1940s / Citroen / French

The Citroën 2CV was far from popular at the 1948 Paris Auto Show

We’re going to let you in on a little secret: when you attend an auto show, the booth attendants aren’t there just to look pretty and talk horsepower. They’re an automaker’s eyes and ears.

They’re paid to carefully observe the reaction of show-goers, especially if a car is on display for the very first time, and file regular reports summarizing what they see and hear. Any and all feedback is important, ranging from prospective buyers who love — or hate — the headlights of a certain model to kids having a difficult time reaching the rear door handles. It’s cheap and easy market research, and it’s far from new.

The report filed by booth attendants after Citroën introduced the 2CV at the 1948 Paris Auto Show is fascinating to read. It reveals a majority of show-goers weren’t sold on the idea of an entry-level model from the brand. It was ugly, flimsy, cheap, slow, or all of the above; in short, it was destined to fail.

We’ve singled out some of the highlights from the 15-page report, which is safely stored in Citroën’s archives department. Note that the original report is in French, so everything you read below has been translated.

Positive:
– It’s really not that bad.
– We just need to get used to the design. When several thousand of them will be on the road, they’ll become part of the automotive landscape and they won’t be too bad to look at.
– I like the suspension.
– The gray paint isn’t exactly appealing, but there’s probably a good reason for it.
– I’d like to see the engine. I bet it’s revolutionary.
– They’ve been working on this car since 1938. I’m sure it’s quite something.
– The 2CV is a better deal than a motorcycle.
– It’s really not very attractive. But it’s affordable, and it’s more spacious than the Rovin.
– Of course, we can’t expect a Cadillac at that price.
– The seats are very comfortable.
– It looks like a very practical car.
– It’s really spacious. There’s more room inside than in a Peugeot 202 or a Renault.
– Headlights don’t need to be huge to light up the road. A Jeep practically blinds you when it’s coming the other way and it has tiny lights.
– I’d buy a Citroën with my eyes closed. With Citroën, you know you’re getting a good car that’s been comprehensively tested before launch.
– The company that designed the 11 can’t be wrong.

Negative:
– Would it really have cost Citroën that much more to give it a more stylish design?
– I’m surprised Citroën dared to display something like this.
– It’s not a car, it’s a swing set for kids.
– It’s not a car, it’s a boat.
– I wonder if you get sea-sick riding in the 2CV.
– They’ll have to re-design the suspension before it hits the market.
– I bet this thing literally takes off if you go over a speed bump too fast!
– The gray paint reminds me of a hospital room. What an odd choice.
– It’s a sardine can on wheels.
– Citroën ran out of sheet metal, so they put a tarp on the roof.
– Do you think they tested this car in strong crosswinds?
– Anyone with a knife can break into the car.
– I wonder if it comes with pedals.
– I’d rather buy a motorcycle.
– They won’t let us open the hood because they don’t know what engine they’re going to use yet.
– Citroen could have spent a little bit more and made a better car. I’d rather spend 50,000 francs more and get a Renault.
– I’m worried about water leaking through the roof when it rains.
– There’s not even a dashboard.
– The windshield wipers are hand-operated. Instead of making progress, they’re going backwards.
– It’s a disappointment. If only Mr. Citroën was around to see this thing!
– It’s not a real Citroën, it’s a Michelin.
– At least there will be enough of them to go around… I can’t imagine they’ll sell a single one overseas.

In hindsight, Citroën addressed three main points of criticism over the course of the 2CV’s long production run. It received more powerful engines, it benefited from extra equipment (including power-operated windshield wipers), and it got a metal trunk lid.

 

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