Home > USA > USA 1980-1985: The last time the French really tried

USA 1980-1985: The last time the French really tried

Renault Alliance USA 1983. Picture courtesy of autotitre.comIn 1983 the Renault Alliance was the best-selling all-new nameplate in the USA overall...

* See the Top 20 best-selling European cars/brands in the US in 1980-85 by clicking on the title! *

* You can also check out 1908-2013 USA historical sales data here *

Today I can share with you detailed European models sales data for the US between 1980 and 1985. Random, I know, but this period coincides with the last attempt from French manufacturers to crack the American market. And it looked good at the start, with the Renault Alliance produced in Wisconsin, a US version of the Renault 9, shooting directly to best-selling all-new nameplate in the country in 1983 with almost 125,000 sales!

But let's start from the beginning. In 1980, no one would have bet on any European car even remotely threatening the VW Rabbit (aka Golf). It sold 191,166 units in the USA that year, or almost 5 (yes five) times the sales of the 2nd most popular European model, the Volvo DL… The Renault LeCar, a Yankee Renault 5, ranks 6th with 23,201 sales, an ok figure but not enough to allow Renault a long-term spot in this market.

Renault LeCar USA 1980Renault LeCar

Other interesting members of the European Top 20 in 1980 include the Audi 5000 (the US 100), VW Dasher (aka Passat), the Fiat 138 Strada at #9 - the last time a Fiat would rank inside the European Top 10 in the US and the Peugeot 505 at #16…

VW Rabbit USA 1981VW Rabbit

1981 sees the VW Rabbit hold onto the pole position by far in spite of sales down 17%, the VW Jetta gain 13 spots to #5 and make it 4 Volkswagen in the European Top 7. The Peugeot 505 breaks into the European Top 10 at #10 thanks to sales up 37% to 15,156 units while Renault becomes the #6 European brand thanks to the Renault 18i sportwagon which breaks into the European Top 20 at #16.

Renault 18i Sportwagon USA 1981Renault 18i

In 1982 the Volvo DL nearly doubles its sales to reach 70,827 vs. 107,396 for the VW Rabbit, but the entire Top 5 remains unchanged on 1981. The Saab 900 enters the Top 10 and the Renault Fuego the Top 20.

Peugeot 604 USA. Picture courtesy of forum-auto.comPeugeot 604

Renault Encore USA 1984Renault Encore

1983 is the year everything changes: Renault instantly becomes the best-selling European manufacturer in the US with 163,295 vs. 142,436 for Volkswagen, mainly thanks to the arrival of the Renault Alliance, the best-selling European model this year at 124,687 units vs. 83,222 for the VW Rabbit.

More analysis and 1980-1985 Top 20 European models/All-brands Ranking Tables below.

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Categories: USA
  1. Paillard
    July 2nd, 2014 at 05:49 | #1

    hello i ve registred yesterday for three month but i can t have the statitics from usa 1980 1985 special french cars
    can you help me

    • Matt Gasnier
      July 2nd, 2014 at 11:31 | #2

      Hello Jacky – many thanks for becoming a Premium Member. Have you tried clear your cache?

  2. Guillaume
    November 3rd, 2013 at 21:49 | #3

    Renault was actually on the edge of Bankruptcy in the mid-80. The Medallion and most importantly the Premier were going to complete a range of products that were too small in size (in these years Americans wanted bigger cars). Only they had to cut costs and selling the US division meant saving the European operations. Very difficult decision to take.
    The Premier arrived at the worst moment, and was launched just weeks after the sale to Chrystler. Interestingly the marketing materials was mentioning Renault Premier, but was never sold as such. Just a few of these cars were branded Renault, the rest was Eagle (and Dodge).

  3. Bryan
    November 3rd, 2013 at 00:15 | #4


    Thanks very much for your detailed explanation ;)

    Renault should had continued in the US market, their sales numbers from 1983 are really impressive!

  4. Brandon
    November 2nd, 2013 at 12:15 | #5

    Bryan :
    What happened for Renault to withdraw from the USA market in 1989?
    They achieved a lot of success in 1987 and two years later they just withdraw… It’s really intriguing… Maybe political interferences ??
    Thanks Matt, this data is really AWESOME!

    Renault achieved some success in the 80’s by purchasing AMC(American Motor Corporation). This allowed them to manufacture locally built Renaults for the North American market. Naturally being manufactured in the USA their sales increased. However as the years passed reliability issues came about, including increased competition from the domestic and Japanese manufacturers, so their sales decreased.

    At the same time Renault was going thru financial troubles back in France. The CEO at the time, however, was a believer in investing in the North American market for Renault’s future. Unfortunately he was assassinated by anarchists and a new CEO replaced him who did not share the same vision. Instead, AMC was sold to Chrysler to get some much needed money and withdrew from the North American market. All so sad. :P

  5. Butin
    November 2nd, 2013 at 00:35 | #6

    “And since 1991 it is impossible to buy a new French car in the USA.”

    You forget Bugatti Veyron.

  6. VolkswagenPolo
    November 2nd, 2013 at 00:07 | #7

    Volkswagen qui était déjà largement au dessus de Renault en 1980! C’est vraiment une marque, un groupe légendaire

  7. max
    November 1st, 2013 at 20:25 | #8

    Just because a car is a succesful model in EU does not mean that it may be even in the US…just look at the VW Golf…ok Renault make high quality cars and lately very sexy too but while the Clio may be an hit among the B-Segment, not the favourite segment in the US aniway, models like Clio Estate and Capture would have been totally ignored by the americans,…the first one is a B-Station Wagon and SW does not sell well in the U.S,not even the bigger ones, the second would have been considered as a french Suzuky SX-4, not exactly a succesful car. The Fluence is too bland to compared with the new Corolla, Civic and Elantra. Instead the next Laguna may be an huge it and the new Espace as well.@Rick

  8. David
    November 1st, 2013 at 15:26 | #9

    There’s an error here – in 1980 you list the Volvo 760 GLE. The Volvo 700-series was not introduced until 1982 worldwide and 1984 (I believe) in the US.

  9. RayCee
    November 1st, 2013 at 15:19 | #10

    I noticed no Ferrari sales figure for 1980. I read somewhere it was 779, if that is of interest.

    I have seen sales data of the same marques, most very close to your data, a few quite different. I guess it depends on the source.

  10. doml
    November 1st, 2013 at 14:48 | #11

    Renault gagne plus d’argent ( 43,4% des bénéfices ) à vendre des Nissan et Infiniti.
    Renault makes more money (43.4% of profit) to sell Nissan and Infiniti.

  11. Rick
    November 1st, 2013 at 08:44 | #12

    Renault has Nissan & Infiniti.
    No need to rebadge.

    But I agree, a Yankeenized Clio, Clio Estate, Captur, future Espace, wow, these would be head-turners like no other

  12. Rick
    November 1st, 2013 at 08:41 | #13

    As to Peugeot:

    The 405 and 505 really fitted well into the US car landscape.

    Only the name…….a tongue breaker.

    But the plain ugly 309????
    Luckily that never happened

  13. Rick
    November 1st, 2013 at 08:38 | #14

    Renault pulled back because:

    1. hardly any money was made due to costs of adaptation + unfavorable currency rates
    2. It had acquired AMC, a bleeder like no other

  14. AndyT
    November 1st, 2013 at 06:19 | #15

    A really interesting article.
    A shame the three French marques gave up on the US and never went back.
    I remember being delighted seeing a Peugeot (or should that be Poo-geot as they are called in USA!) 405 in New York in 2000. But it was a rare sight even back then.
    However, VW is still not doing as great in the USA in 2013 as it should and Fiat’s sales declined quite a bit last month in a growing market, so its no easy ride to make it in the USA.
    I guess Alfa will be the next European marque to return to the US, although that keeps getting pushed back and back…

  15. Blaž
    November 1st, 2013 at 05:03 | #16

    I think we have come to point where Renault should be going back to US. Fluence is OK to compete with Jetta and Cruz, Clio IV is great looking thing, new Espace will be SUV and new Laguna could be 4-door instead of 5-door. Ithink it is time to return to US market

    Oh yeah and Yugo haha, it was ok for Yugoslavia (us) but it was to unrelibale and cheap

  16. Bryan
    November 1st, 2013 at 03:34 | #17

    What happened for Renault to withdraw from the USA market in 1989?

    They achieved a lot of success in 1987 and two years later they just withdraw… It’s really intriguing… Maybe political interferences ??

    Thanks Matt, this data is really AWESOME!

    • matgasnier
      November 1st, 2013 at 10:22 | #18

      Glad you enjoyed Bryan! :)

  17. Bryan
    November 1st, 2013 at 03:20 | #19

    I don’t understand either why Peugeot didn’t launch the Peugeot 309 in the USA because American market was very receptive to the European small sedans/hacthbacks like we can see with the huge success of the Alliance/Encore and the Golf/Rabit.

    There are a lot of nonsense management decisions about the presence of the French brands in the US market.

    Thanks Matt, this data is very interesting.

  18. STAC
    November 1st, 2013 at 03:18 | #20

    Sinon pour infos: avant 1980, il y avait les DS, SM, Skoda et autres aux USA.

  19. STAC
    November 1st, 2013 at 03:00 | #21

    Super intéressant ces statistiques! merci à toi!!!!

    Je croyais que la Renault LeCar se vendait peu vu que c’est une petite citadine non intéressée par les nord-américains à l’époque… oO ! c’est drôle!

    Je suis également un peu surpris que Renault se vendait très bien là-bas! Pourquoi les marques françaises sont elles abandonnées depuis les années 1990’s ?????

    Volvo se vendait très bien également!

    Je pensais que la Rabbit/Golf était toujours le modèle étranger le plus vendu ….

    Merci à toi pour ces articles très intéressants!!!!
    à bientôt

  20. yo
    November 1st, 2013 at 02:40 | #22

    Incredible article..!!
    But i cannot find a reason especially for renault to withdraw from the market..
    Because of poor sales they should have tried harder and gain the posission again.

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