During World War II, the new car market in France came to a standstill, and in any case sales were not reported so there is no trace of it now. The only available data is an estimation of vehicle production in the country during the period. France capitulated to Germany in 1940, so most of the production up until 1944 is in actual fact vehicles ordered by the German government to be produced in occupied factories. So this could arguably be counted as ‘German’ production but for the sake of simplicity I have kept these figures in the French updates.
The production figures show an increasing majority of ‘industrial’ vehicles, which were used for war. There were still 100,000 private cars produced in France in 1940, but this figure crumbled down to just 2,700 in 1942 and 20 in 1943 before lifting slightly to 150 in 1944. Reversely, truck production went from 25,000 in 1940 to 45,700 in 1941 and 36,300 in 1942 before falling as well. All-in-all, only 10,000 vehicles came out of French factories in 1944, equivalent to the production level reached around 1910. Searching into how each French manufacturer handled the German occupation unveils some fascinating stories…
After the French capitulation in 1940, Louis Renault refused to produce tanks for Nazi Germany which took control of his factories by putting people from Daimler-Benz in key positions. He produced lorries for the German occupiers instead, delivering 32,887 vehicles to the Germans vs. only 1,697 to French clients. According to François Vauvillier’s book L’automobile sous l’uniforme, 4,000 Renault AHN and 2,000 Renault AHR were produced for the German army.
What happened in Renault factories during the war remains to this day highly controversial as it was the basis of the complete expropriation of the company by the French government in 1944 on the official case of collaboration. Louis Renault prevented the Germans from physically moving his factory and equipment to Germany, thus saving its company from displacement and absorption by Daimler-Benz, and put his factories at the service of Vichy France, which in actual fact meant that he was also assisting the Nazis, in a detoured way.
Renault argued that “by continuing operations he had saved thousands of workers from being transported to Germany.” The Renault factories in Paris became top priority targets for the British bombers of the Royal Air Force and were severely damaged in 1942 notably. Subsequent studies showed that while Renault had collaborated, he also hived off strategic materials and sabotaged trucks by marking dipsticks low for example, and engines dried and seized in action, an outcome much in evidence on the Russian Front.
Many cars (Peugeot 202 and 402) and light trucks (Peugeot DMA, DK) were produced: between 1941 and 1944 Peugeot delivered to the Germans 12,500 Peugeot DK5, 15,300 Peugeot DMA and about 15,000 Peugeot 202 and 402.
In a similar fashion, Citroen produced 32,248 vehicles for Germans and 2,052 for French clients. For example, were produced for the Germans between 1941 and 1944: 3,700 Type 23 trucks, 6,000 Type 32U trucks and 15,300 Type 45 trucks. Citroen president at the time, Pierre-Jules Boulanger refused to meet Dr. Ferdinand Porsche or communicate with the German authorities except through intermediaries, organising a “go slow” on production of trucks for the Wehrmacht, many of which were sabotaged at the factory, by putting the notch on the oil dipstick in the wrong place, resulting in engine seizure…
Full Year 1940-1944 annual Production figures below.