Berliet was a French manufacturer of automobiles, buses, trucks and other utility vehicles, based in Vénissieux, outside of Lyon, France. Founded in 1899, and apart from a five-year period from 1944 to 1949 when it was put into ‘administration sequestre’ it was in private ownership until 1967 when it then became part of Citroën, and subsequently acquired by Renault in 1974 and merged with Saviem into a new Renault Trucks company in 1978, and the Berliet marque was phased out by 1980.
Marius Berliet started his experiments with automobiles in 1894. Some single-cylinder cars were followed in 1900 by a twin-cylinder model. In 1902, Berliet took over the plant of Audibert & Lavirotte in Lyon. Berliet started to build four-cylinder automobiles featured by a honeycomb radiator and steel chassis frame was used instead of wood. The next year, a model was launched that was similar to contemporary Mercedes. In 1906, Berliet sold the licence for manufacturing his model to the American Locomotive Company.
Before World War I, Berliet offered a range of models from 8 CV to 60 CV. The main models had four-cylinder engines (2412 cc and 4398 cc, respectively), and there was a six-cylinder model of 9500 cc. A 1539 cc model (12 CV) was produced between 1910 and 1912. From 1912, six-cylinder models were made upon individual orders only.
Born in 1866, employed in the modest family hat band factory, designed and made a one-cylinder engine in 1894 and, a year later, built his first petroleum-powered automobile in a shed. Its width was dictated by the width of the garden gate!
First World War
The First World War led to a massive increase in demand. Berliet, like Renault and Latil, produced trucks for the French army. The military orders placed major demands on the factory’s capacity, necessitating major investment in production plant and factory space.
Berliet CBA at the Verdun Memorial museum.
The CBA became the iconic truck on the Voie Sacrée, supplying the battle front at Verdun during 1916. It continued in production till 1932.
In 1915 a 400 hectare site was purchased between Vénissieux et Saint-Priest in order to build a new principal factory.
The Berliet CBA became the iconic truck on the Voie Sacrée, supplying the battle front at Verdun during 1916. 25,000 of these 4/5 ton Berliet trucks, originally launched in 1914, were ordered by the French army. During 1916 40 of them were leaving the plant each day. Under license from Renault, Berliet were also producing shells and battle tanks at this time. The number of workers employed increased to 3,150.
By 1917 the value of annual turnover had multiplied fourfold since the start of the war, and a new legal structure was deemed appropriate. The company became the Société anonyme des Automobiles Marius Berliet.
Between two wars:
After the war the manufacturer reoriented part of its production back to passenger cars, but Berliet nevertheless found themselves with excess capacity, as the army was no longer buying all the trucks the factory could produce, and overall output halved.
Marius Berliet responded to the outbreak of peace by deciding to produce just a single type of truck and a single type of car, which represented a departure from his pre-war market strategy. The single truck on which Berliet focused was the 5 ton CBA that had served the nation so well during the war.
An ill-judged short-cut.
The passenger car to be produced, exhibited on the Berliet stand at the 15th Paris Motor Show in October 1919, was the 3296cc (15HP/CV) “Torpedo” bodied “Berliet Type VB” of modern appearance. Marius Berliet was not one to miss a trick: rather than devote time and engineering talent to developing a new car for the new decade, he obtained and copied an American Dodge.The Dodge was famously robust, and the Berliet copy was well received in March 1919 when it had its first public outing, locally, at the Lyon Trade Fair. The headlights were mounted unusually high and the simple disc wheels were large, giving the car a pleasing “no nonsense” look. Particularly attractive was the price of just 11,800 francs in October 1919. Unfortunately, however, the Berliet engineers failed to ensure that the steel used in the car’s construction was of the same quality as the North American steel used for the Dodge, and this resulted in series problems for the early customers of the “Berliet Type VB” and serious reputational damage to the company.
Bankruptcy and recovery:
The factory had been set up to produce the “Berliet Type VB” at the rate of 100 cars per day which would have been an ambitious target under any circumstances. The rapid drop-off in demand for what at this stage was the manufacturer’s only passenger car model that followed the quality issues plunged the business into financial difficulties, with losses of 55 million francs recorded in one year. Survival was in doubt, and Berliet was placed in judicial administration in 1921. Marius Berliet himself had held 88% of the share capital, but was unable to pay off all the company’s creditors and the firm therefore fell into the hands of the banks. Berliet was nevertheless able to retain operational control. During the ensuring decade, supported by a sustained recovery in demand that in turn reflected an effective model strategy after 1922, Berliet was able to pay off his debtors and, in 1929, to regain financial control over the business from the banks.
Second World War and aftermath
Regular passenger car production ceased in 1939 and after World War II, the company produced trucks only, with buses added to the range later. However, more than 20 brand-new sedans were in the factory when the Germans requisitioned it in June 1940, and these were immediately put into service. After the liberation, from late 1944 to early 1945, about 50 sedans were assembled from parts on hand, and in 1946, the last 15 sedans were completed by the Geneva agents. The company was given back to the family in 1949, but to Marius Berliet’s son Paul as following the founder’s death earlier that year. The Berliet GLR truck became the first new post-war product.
In his 1975 book, Vichy France: old guard and new order: 1940-1944, Robert Paxton contrasted the fate of the Berliet truck factory in Lyon, which remained in Marius Berliet’s family possession, despite his having manufactured 2,330 trucks for the Germans. — and the fate of Louis Renault’s factories, which had also been seized — suggesting that the Renault factory might have been returned to Louis Renault and his family, had he lived longer. Marius Berliet, who died in 1949, had however “stubbornly refused to recognize legal actions against him after the war.”
As it happened, Renault’s were the only factories permanently seized by the French government.
Berliet manufactured the largest truck in the world in 1957, the T100 with 600 hp (447 kW) and 700 hp (522 kW) from a Cummins V12 engine. It was designed in 10 months at the factory in Courbevoie, outside of Paris, with a second built in 1958 and two further T100s built in 1959.
In August 1967, it was reported that Berliet had been taken over by Citroën, Berliet share holders receiving Citroën shares in return for their Berliet stock. In 1966, Berliet’s final year as an independent, they had produced approximately 17,000 units. Following the take-over the merged company stated that Citroën-Berliet would command 58% of France’s market for commercial vehicles above 6 tons. Citroën itself had been owned by Michelin since 1934 following a cash crisis of its own.
By this time, Michelin owned both Citroën and Berliet. However, after the 1973 oil crisis, Michelin decided to divest itself of these two companies in order to concentrate on its tyre business. Thus, in 1974 Berliet was sold to Renault, while Citroën was sold to Peugeot. Renault then proceeded to merge Berliet with Saviem to form Renault Véhicules Industriels in 1978.
After the merger, the Berliet name was phased out and another French marque came to an end by the late 1970s, with the last Berliet bus in production, the 1971 PR100, continuing to be sold as a Renault until 1993. Other products that survived the merger include the 1973 VXB-170 4×4 armoured personnel carrier for the French Army and others.
List of trucks:
- 4 cylindres :
- L62 : 11 t – 13,2 t (jan. 1962 – 1971).
- GLC 6 : 11,5 t (march 1951) – 12,5 t (1953) – 14,5 t(1959 – 1974).
- GLR 6 : 13,5 t (september 1950).
- 5 cylindres :
- GLC 8 : 13,7 t (1956) – 14,5 t(1957 – 1974).
- GLR 8 : 13,5 t(october 1949) – 14,5 t– 15,5 t– 17,5 t (till 1975).
- 6 cylindres :
- GLR 10 : 19 t (september 1965 – 1974).
- GLM 10 : 19 t (4×2) et 26 t (6×4), march 1953 – 1972.
- GBM 10 : october 1952 – jan. 1957.
- GLM 12 : 26 t (1963 à 1974).
- GBH 12 : from september 1967.
- GLM 15 : 1965 – 1966.
- GBM 15 : october 1956 – october 1957.
- GBO 15 : from mai 1957.
- 4 cylindres :
- TLC 6 : october 1955 – december 1955.
- 5 cylindres :
- TLC 8 : till october 1959.
- TLR 8 : from september 1950.
- 6 cylindres :
- TLR 10 : till 32 t.
- TBH 12
- TLM 15 : from juyl. 1955 (35 t).
- TBO 15 : from janvier 1957.