Today your average Peugeot dealer has a host of cars to suit almost any purpose. What you may not realise however is that the history of this French car manufacturer is a fascinating tale that goes back over one hundred years. In the early days the Peugeot factory manufactured steel rods that were used in the bows for crinoline dresses, a product far removed from the cars we see on dealer forecourts today. This type of manufacturing however led the company into an important development, with knowledge of steel and in particular the bending of steel Peugeot was able to construct bicycles. In the nineteenth century the company produced a bike called 'Le Grand Bi' more colloquially known as the penny farthing.
At this stage the company was named Armand Peugeot and it was not until late in the nineteenth century that they produced their first motor car. This model was a tri-wheeled steam driven car that was made in incredibly small numbers; it is believed that only four were ever made. Understandably it is doubtful that such a car would be present on dealer forecourts toady, the majority are in museums in France. Steam driven cars had a short lifespan however and after the turn of the century Peugeot moved to producing cars with the internal combustion engine; with the assistance of Gottlieb Daimler.
Early cars still used steel wheels however although it was Peugeot who led the way in the introduction of rubber tyres, these early tyres however were solid rather than the pneumatic variants we use today. The company at this stage entered motor racing for the first time in a variety of road races around France.
Thanks to the raised profile due to success in motor racing, the company became popular with the French public, selling around three hundred cars a year at the turn of the century. This is quite an impressive feat considering that in the whole of France only twelve hundred were sold annually. In these years the company were also producing motorcycles thanks to the knowledge gained in the manufacturing of bikes. The popularity with the French at this point was assured, in 1903 the dealer car sales made up over half of the total sales within the country.
Twenty years later, despite the success of the company they decided to split their efforts, one half focussing on the bikes and motorcycles and one focussing on the manufacturing of cars. At this point the car manufacturing company came into its own, with the 201 model being marketed as the cheapest car in all of France; showing a dispensation for producing cars for ordinary members of the public. As previously stated Peugeot have always strived to innovate the market, during this period they developed the retractable roof and styled their cars in a curvaceous way that was popular with the French public.
The wars years saw a period of downtime for the company although in the post war years Peugeot attempted to court business in the booming United States. This was not totally successful due to the insular nature of the US car market although through a number of collaborations with Renault and Volvo in Europe the company was able to survive the post war decades. In the seventies the company was pulled into the PSA (Peugeot Societe Anonyme) parent company that also owned Citroen making it the largest car manufacturer in France with a dealer in almost every town.
Poor growth in the eighties was problematic for the company although the nineties saw resurgence and the creation of a strong position coming into the new century. Today it is one of the most popular European manufacturers with a range of cars to suit families, singles and even the executive. As the car market becomes evermore aggressive and competitive this company that started its life making dresses will have to continue to innovate to stay ahead.
Motor industry expert Thomas Pretty looks at the history of the Peugeot dealer and the development of the company itself.