By Rod Ward
The story of Peugeot is a text-book example of how a business can survive if it quickly adapts to new market situations. In the early 19th century there was a fashion among aristocratic ladies to wear crinolines, but the dresses were supported on expensive whalebone frames. The Peugeot family made wire frames in their metal works, enabling large numbers of less wealthy ladies to follow the fashion. When that fashion faded, Peugeot steel rods were used for umbrella spokes, then for bicycle wheels, in the 19th century cycling craze. But why just sell the rods? So Peugeot made the wheels. Then, why just sell the wheels? So Peugeot made their own bicycles from 1882. Cars were first made in 1890, the product for which the company is renowned today. After the Second World War Peugeot cars gained a worldwide reputation for sturdiness and reliability, enhanced by rally and racing successes over the following decades. There were also stylish cabriolets and coupes built in Italy by Pininfarina, but when Peugeot decided to take all design back in-house they lost their edge on style. In the 21st century, like other car makers, Peugeot had to introduce cutbacks and efficiency programmes to return the firm to profitability. A new design supremo was given the task of making Peugeot cars which would once more be beautiful and desirable. The future presents a challenging environment for Peugeot; it will be interesting to see how the company meets that challenge.