Dear France, Please Bring Your Weird, Wonderful Cars Back to America

French automakers have pretty much all dabbled in the American market at some point. But currently, none — except Bugatti — are selling cars here. Renault sold its share of AMC to Chrysler back in 1987. And Peugeot was the last French manufacturer to leave America in 1991.

For car enthusiasts, this state of affairs stinks. While we wouldn’t claim the French build the best cars in the world, they do produce some of the quirkiest and most interesting vehicles you can find. A major hazard for other automakers hosting a new car launch in France is trying to drag American writers away from geeking out over the plethora of Citroën Amis and Renault Twingos.

We could plead with French automakers to come back. But rather than shout into the wind, here’s a quick rundown of why French car companies are gone from America, the joys we’re missing and whether there’s any hope for a French revival moving forward.

renault le car

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Why French car companies left America

Quirky and interesting may be catnip to car enthusiasts. But the quirky and interesting cars are seldom the most commercially successful ones. And the major reason French manufacturers are not in the American market is that when they were, it didn’t go well for them.

French carmakers, naturally enough, designed cars for France. France was a land of medieval lanes, high fuel prices and war-ravaged road surfaces. French companies developed cars that were smaller, more efficient, not overly powerful and cushioned by soft suspensions — not the best fit for an America with fewer space constraints and smooth, speedy highways.

French cars also gained a not undeserved reputation for being unreliable. And brands didn’t really have the massive dealer networks and parts supply chains like Ford or GM did to deal with repairs efficiently.

alpine a110r


What cool French cars do Americans not get?

The Alpine A110 (pictured above) may be the juiciest forbidden fruit we don’t get in America. It’s a rear mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive sports coupe. Its 1.8-liter four-cylinder pumps out 249 horsepower (288 in A110S spec). And it only weighs a bit over 2,400 pounds — so a little more horsepower than a Golf GTI and about 700 pounds lighter. It has a better power-to-weight ratio than the base Porsche 718 Cayman, and it’s quicker.

Renault still has its Mégane hot hatch. And for 2023, they debuted the Mégane R.S. Trophy spinoff, the R.S. Ultime. It packs about 296 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque from its 1.8-liter four-cylinder, which has a six-speed manual. And in 2024, Renault is launching a retro-styled Renault 5 EV, which will have a hot Alpine counterpart, the A290 (which had a McLaren F1-style driver’s seat in concept form).

peugeot 508 wagon


Peugeot has gone all-in on hybrids. And it still builds wagons too. The 508 PSE SW (above) is sort of a mid-range between crazy performance wagons like the Audi RS6 Avant and base models like the departed Golf Sportwagen. It’s a 360-horsepower plug-in hybrid that can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 5.2 seconds and get about 30 miles of EV-only range.

Citroën no longer makes the 2CV or the air-bumper-sporting Cactus (outside of South America). But they are developing wacky but thoughtful concepts like the Oli electric car (pictured at the top of this page), which uses a super lightweight design, sustainable construction materials and interchangeable parts. Oh, and don’t forget the funky, doorless My Ami Buggy (below) and the brand’s luxury arm DS, which designed an 815-horsepower electric muscle car that accelerates from 0-60 mph in about two seconds.

citroen ami buggy


Will French car companies come back to America?

EVs are breaking down many traditional paradigms (look at how far Hyundai and Kia have come in 10 years). And the major constraint now may be less fundamental incompatibility between the French and American markets and more about massive conglomerates standing in the way.

Peugeot had been plotting an American market return for the 2020s. But PSA Group merging with FCA to become Stellantis nixed those expansion plans to focus on brands already in the American market. That merger would preclude any talk of Citroën coming back too. Renault faces a similar hindrance. The brand has a partnership with Nissan that would probably preclude them from swooping in on Nissan’s second-biggest market.

The exception may be Renault’s luxury/performance arm Alpine. Alpine took over the lead sponsorship for the F1 team, and the brand is plotting a major expansion beyond just producing the A110. Part of that plan is a move into the American market in 2027. The rub is that it sounds like Alpine will be leaving the fun French sports cars like the hot hatch and the electric A110 successor at home and bringing two new America-friendly electric SUVs. In which case we might just be boarding the next plane to Paris.

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