Antique Auto Advertising: Renault Dauphine Replaces Roller Skates & LeCar Gets Air in SanFran

Renault has tried to sell cars in the US a number of times, none of them very successful. In the late 1950s, Renault tried to ride the wave of interest in compact cars like the Rambler and the VW Beetle and introduced the small Dauphine sedan to North America. The problem is that American consumers didn’t see the 845cc powered Dauphine as being competitive even with the then 1300cc powered VeeDub. Also, reliability and dealer service levels were issues. Though Renault ended up selling over 2 million Dauphines over the course of 11 years in Europe, in the US, after an initial flurry of sales in 1958 and 1959, the French car was a bust. Ignoring a detailed and critical report from Bernard Hanon, later to be Renault’s CEO, Renault management continued to ship unordered cars to the US. The glut of unsold cars led to fire sale prices and that further damaged the Renault brand in the US. From a high of over 90,000 in 1958, Renault’s U.S. sales plummeted to 12,000 in 1966. It’s possible that the Dauphine’s lingering reputation damaged sales of the LeCar, the name of the Renault 5 in the US. More likely it was poor build quality by indifferent French workers in cars sold by marginal American Motors dealers trying to stay in business hanging by their fingernails. Like the Dauphine, which is a perennial “worst cars of all time” candidate, the 5/LeCar tended to rust. Here’s an ad for the Dauphine from 1960, a LeCar ad from 1981, and another LeCar ad after the break. That one appears to have been produced for use in France since it has a French voiceover.

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