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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.

At the same time the Saab 900 breaks into the European Top 5 with 24,071 sales, the Jaguar XJ/XJS is up to #12, the Renault Fuego up to #16 and the Porsche 944 up to #18. In 1984 we witness the arrival of a second successful Renault, the Encore (aka Renault 11), landing directly #3 with 72,076 sales just below the VW Rabbit while the Renault Alliance keeps the lead. The Audi 5000 is back up to #5 while the Mercedes 300 and 190 make their first appearance at #10 and #11 respectively.

Renault Medallion 1988Renault Medallion

As Renault models start to show reliability issues, 1985 sees Volkswagen reclaim the European brand crown in the USA thanks to 183,150 sales vs. 130,058 for Renault. The Alliance is still #1, but just: at 72,295 units vs. 71,496 for the VW Golf which has replaced the Rabbit, while the Jetta shoots up 90% to #3 and 69,567 sales. The Renault Encore is down to #6, the Peugeot 505 down to #16 and both the Renault LeCar and 18i out of the Top 20.

Eagle Premier USA 1989Eagle Premier

In 1987, Renault ends local production of the Alliance/Encore couple with a reasonable grand total of 623,573 units. Renault then imported the 21 as the Renault Medallion in 1988 without success, putting an end to the presence of the brand in the US in 1989 when a car based on a mix of Renault 21 and 25 was launched as the Eagle Premier, with its clone the Dodge Monaro on sale in the USA until 1992.

Peugeot 505 USAUS Peugeot 505

Peugeot 405 USAUS advert for the Peugeot 405

As for Peugeot, before the 505 managed to rank inside the European Top 20 for a few years as we have seen above, the Peugeot 604 was also on sale here. A restyled 505 maintained the brand in the country up until June 1991 but a failed attempt at launching the 405 locally in 1990 resulted in the French carmaker leaving the USA in 1991 after a 33 year-presence.

Citroen CX USAUS Citroen CX

Citroen made an even more discreet reappearance in the US at the time: a few units of the CX were imported in 1987, and 33 (yes someone counted) XM made their way to the US in 1991 thanks to a private importer. This is it! And since 1991 it is impossible to buy a new French car in the USA.

Yugo USAYugo

Another interesting European adventure of the time is Yugo: its incredibly low price of $3,990 pushed the Yugoslav brand up the sales charts in the 2nd half of the eighties, peaking at 48,812 units in 1987 and adding up to 150,000 sales up to 1990 when the brand left the country with the humorous nickname of ‘the worst car of the millennium’…

USA 1980 – European models:

1VW Rabbit191,166
2Volvo DL39,087
3Audi 500026,610
4BMW 320i25,771
5VW Dasher24,286
6Renault LeCar23,201
7VW Scirocco21,297
8Mercedes S Class18,168
9Fiat 138 Strada15,720
10Volvo GLE15,430
11JRT MG14,872
12Audi 400014,664
13JRT Triumph14,643
14Mercedes 240/28012,883
15Saab 90011,374
16Peugeot 50511,094
17Fiat X 1/98,487
18VW Jetta8,157
19Fiat Brava7,882
20Fiat Spider7,711

USA 1980 – European brands:

13Alfa Romeo3,542

USA 1981 – European models:

1VW Rabbit159,5881
2Volvo DL39,7522
3BMW 3 Series28,9274
4Audi 500028,6493
5VW Jetta24,77318
6VW Dasher23,2065
7VW Scirocco19,2107
8Audi 400018,58512
9Renault LeCar18,2176
10Peugeot 50515,15616
11Mercedes S Class13,4688
12VW Cabriolet12,162n/a
13Fiat 138 Strada11,2559
14Saab 90010,95515
15Mercedes 24010,73114
16Renault 18i10,431n/a
17Fiat Spider8,93720
18BMW 5 Series8,062n/a
19Fiat X 1/96,99417
20Fiat Brava6,82219

USA 1981 – European brands:

14Alfa Romeo1,95113

USA 1982 – European models:

1VW Rabbit107,3961
2Volvo DL70,8272
3BMW 3 Series35,1903
4Audi 500026,2984
5VW Jetta21,5615
6Renault LeCar19,9789
7Mercedes S Class18,78611
8Saab 90017,36514
9Audi 400016,3648
10Mercedes W12315,115n/a
11Peugeot 50513,74010
12Mercedes 24012,97015
13VW Scirocco12,4367
14Renault 18i9,69316
15Mercedes SL9,238n/a
16VW Quantum8,570n/a
17VW Cabriolet8,53112
18Jaguar XJ/XJS8,296n/a
19BMW 5 Series7,04518
20Renault Fuego6,865n/a

USA 1982 – European brands:

12Alfa Romeo2,21114

USA 1983 – European models:

1Renault Alliance124,687 –
2VW Rabbit83,2221
3Volvo DL44,7002
4BMW 3 Series33,6023
5Saab 90024,0718
6Mercedes S Class21,0247
7Mercedes W12320,58010
8VW Jetta19,1545
9Audi 500018,4374
10Renault LeCar16,4846
11VW Quantum16,09416
12Jaguar XJ/XJS14,67518
13BMW 5 Series14,29819
14Mercedes 24014,27112
15VW Scirocco14,18413
16Renault Fuego13,00320
17Volvo GL12,956n/a
18Porsche 94412,144n/a
19Volvo GLT11,823n/a
20Audi 400011,8069

USA 1983 – European brands:

11Alfa Romeo3,10412

USA 1984 – European models:

1Renault Alliance105,3401
2VW Rabbit83,0842
3Renault Encore72,076 –
4Volvo DL47,7813
5Audi 500043,7649
6VW Jetta36,6368
7Saab 90030,9815
8BMW 3 Series30,8684
9Volvo GL28,06217
10Mercedes 30020,053n/a
11Mercedes 19019,548n/a
12Audi 400019,15220
13Mercedes S Class18,7436
14Peugeot 50518,394n/a
15VW Scirocco17,34815
16Jaguar XJ/XJS17,24212
17VW Quantum16,95511
18BMW 5 Series15,75813
19Porsche 94413,09718
20Renault Fuego12,52816

USA 1984 – European brands:

11Alfa Romeo3,29111

USA 1985 – European models:

1Renault Alliance72,2951
2VW Golf71,496 –
3VW Jetta69,5676
4BMW 3 Series48,3468
5Audi 500048,3045
6Renault Encore46,5243
7Volvo DL45,9754
8Volvo 740/76040,435n/a
9Saab 90036,9487
10BMW 5 Series26,17718
11Volvo GL25,6739
12Mercedes 19023,97811
13Mercedes 30023,11410
14Audi 400020,39712
15Jaguar XJ/XJS18,64016
16Peugeot 50518,08714
17VW Quantum15,59717
18Mercedes S Class12,69013
19Mercedes SL10,319n/a
20Volvo GLT8,138n/a

USA 1985 – European brands:

11Alfa Romeo4,48611
12Yugo3,378 –
15Aston Martin180n/a

Source: Autoblog

This Post Has 23 Comments
  1. […] In 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 detail — Read on […]

  2. 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

  3. @Bryan
    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).

  4. 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. 😛

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

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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

  11. 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

  12. 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

  13. 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…

  14. 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

  15. 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!

  16. 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.

  17. 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

  18. 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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