333, Mathis didn’t give up. In 1947 he introduced the Mathis 666, this time standing for six cylinders, six seats and a six-speed transmission, which may have been another first and in any case was an early application of such a multi-speed gear box. The engine was again a flat, horizontally opposed motor, displacing 2.2 liters and again Mathis used front wheel drive. It’s possible that the Mathis 666 was the first FWD car with a flat six, decades before Subaru would build one. The 666 had angular styling that still looks almost contemporary, and it featured a wraparound windscreen. Panoramic windshields were a big thing on show cars in the late ’40s and early 1950s. Fully independent suspension, which the 666 also featured, was less common then. A year later Mathis increased displacement to 2.8 liters and the car was shown at the Paris Auto Salon of 1949 but it was to no avail. It’s not clear how many 666 cars were made by Mathis, but a prototype has survived and has been exhibited at the big French old car show, Retromobile.

mathis 6663

For the 1949-1950 model year, Mathis published a 16 page sales brochure that reiterated Emile Mathis’ affection for the United States: “Fast, economical and silent! The Mathis six cyl. car combines the American qualities of endurance and acceleration with the French features of economy and elegance.” That brochure included three alternate body styles of the 666 that likely never got beyond the designers’ sketches, a berline sedan, a roadster with a body by Saoutchik, and the Mathis Dandy, a landau roofed open car by Henri Chapron.


Emile Mathis’ final car was a Jeep-like vehicle that used the 2.8 liter engine from the 666, introduced in 1951 but just three were built. Emile Mathis kept his factory going by making engines for light aircraft and components for Renault but in 1954 he sold the Strasbourg factory to Citroën. In 1956 Mathis died after a fall from a hotel window. While some have suspected suicide motivated by desperation over not being able to revise his car company, by then he was 76 years old and elderly people do have falls. His death is still unexplained.


Starting next year, Elio Motors says that it will start making and selling a reverse trike with an aerodynamic enclosed body and a sub 1.0 liter engine powering the front wheels that will get 84 mpg. In the case of the Elio, it’s  a tandem two-seater with a steel tube space frame, not a three seater with an aluminum unibody, still, the specifications aren’t too far apart from the VEL 333. I’m sure that the folks at Elio hope to have more success with their three-wheeler than Mathis did with their own.


Though his postwar efforts to revive his car company did not end in success, Emile Mathis had an important role in the development of the French auto industry. Perhaps even more important was his role as a pioneer in how cars are made on a global scale. His cars were technologically advanced for their eras and his efforts to forge alliances with American automakers presaged the many international joint ventures in the car industry today.

Emile Mathis was a car guy you should know about.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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PSA Hires Ex-Renault COO Tavares As Next CEO Tue, 26 Nov 2013 16:45:37 +0000 450x222xjpg-3-450x222.jpg.pagespeed.ic.8kqTWHzuOU

PSA confirmed that former Renault COO Carlos Tavares will take over the reins starting January 1st. Tavares assumes the role at a fortunate point in time for PSA: an alliance with Chinese car maker Dongfeng is underway, and Tavares’ predecessor, Philippe Varin, has already completed the difficult task of closing factories and cutting thousands of jobs, a difficult task in a country like France.

Now, Tavares will be tasked with helping PSA turn things around, with a slate of new product, a leaner organization and  reorganized brand structure. Despite Varin laying much of the groundwork for a potentially revitalized PSA, Tavares could end up in the right place at the right time – able to fulfill his dream of running a car company, while presiding over a successful turnaround.

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Junkyard Find: 1989 Peugeot 405 S Sat, 13 Jul 2013 13:00:15 +0000 11 - 1989 Peugeot 405 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinPeugeot gave up on the North American market after the 1991 model year, thanks to poor sales of their new 405. I haven’t seen one of these cars on the street for at least 15 years, and junkyard sightings have been correspondingly rare. When I spotted this car at a Northern California self-serve yard a couple months back, it took me a moment to figure out what it was.
03 - 1989 Peugeot 405 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinNearly 200,000 miles on the clock, which is comparable to what I see on (non-Mitsubishi) Japanese cars of the same era.
02 - 1989 Peugeot 405 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWhen the company that built your car retreats from your continent, keeping it on the street becomes quite a challenge. This one made it to age 24.
10 - 1989 Peugeot 405 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe only Peugeot I’ve ever owned was a 504 that came with a bunch of Linda Ronstadt 8-tracks. I liked that car, in spite of its frequent breakdowns (yes, I know, the 504 is supposedly bulletproof everywhere else in the world).

We have a few Peugeot 405 Mi16s racing in the 24 Hours of LeMons (they’re quite affordable, i.e. less than scrap value in most cases). They’re somewhat quick, but they tend to be pretty blow-uppy. Here’s one depositing a connecting rod in the windshield of a following car.

01 - 1989 Peugeot 405 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1989 Peugeot 405 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1989 Peugeot 405 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1989 Peugeot 405 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1989 Peugeot 405 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1989 Peugeot 405 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1989 Peugeot 405 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1989 Peugeot 405 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1989 Peugeot 405 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1989 Peugeot 405 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1989 Peugeot 405 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1989 Peugeot 405 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1989 Peugeot 405 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]> 62
Italy Cracks Down On Tax Cheats. Will Ferrari, Maserati & Lamborghini Go The Way Of Bugatti, Delahaye and Talbot-Lago? Sun, 05 May 2013 16:39:04 +0000 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

TTAC alum Justin Berkowitz, over at Car and Driver, reports that a government crackdown on tax cheats has resulted in the Italian market for Italian supercars tanking. Ferrari sales went down 50% from 2011 to 2012. Maserati’s Italian sales have dropped 80% since 2009. Lamborghini is apparently selling no more than five cars a month in all of their home country.


The crackdown, which included checkpoint stops and revenue police visits to gatherings of car enthusiasts, was prompted by some pretty flagrant and apparently illegal tax avoidance, but the net result has been that even some tax compliant owners of high end cars have sold off their supercars and substituted less attention drawing rides. That means lower Italian sales for the very car companies that help define Italy in the minds of car enthusiasts world wide. Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo called his home market “a hostile environment for luxury goods”. Montezemolo pointed out that such luxury goods are an important “resource” for Italy, alluding to the foreign currency such goods bring in. Seven thousand cars is not a large figure in the car biz, but when you consider that the profit margin on a Ferrari is five, or possibly six figures, that’s a substantial ‘resource’, even before you add in Fila’s revenues on all those rosso corsa shirts and shoes. I’m no economist, just a guy who writes about cars, but if I were the Italian government, before I cracked down even harder on buyers of expensive cars I might consider what happened to the French car industry when the French government decided to lavish the tax man’s attention on luxury cars.

1938 Delahaye

1938 Delahaye

Once upon a time, not so very long ago actually, some of the very best cars in the world were French. Brands like Bugatti, Delahaye, Delage, Voisin, Facel and Talbot Lago stood for high performance but also a sense of style that stood out even in an era of magnificent automobiles that today are considered rolling sculpture. Drawing on generations of actual coach building, French automotive coachbuilders were kept busy by the, ahem, carriage trade in the period before World War Two. Today, none of those gloried French automakers exist. Yes, a division of Volkswagen owns the Bugatti brand and Ettore Bugatti’s former estate in Molsheim where Ferdinand Piech’s sttempt to show that he has the  biggest swinging dick in the automotive industry the Veyron is assembled, but nobody, even the folks who own Veyrons, think that the Veyron is a real Bugatti. Peter Mullin has real Bugattis.

Bugattis may have been at the top of le heap Francais, but the other French luxury marques were also highly regarded, so what happened? What happened was the notion of “fiscal horsepower”, cheval fiscal, abbreviated CV, as in the Citroen 2CV, a car built to be taxed as lightly as possible. Today the cheval fiscal is partly based, no surprise, on carbon dioxide emissions, but back in the postwar era, the formula involved, among other things, displacement, number of cylinders, maximum RPM of the engine, and vehicle weight. While the tax scheme promoted the development of small cars like the 2CV or Renault’s 4, it pretty much killed the French luxury car makers. The notion of taxing horsepower was popular in Europe but taxes on luxury and performance cars were particularly onerous in France.

Now right now, some of you are thinking, “Schreiber’s on a right wing anti-tax rant”, but don’t take my word for it. Almost every reference that I can find about French car makers in the postwar era mentions taxes, either as a reason for their success, as in the case of Citroen and their Deux Chevaux, or as a reason for their demise, as with the luxury brands. Looking at Wikipedia (yeah, I know, usual caveats apply), the entry for Talbot-Lago says that their cars, rated by the tax authorities at 15 CV, were taxed at “punitive” levels. When members of the Bugatti family tried to revive the company with the Type 101, its engine was rated at 17 CV, which put annual taxes at the “confiscatory” level. Starting with Sydney Allard’s Cadillac powered cars, a number of European automakers similarly installed American V8s in cars, but France’s Facel-Vega cars, which used Chrysler Hemis and Wedges, never used the biggest Mopar engines. The reason is usually attributed to French taxes. This broker’s listing for a 1949 Talbot-Lago T46 calls the French tax system “infuriating”. Whether you’re coming from the right or from the left, I think it’s fairly factual to say that high domestic taxes on luxury cars killed the French domestic luxury car industry.

The Italian government and tax authorities may think they’re doing their civic duty by cracking down on car enthusiasts who use untaxed income to buy exotic cars, without that crackdown hurting the export of expensive Italian automobiles, but they should consider the example of their neighbors in France. The present dearth of French luxury cars isn’t the only example Italians should heed. In 1990, in the United States, a Republican president and a Democratic Congress passed a special surtax on goods like yachts, private planes and very expensive cars. According to a PBS report in the mid 1990s, the 10% “luxury tax” imposed on yachts purchased in the U.S. almost destroyed American yacht makers. Rich folks didn’t stop buying expensive things, they just bought their boats in place like, ironically, Italy. As part of the general tax crackdown, by the way, Italy has also increased taxes on yachts.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Algerian Government Rejects French Offer Of PSA Stake, Seeks Renault’s Love Tue, 18 Dec 2012 16:58:11 +0000

The fate of PSA and the Algerian people has been intertwined for decades. The group’s Aulnay plant, which is due to close, was originally staffed by immigrants from North Africa, lured by the promise of a better life and secure jobs in France. And while Peugeot sales withered in France, the brand has been traditionally strong in North Africa, with 2011 bringing a 93 percent increase in sales for Peugeot.

But Algeria’s push for a domestic car industry doesn’t seem to include PSA. Arch-rival Renault is due to set up a factory in the country, but PSA has apparently rejected overtures from the French government to take a stake in the ailing car maker.

French President Francois Hollande is due to visit Algeria this week, and is eager to discuss the possibility of Algeria investing in PSA. But according to French paper La Tribune, Algeria wants no part of it.

Instead, they want to emulate the situation in Morocco, and that means a domestic car manufacturing industry in partnership with Renault. La Tribune reports that a deal with Renault will be signed any day now, and Algeria even decided to forgo a plant with Volkswagen so the Renault deal could go forward. Under the terms of the Renault agreement, the Algerian government will hold a 51 percent stake in the plant, which will produce the Renault Symbol – a rebadged Dacia Logan.

Despite the rebuff, PSA is still strong in Algeria, with Peugeot ranking as the #2 brand behind Renault. But that won’t do much to aleviate PSA’s troubles in its home market. The birth of a domestic auto manufacturing industry in the former colonies, right alongside the slow death of France’s own industry only makes things worse.

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TTAC Salutes The Citroen C6 – RIP Mon, 03 Dec 2012 15:58:21 +0000

Today is a sad day for TTAC’s French car fans – the last Citroen C6 rolled off the assembly line, ending a proud tradition of French luxury cars that fought a losing battle with the Germans for segment supremacy.

Despite outlasting the dull Peugeot 607 and the quirky Renault Vel Satis, the C6 sold a mere 922 units last year and only 530 year-to-date. According to France’s La Tribune, The BMW 5-Series has outsold the C6 by a nearly 10:1 ratio in its home country, proving that even in France, these cars are a tough sell.

The next big Citroen will be based on the absolutely gorgeous DS concept car – but it won’t be all French. Instead, the new DS will be designed with the all-important Chinese market in mind. It will likely use some kind of hybrid system, akin to the DS5 Hybrid. Rather than being a ponderous, floaty sedan with a serene ride, ample power and bizarrely charming aesthetics, the DS appears to visually ape cars like the Porsche Panamera. Hopefully Citroen won’t try and pull a Cadillac and try and chase German driving dynamics either.


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QOTD: PSA, Renault Cars Lack “Ambition” Sun, 21 Oct 2012 19:44:21 +0000

“When you do everything right but too late, you do it all wrong. Before reaching a dead end, PSA decided to forge a partnership with a manufacturer [General Motors] that I don’t consider to be among the industry’s leaders of the pack. Overall, I think there is a lack of ambition [when it comes to product] from the French manufacturers.”

-Thierry Morin, former CEO of Valeo

Given how much love there is in certain sections of TTAC for PSA products – the Citroen C6, for example – this quote seems like a dagger in the heart for some readers. I profess a profound affection for the C6, the DS range and even newer Peugeots like the 208 and 508. Renault’s lineup, particularly the Renaultsport cars, are undeniably enticing and I one day hope to be the world’s preeminent scholar of Dacia’s impact on the auto industry.

Viewed through a North American lens (i.e. the grass is greener on the Continent), I can’t say I find French cars to lack ambition. On the contrary, I find their styling and packing quite bold and innovative. I dare anyone not to look at the C6 above and be dumbstruck by its elegance. But there’s the undeniable fact that French cars are non-entities in virtually every market save for France and Iran (where Peugeot is a big player).

Morin cites the lack of powerful engines as a reason for the decline of French cars and their inability to maintain a premium position, but French cars have never been about big power. The Renaultsport lineup is consistently praised by the enthusiast press, and is popular enough that when Renault’s lineup was all but eliminated in the UK to make way for Dacia, the Renaultsport cars were spared the executioner’s axe due to their strong sales.

And then, Morin hits on what may be the ultimate reason behind the decline of French cars relative to the competition

Year after year, the gap widens between German and French car manufacturers. Germans, just like the Japanese, always deliver better cars to market. They are really passionate about cars and they are focused on improving everything about their cars from one generation to the next. When you get in an Audi A1, it is exceptionally refined for such a small car and it echoes the premium-ness of the bigger A6 or A8. While German CEOs are real ‘car guys,’ in France, many people thought that being a wise and talented executive was enough to be successful in the automotive business. It proved wrong sometimes. This lack of obsession is the main difference between France and Germany. I think that being too disconnected from the product is a problem.

Stop me if you’ve heard that before.

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PSA Restructuring Includes Plant Closure, 8,000 Jobs Cut Thu, 12 Jul 2012 12:36:57 +0000

It’s been a long time coming, but PSA has finally done it; the parent company of Peugeot and Citroen is cutting 8,000 jobs and closing an assembly plant outside Paris, as the carmaker tries to cope with a sagging market and excess capacity.

Of the 8,000 jobs being shed, 3,600 are not related to assembly work, while 3,000 are expected to come from the Aulnay plant outside France’s capital. 1,400 will come from the Rennes plant, which builds larger vehicles like the Citroen C5 and Peugeot 508, models that have seen demand drop off in the wake of Europe’s economic downturn.

According to Reuters, PSA’s plants are burning $244 million a month, with cash flow not expected to turn positive until 2015. PSA’s first-half losses in 2012 amounted to $857.5 million. With significant exposure to troubled markets in Europe (i.e. the PIIGS countries), no low-cost brand (like Dacia for Renault) and an uncompetitive small car lineup for Peugeot, the company’s fortunes are hardly bright.

The move by PSA could be the catalyst for a wave of restructuring moves across Europe. Carlos Ghosn, head of Renault-Nissan, told Reuters in March that “The day somebody’s able to restructure heavily in Europe, it’s going to force all carmakers to do it,”  while Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has long advocated for a way to reduce capacity, via closing plants or finding additional ways to take advantage of it.

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Who Wore It Better: Sarkozy Or Hollande? [Citroen Edition] Sat, 19 May 2012 13:12:11 +0000

Francois Hollande has officially been sworn in as France’s new head of state, and as expected, his official car is a Citroen DS5 Hybrid4. But his predecessor may have one-upped the upstart Socialist with a choice ride of his own.

Leaving the Elysee Palace in defeat may be tough to do – less tough when Carla Bruni is the one escorting you to your new residence. But outgoing PM Nicolas Sarkozy’s exit vehicle, the Citroen C6 may be more authentically French than the DS5 chosen by Hollande – and a more appropriate successor to the DS’ namesake than the funky hatchback.

The DS5 Hybrid is a cool car on its own, but the choice of a Hybrid is an obvious pander to the anti-Sarko contingent that considers the environment just as sacrosanct as 5 weeks paid vacation. But the DS5 isn’t distinctly a Citroen, even if it does look European.

The C6, on the other hand, couldn’t be anything but a Citroen. Dynamically, it’s not a match for a 5-Series or an A6. But it is unspeakably elegant, with its long wheelbase, truncated rear deck and sloping roofline done in a much more tasteful manner than Teutonic pseudo-coupes. Put it next to an Audi A7, and the German car looks vulgar.


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Review: Citroen DS5 Hybrid 4 Thu, 03 May 2012 12:00:24 +0000

I hate France. I hate it with a vengeance.  Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of landing at Charles De Gaulle Airport will understand what I mean. So when a colleague from “Die Welt” (“The World”, a major German newspaper) returned from his drive of the Citroen DS5 and excitedly exclaimed “This is the best French car in 20 years!”, we haters just laughed. He might as well have returned covered in pustules, exclaiming “This is my best syphilis infection in 20 years!” I also hate hybrids. This too is easily comprehensible by anyone who has a look at the smug ignoramuses driving these ugly gravity lenses. And I hate diesel. It is the fuel of lorries and Satan.

So now I’m looking at a car that is all three of these things: the Citroen DS5 Hybrid4. It’s also a spaceship full of chrome. Elvis would approve, but still buy a Cadillac. It’s quite good-looking in a overdesigned way. You can appreciate it in the same way you’d enjoy a Hollywood set made of papier-mache. Those twin wide tailpipes? You can shake hands through them. The bulging bonnet? Half of it is empty space, interrupted only by a few spindly, rusting metal stripes that hold something in place.

The complex drivetrain has a diesel engine driving the front wheels with up to 120 kW and an electric motor driving the rear wheels part-time with up to 27 kW, but, due to a French penchant for unnecessary complexity, it puts out 20 kW in most situations. The main engineering effort went into the “Auto”-Mode, which is an economy mode that becomes completely overwhelmed if you try to actually *drive* the car: “Eek! Full throttle! What should I do? I’ll change down. No, up! Nnng… or better down again? I think I’ll start the electric motor and go have some coffee…”

Every gear change of the automated manual transmission takes *years*, in which the car slows down. Despite a plethora of windows, you can’t see the road very well. It’s hopeless. It gets better in “Sport”, but the facade crumbles quickly. Regardless of mode, frugal it isn’t: I logged between 24 to 34 mpg in “Auto” – not from the guesswork of a French dashboard computer, but from real measurements over 1500 miles. An old 2003 BMW 320d we had as a company car did nearly 40 mpg on the same routes under the same driver.

At this point we have lost the internet-ADD crowd, and can work with the small, but patient segment that is game for more in-depth analysis. The DS5 can be quite wonderful as soon as you stop trying to go quickly. Sure, the chassis can corner at high speeds, which suits the “never brake” school of economy and range. But just sit back, relax, coast along, caress the throttle, and it becomes a very nice rolling lounge in that funky French. Yes, the hybrid drive costs more money than it can ever save, which even Citroen themselves admit. But you don’t buy it to save money. You buy it because it is a cool technical gimmick to own. You can have permanent 4WD in winter, when you drive up to the chalet with your skis. You can silently return to your garage at night on the electric drive alone. The DS5 is quiet at all speeds, a truly nice place to chat and trundle along the motorway no matter what distance . I sit,, listening to Isabelle Boulay on the car stereo, and began to feel some kind of affinity with the French. If they built this, perhaps they can be, in a very far future, forgiven for also having built CDG.

So, should you consider buying one? No. The boot is ridiculously small for the exterior size and if you fold the rear seats down, the battery still intrudes into the cargo area. It’s useless as a family car. And judging from what a bit of spring rain did to mine, by the time a DS5 has completed its journey over the atlantic, you will have bought 1.8 tons of pure rust. No, you shouldn’t buy one yourself.

But you should try to convince your company to lease you one. As a long distance hauler that belongs to someone else, it is superb. It is also a symbol of what Citroen excels at; being interesting, being playful, being brave, being (yes) French, being everything that something like an Opel isn’t. I cannot in clean conscience recommend buying a DS5 H4 for yourself, but I want to recommend watching Citroen closely, and even giving one a try. They might surprise you. They surprised me.

“Clemens Gleich is German writer and aspires to mad scientist mainly by experimenting on himself. He covers topics from cars and motorcycles to nucular power generators and the nanoscopic silicon baby kittens that die in their billions every time you open up Youporn. You can try a Google translate on for further education on this. It’s better for the kittens.”

citroen-thumb Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail IMG_0668 IMG_0663 IMG_0588 IMG_0580 IMG_0556 IMG_0547 IMG_0539 Photo courtesy Clemens Gleich. IMG_0324 IMG_0302 Citroen DS5 Hybrid4. Photo courtesy Citroen. IMG_0674 ]]> 92
Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité – Yours For $3975 Sat, 14 Apr 2012 16:29:08 +0000

Manual. Diesel. Hatchback. French. If this doesn’t tick all the boxes, I don’t know what will.

Up for grabs near Albany, New York is a 1977 Citroen CX Prestige. Outfitted with a diesel engine, a 5-speed manual and the famous hydraulic suspension.

This CX is not one of the CXA auto cars. Instead, it appears to have been privately imported, after spending its life in Algeria where it was owned by the French Diplomat Corps. The car has 63,243 miles, suggesting an easy life in the dry climes of North Africa, though it has spent 8 years in the United States. For just $3975, it can be yours.

Link via

cx3 Citroen CX. Photo courtesy craigslist. cx cx1 ]]> 55
Citroen Tells China How To Say “Panamera” En Francais Fri, 13 Apr 2012 17:12:07 +0000

Save for some French cabinet ministers, you aren’t likely to find any of the global elite tooling around in French luxury sedans. Citroen is hoping to reverse this trend with a made-for-China luxury limo, seen above. Dubbed the “DS Numero 9″. We suppose that’s French for “Panamera lookalike”.

As beautiful as the Ctiroen C6 may be, it’s always been a poor seller, in part because the car’s aesthetic potential is likely hampered by the stodgy tastes of the European bureaucrats who are the car’s target audience. Since the DS Numero 9 was designed expressly for the Chinese market, Citroen can take a few liberties with the shape.

Officially, this car is a concept, but Citroen has slowly been going down this road for a few years. 2009 brought about the Metropolis concept car, and the DS9, with its Germanic looks and plug-in hybrid drivetrain, seems to be the latest evolution. The DS Numero 9 will get an official reveal at the Beijing Auto Show next month.

a d citroen-nemero-9-concept-3 d a a s b j s s b citroen-nemero-9-concept-13 citroen-nemero-9-concept-14 citroen-nemero-9-concept-15 citroen-nemero-9-concept-16 citroen-nemero-9-concept-17 citroen-nemero-9-concept-18 citroen-nemero-9-concept-19 citroen-nemero-9-concept-20 citroen-nemero-9-concept-21 citroen-nemero-9-concept-22 citroen-nemero-9-concept-23 citroen-nemero-9-concept-24 citroen-nemero-9-concept-25 citroen-nemero-9-concept-26 citroen-nemero-9-concept-27 citroen-nemero-9-concept-28 citroen-nemero-9-concept-29 citroen-nemero-9-concept-30 citroen-nemero-9-concept-31 citroen-nemero-9-concept-32 citroen-nemero-9-concept-33 citroen-nemero-9-concept-34 citroen-nemero-9-concept-35 citroen-nemero-9-concept-36 citroen-nemero-9-concept-37 citroen-nemero-9-concept-38 citroen-nemero-9-concept-39 citroen-nemero-9-concept-40 citroen-nemero-9-concept-41 citroen-nemero-9-concept-42 citroen-nemero-9-concept-43 c citroen-nemero-9-concept-45 citroen-nemero-9-concept-46 citroen-nemero-9-concept-47 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail citroen-nemero-9-concept-101 citroen-nemero-9-concept-100 citroen-nemero-9-concept-99 citroen-nemero-9-concept-98 citroen-nemero-9-concept-97 citroen-nemero-9-concept-96 citroen-nemero-9-concept-95 citroen-nemero-9-concept-94 citroen-nemero-9-concept-93 citroen-nemero-9-concept-92 citroen-nemero-9-concept-91 citroen-nemero-9-concept-90 citroen-nemero-9-concept-89 citroen-nemero-9-concept-88 citroen-nemero-9-concept-87 citroen-nemero-9-concept-86 citroen-nemero-9-concept-85 (4) citroen-nemero-9-concept-85 (3) citroen-nemero-9-concept-85 (2) citroen-nemero-9-concept-85 (1) citroen-nemero-9-concept-85 citroen-nemero-9-concept-84 citroen-nemero-9-concept-83 citroen-nemero-9-concept-82 citroen-nemero-9-concept-81 citroen-nemero-9-concept-80 citroen-nemero-9-concept-79 citroen-nemero-9-concept-78 citroen-nemero-9-concept-77 citroen-nemero-9-concept-76 citroen-nemero-9-concept-75 citroen-nemero-9-concept-74 citroen-nemero-9-concept-73 citroen-nemero-9-concept-72 citroen-nemero-9-concept-71 citroen-nemero-9-concept-70 citroen-nemero-9-concept-69 citroen-nemero-9-concept-68 citroen-nemero-9-concept-67 citroen-nemero-9-concept-66 citroen-nemero-9-concept-65 (1) citroen-nemero-9-concept-65 s d a citroen-nemero-9-concept-61 citroen-nemero-9-concept-60 citroen-nemero-9-concept-59 citroen-nemero-9-concept-58 c citroen-nemero-9-concept-56 citroen-nemero-9-concept-55 citroen-nemero-9-concept-54 citroen-nemero-9-concept-53 citroen-nemero-9-concept-52 citroen-nemero-9-concept-51 citroen-nemero-9-concept-50 citroen-nemero-9-concept-49 citroen-nemero-9-concept-48 Citroen DS Numero 9. Photo courtesy Citroen ]]> 29
Saddled With Social Costs, French Car Makers Bid Adieu To Domestic Manufacturing Tue, 10 Apr 2012 18:58:48 +0000

A Financial Times report on the “de-industrialization” of France (sub. required), and the erosion of the country’s manufacturing base took a trip to a Peugeot factory, where the new 208 is leaving the lines and gearing up for a big launch. Peugeot has been suffering financially in recent years, amid a backdrop of a declining manufacturing industry, some employees are blaming the heavy burdens of France’s welfare state.

One employee alluded to the Financial Times that the additional costs of doing business in France related to social programs and benefits were making it difficult to maintain a competitive industry in the country.

“We are doing our best, that’s for sure,” says a Peugeot line manager. “We are really doing our utmost. Beyond the employment costs, we also have a lot of constraints because we don’t make people work under any conditions, unlike some countries. It is a huge constraint, but we have made enormous progress on productivity and costs even while conditions have improved.”

Peugeot’s CEO Phillipe Varin highlighted this issue, telling the FT

in 10 years the hourly cost of a worker has risen 31 per cent in France, compared with just19 per cent in Germany, even though a French worker takes home less pay. Workers at Peugeot’s Slovakia plant cost €10 an hour, compared with €35 in France.

The crux of the argument, explored in the FT article, is that French industry has profited from globalization while the worker has seen their jobs disappear. Peugeot isn’t alone in exporting jobs to low cost countries. Renault came under fire at home for setting up a Dacia plant in Morocoo, where workers are paid roughly 1/7th that of a French employee. TTAC’s initial estimation, that profitable, affordable vehicles couldn’t be made in factories that pay 1,800 euro a month and provide 5 weeks vacation, seems to be the kind of sentiment shared by many observers at Peugeot and outside the auto industry. At some point, a grand bargain between worker benefits and industrial competitiveness will have to be forged. It may not be a zero sum game, but somebody is bound to lose out – and it’s not hard to figure out who.

]]> 31 Citroen DS9 Spied Before Beijing Debut Thu, 22 Mar 2012 15:58:02 +0000  

While Citroen showed some thinly veiled teasers (above) of their DS9 flagship before the car’s debut at the Beijing auto show, spy photographers in France caught the car being photographed at the bustling Place de la Concorde in Paris (click to see the spy shots). The DS9 looks like it will take the C6′s fastback profile even further, with a shape more like a Porsche Panamera – or the original Citroen DS.

China is now the largest market for PSA (Peugeot Citroen) products outside of France. The DS9 will be intended to compete with cars like the Audi A8L. The Metropolis concept, which previewed the DS9, had a plug-in hybrid drivetrain, though Citroen hasn’t released any technical details surrounding the car. The DS9 will be joined by other DS range vehicles, including the DS3, DS5 and three more unreleased products that will serve as a beach head for the premium DS brand in markets such as China. European exports are up in the air, but may happen – don’t be surprised to see these cars sold in markets like Russia and Brazil either.


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