André Citroën's Legacy

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【Summary】André Citroën, credited with revolutionizing automobile manufacturing in France, introduced mass production methods and built the world's first unibody front-wheel drive car. He restructured the taxi fleet of Paris and organized a rapid coach transportation network. Citroën's success was followed by financial struggles and he eventually retired from the business. He died in 1935 after battling cancer and grief over the loss of a daughter.

FutureCar Staff    Nov 15, 2023 3:15 PM PT
André Citroën's Legacy

André Citroën, an early 20th-century industrialist, is often referred to as the Henry Ford of France. He revolutionized automobile manufacturing in the country by introducing American-style mass production methods after the Great War. One of his notable achievements was the creation of the world's first unibody front-wheel drive car, the Traction Avant model, which was produced for 23 years. Citroën also restructured the taxi fleet in Paris and established a rapid coach transportation network in the suburbs and towns. Additionally, he gained popularity by reproducing his cars as toys, making the Citroën brand a household name.

André-Gustave Citroen was born in Paris in 1878. He came from a Jewish family with a background in the diamond trade. At a young age, he developed a fascination with engineering, influenced by his love for Jules Verne's works and the construction of the Eiffel Tower. After graduating from the École Polytechnique with an engineering diploma, Citroën established a gear-cutting business called Engrenages Citroën. He gained recognition for his innovative use of double helical gears, which later became the basis for the Citroën logo.

In 1905, Citroën partnered with André Boas and Jacques Hinstin to form Hinstin Freres Citroën & Cie, with the goal of selling gears to the automotive industry. Recognizing the need for mass production, Citroën invested in advanced machinery and implemented efficient management processes. His gears became widely used in French cars and were even considered by Rolls-Royce. By 1908, Citroën had become the chairman of the struggling French car manufacturer Mors, where he implemented Ford-inspired production methods and eventually repurposed the facilities for his own vehicles.

During World War I, Citroën played a crucial role in producing armaments for the French Army. He developed a business plan for mass production of munitions, which was accepted by General Baquet. With funding from the French Ministry of Armaments, Citroën constructed a large factory complex in Paris. His efforts contributed significantly to the victory of the allied forces. After the war, Citroën founded the S.A. André Citroën company, which quickly became one of the world's largest automotive enterprises. He converted the factory to produce cars and launched the Type A, Europe's first mass-produced car.

Citroën's success continued throughout the 1920s, but the Great Depression in the 1930s led to financial difficulties. His heavy gambling and excessive spending on advertising and expansion projects strained the company's finances. Eventually, Citroën was unable to pay his debts, and Édouard Michelin, a major creditor, took over the company. Citroën was forced to retire from the business that bore his name. In 1935, he passed away in Paris due to illness and grief over the loss of his daughter.

Despite the challenges he faced, André Citroën left a lasting impact on the automotive industry in France. His innovative manufacturing methods, iconic designs, and commitment to his employees set him apart as a remarkable figure in French industry.

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