Very reluctantly I have decided to try to make sense of Simca’s slow fade from the market.
I have our monthly theme to thank – my interest has been piqued. Up to now Simca has meant little and I didn’t plan to write a lot on the topic. Simon Kearne insisted slightly too.
My findings are partly just a bit of editorial reworking of the mess that is already publicly available at Wikipedia. My contribution is to put in some bits about Chrysler and Peugeot. And also to make a DTW exclusive “infographic”. It is barely legible, frankly. The main use has been to explain (to me at least) the chronology of Chrysler/Talbot/Simca’s model terminations.
My two research questions were (1) how long did it take for Peugeot to kill off the Simca heritage it acquired upon buying Chrysler Europe in 1977?and (2) what was the reason for Simca’s demise?
The answer to question 1 is 10 years. The main reason for that was that PSA inherited the Horizon model, due for launch in 1978. PSA soldiered on with that one for almost a decade. They also inherited the 1307 and wrung some more sales from it by making it a saloon in 1980.
Much to my surprise (now that I read this for myself), the Simca 1100 remained a holdover from the independent Simca days until 1985, it having being designed before Chrysler’s dead hand firmed its grip on the company. The 1100 proved a steady seller too, old though it was.
What I also learned was that Simca’s period of real independence didn’t last very long, under 20 years. For a substantial time, it made Fiatoids. For another period it made rubbish conceived by Chrysler (is everything made by this firm some form of dross?) Arguably nothing that came after Chrysler’s takeover had any real merit. Then came the slow amalgamation into PSA which amounted to PSA’s purchase of market share. The only small gift to PSA from the Chrysler/Simca period was the Ryton factory and the 309, a car PSA held at arm’s length by dint of the odd number they gave it. An unloved step child.
My tentative analysis is that Simca, as France’s second-largest manufacturer after Renault (the 1950s to mid-60s) was in a position to either be absorbed by Ford (who held shares) or it could have grown and outcompeted Citroen (failing miserably by 1971). Chrysler’s intervention and subsequent welding of Simca to Britain’s undercapitalised mediocrity, Rootes, was the death kiss. Chrysler itself had money problems (it borrowed a lot of money in 1954); it had market problems, it had making-bad-car problems. Corinthian leather. Expanding into Europe only added to those and helped to kill what might have been a viable independent entity.
Given the tendency for Chrysler to sully, damage or stymy those it gets involved with, Daimler was lucky to survive its encounter, I note. The general lesson I get from this is (a) avoid Chrysler. It is a value-killing corporate zombie and (b) Opel has under ten years left as a living nameplate, if Chrysler Europe’s experience is anything to go by.
There now follows an abbreviated history of Simca, partly pillaged from Wikipedia but also with comments.
1926 – SAFAF was founded, making Fiats, a cooperation between Fiat and M. Pigozzi.
1935 – The SIMCA (Société Industrielle de Mécanique et de Carrosserie Automobile) company was founded in by FIAT and called Simca-Fiat until 1938.
1948 – the Simca 6 replaced the 5 (gradually), not disimilar to an existing Fiat model.
In this post-war period Simca’s ability to export was held back by the fact it could not sell into Italy since Fiat was the major shareholder. It was still French exporter number 2.
1951, the Simca Aronde launched, notably not based on a Fiat design.
1954 Simca took over Ford’s Poissy factory, SAF, so production could be consolidated in one plant.
In the 1950s, Simca had second place after Renault. At this time Simca also made the Ford Vedette which continued to sell until 1967.
[“Facing postwar declines in market share, productivity, and profitability, as GM and Ford were growing, Chrysler borrowed $250 million in 1954 from Prudential to pay for expansion and updated car designs”. This is an important detail, the original sin, though one must ask why Chrysler had such bad management so as to need the money.]
In 1958, Simca bought Talbot Lago and at the same time, Chrysler started investing in Simca (15% of stock) in order to enter the European market. The stock was bought from Ford.
In 1961 the 1000 was introduced.
In 1963 Chrysler increased their stake to a majority. Fiat retained 19% but didn’t exercise any control. This is a turning point, just 12 years after the first true Simca was produced. So starts the rot.
[In 1964 Chrylser also bought Rootes who, unlike Simca, were in financial difficulties and a weak fourth group in the UK market. This is not Simca’s fault; it compounds Chrysler’s problems. Two bad companies plus a third one: Simca is doomed from here on in.]
In 1967 the Chrysler badge appeared on the cars alongside the Simca badge. The 1100 was introduced with FWD and i.r.s.
In 1970 the company name was changed to Chrysler France. The 160/180/2-litre saloon was launched. The fact it didn’t have a name was indicative of its lack of identity. It tanked. Putting Chrysler on everything was an act of corporate stupidity. The Simca name had value. Chrysler stood for nothing.
1975 – the 1307 appeared, under various names in various markets. Only Archie Vicar likes it, and then the British model only.
1977 – Peugeot bought Chrysler Europe, ending a 14 year period under American control.
In 1980 the last Simca, the Solara is launched, a booted 1307. The Talbot name carried on until 1987, stuck on the Talbot Solara.
Did you make it this far? Well done!