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The history of Renault production in Quebec

The story begins in the late 1960s, when General de Gaulle, fierce defender of an independent France, but also a world power, he will equip the country with nuclear weapons, withdraw from NATO in 1965, and tried to propose a "third way" between the two American and Soviet giants. If this position did not favor French manufacturers in the United States, it was quite different in Canada, at least in Quebec. Because since 1960, Jean Lesage, of the Liberal Party of Quebec, has ruled the province with the firm intention of returning economic power to Francophones, who then only held 7% of businesses.

Ceci donnera naissance à une entente entre le gouvernement québécois, la Régie Renault et l’État français, pour la création de la nouvelle usine d’assemblage S.O.M.A.(Société de Montage Automobile)au Québec.

On November 20, 1964, an agreement was signed: the SGF will finance up to 3.5 million dollars a factory in Saint-Bruno, the Société de Montage Automobile (Soma), which will be responsible for mounting Renault models in CKD. Then charge Renault Canada Ltd to resell the models on the Canadian market.

The S.O.M.A. opened its doors on February 15, 1965 in Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville. The factory was to assemble the Renault Dauphine, R8, R10 and R12 but also Peugeot 404 and 204. But ultimately only the Renault 8, 12 and 16 and the Peugeot 404 (1 year of production) were assembled there, as well as parts bodywork for the R5 in CA/US standards.



A brief and tormented story...


Unfortunately, the initial optimism about the future of the factory was short-lived. Expected sales for these automobiles never materialized. On the one hand, Quebecers were not yet willing to buy such small vehicles which, moreover, were ill-suited to our winters. The factory was also plagued by numerous labor disputes and its managers accused of mismanagement.

The factory quickly suffered significant financial losses and relations deteriorated between the Quebec government and Renault, each accusing the other of not respecting its part of the contract. Years later we will learn that the leaders of Renault did not believe in the project and that it was the French government of Charles De Gaulle who would have forced their hand. Renault, from the beginning of the 1970s, wanted to get rid of this agreement, among other things because producing Renaults in Canada cost between $150 and $200 more per vehicle than importing its vehicles from Europe.

There was a first stop in production in 1972 to resume in 1973 with great hopes for the Renault 12. It was a waste of time, the factory, whose capacity reached 15,000 vehicles annually, will never reach this figure. The S.O.M.A. sought partners to make the factory profitable, especially Japanese, but all declined the offer. The plant closed permanently in 1974. That was the end of Renault's (and Peugeot's) industrial adventure in Quebec. The plant is converted to petrochemicals.

After car production in Canada ceased, Renault continued to export cars there. The supply of models was even greater than in the United States. Over the years, Renault 4CV, Dauphine, Caravelle, Estafette, R4, R8, R10, R12, R15, R16, R17, R5, R18, 30 TS, Fuego, Allliance, Encore and Medaillon were sold in Canada. Today, the models produced by S.O.M.A. still existing have become extremely rare. There are 4 R16s left today in Quebec!




Renault sales in Canada, between 1960 and 1985, according to M.C. Fertey (employee of Renault Canada Limitée at the time):

  • 4CV 377

  • Dauphine 13.372

  • Caravelle 2.317

  • Caravelle Automatique 17

  • Estafette 452

  • R4 2.538

  • R4 Fourgonette 490

  • R8 4 vitesses 10.435

  • R8 Automatique 3.708

  • R8 S 514

  • R8 Gordini 125

  • R10 13.422

  • R10 Automatique 6.873

  • R16 L 1.756

  • R16 TL/GL 6.467

  • R16 TA 2.612

  • R16 TS 1.348

  • R12 base 1.477

  • R12 L 3.935

  • R12 TL/GTL 10.270

  • R12 L Automatique 1.731

  • R12 TL Automatique 2.004

  • R12 Station Wagon 4.029

  • R12 Station Wagon Automatique 1.300

  • R15 4 vitesses 2.457

  • R15 Automatique 699

  • R17 TL 184

  • R17 TL découvrable 266

  • R17 Gordini 642

  • R17 Gordini découvrable 307

  • R5 L 522

  • R5 TL/GTL 58.179

  • R18 7.454

  • R30 TS 426

  • Fuego 6.350

  • Alliance 38.518

  • Encore 16.671




The Manic another story in Quebec, but still with a taste of Renault


This is not Quebec's only adventure with the automobile, since the Manic GT was also built there, a sport coupe with a fiberglass body built by Automobiles Manic. Based precisely on a Renault 8 chassis, the car was the project of entrepreneur Jacques About, a former employee of Renault Canada. Its presentation at trade shows and exhibitions in 1969 and 1970 aroused real enthusiasm, but supply and cash flow problems quickly put an end to this dream of a Quebec car. Another story that will end in a hurry.



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