ANDR(product) CITRON: The Henry Ford of France by John Reynolds

ANDR(product) CITRON: The Henry Ford of France

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An uncritical biography of one of France's premier automakers, from a British journalist who takes a far greater interest in machines than in men or women. Drawing on archival and secondary sources, Reynolds offers a cursory rundown on his subject's life and times. The son of a Jewish diamond merchant who had moved to Paris from Amsterdam, Citro‰n graduated from the prestigious (product)cole Polytechnique in 1900 at the age of 22. Having fulfilled his military service, young Andr‚ began manufacturing gearwheels, a high-tech enterprise in which he fared well. After WW I (during which he established and ran an important munitions factory for the government), Citroen built the first of many motor cars bearing his name. A technocrat rather than a practical engineer in the mold of his acquaintance Henry Ford, he was at least as concerned with developing mass consumer markets and volume-production techniques as with advancing the state of the automotive art. His eponymous company nonetheless created half-track vehicles that proved their mettle on showcase expeditions through Africa, Antarctica, Central Asia, and other exacting venues. It also rolled out the Traction Avant, a breakthrough design notable for such forward-looking features as an automatic transmission, front-wheel drive, and hydraulic brakes. Although the firm and its founder appeared to prosper during the Roaring '20s, the Great Depression took a severe toll. Creditors (led by Michelin) gained control of Automobiles Citroen in 1935, the same year its erstwhile patron died of stomach cancer. While an English-language account of Citro‰n's accomplishments and failures is long overdue, freelance automotive journalist Reynolds misses his opportunity. Among other shortcomings, the tech-talk narrative devotes so little attention to matters of business and character that the company's precipitous fall from financial grace will come as a real shock to readers unfamiliar with the bon vivant proprietor's willingness to run immense risks. Flat and unrevealing.

Pub Date: Jan. 20th, 1997
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: St. Martin's