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Dispatches From The Lion’s Den: The History of Peugeot

The history of car manufacturer Peugeot is long and rich. The company, with their flagship vehicle having been voted "Car of the Year" by 58 European automotive professionals, prides itself on being innovative while maintaining its tradition of producing high quality transportation to the masses.

I remember seeing a poster at the 2010 car show in Paris celebrating Peugeot’s 200-year anniversary and thinking to myself, “Impressive, but what the heck were we driving 200 years ago?”

Well, Peugeot wasn't always a car company. In 1810, the Peugeot family transformed their family's grain mill into a steel factory, allowing them to capitalize on the growing steel market to specialize in everything from pepper mills, bicycles, and watches to steel strips for making dresses.

This transformation left Peugeot primed to take advantage of the automobile industry when it formed 80 years later, and they created one of the first cars—a steam-powered three-wheeler—to showcase at the Paris World Fair in 1889. Two years later in 1891, they began producing the Type 3, the first "series-manufactured" automobile. 64 copies of the Type 3 were produced, and in 1893 it became the very first car to be driven in Italy.

In 1896, realizing how pervasive automobiles could eventually become, Peugeot effectively split into two companies: one that continued with more traditional steel production and one that focused specifically on manufacturing cars. A year later, the second company opened the first manufacturing plant dedicated solely to cars, with a second to follow the year after that.

In 1905, the original Peugeot company, named Les Fils de Peugeot Freres, also began producing automobiles, although avoiding competition with the second Peugeot company. By 1910, the companies had merged into Automobiles and Cycles Peugeot so that all of their vehicles were manufactured by a single company. Two years later, the manufacturing plant that would eventually become the largest ever French industrial site was established in Sochaux, France.

Peugeot BL

Fast forwarding four decades, 1948 saw Peugeot unveil the 203, the first post-World War II car and the first unibody car in France. In addition, it was the first car of which Peugeot manufactured more than one million units. 

In 1960, Peugeot created the 404, a design that was quintessentially modern with its sharp lines and glazed surfaces. The next year, the 404 was fitted with a direct-injection engine, greatly increasing its power and fuel efficiency.

1968 saw the launch of one of Peugeot's most illustrious models, the 504. Manufactured all the way until 2006, the 504 was intended for middle-class use and saw tremendous success in Africa and South America in addition to in Europe. The 504's durability, endurance, and general reliability contributed to its international success.

Four years later in 1972, Peugeot unveiled the world's shortest saloon/sedan, the 104; it was just 3.58 meters (11.75 feet) long, which made it very convenient and fuel-efficient.

Despite all of these ground-breaking developments, it wasn't until 1983 that the company truly struck gold with the 205, which could be considered a culmination of all of Peugeot's efforts up to this point. The 205 quickly became the best-selling car in France and was exported around the globe. This hit breathed new life into Peugeot, ensuring that it would remain successful for the decades to come.

Peugeot 206

Peugeot's current model, the 206, is built off of the 205 and still being manufactured with a current tally of over 7 million units sold. It is extremely popular and reliable.

We often receive calls from our clients once they return from their trips asking: “Can I get a Peugeot in the US?” or more likely, “Why don’t they sell Peugeot in the US?” They have probably done some research before calling us.

Well, that is a good question, one for which there is no short answer. If you were around in the 1980’s, you may remember some Peugeot 504s and other various limited models released in the States, some of which you can still see on occasion roaming the roads. But, sad to say, they are indeed a dying breed. And it’s a shame because the advancements in fuel efficiency, technology, and overall design/functionality of what Peugeot offers today is much more in line with what we are all looking for these days in the US.

From the very beginning of the automobile industry, Peugeot demonstrated that it was a force to be reckoned with, both in terms of innovation and reliability. Peugeot's 1889 steam-powered debut at the Paris World Fair made a statement, and the fact that it entered into the automotive industry immediately afterward and dedicated itself to keeping pace in a constantly evolving market ensured the company's eventual success. And although it took 75 years for the company to gain the attention and success it deserved, and another 15 years after that to fully cement its presence as a dominant force in European automobiles, there is now no doubt that the Peugeot family has created something to be overwhelmingly proud of.

If you’d like to learn more about the beautiful Peugeots available through Auto France’s Open Europe program, download a free copy of the 2015 Guide To Peugeot Models today.

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