In 1892, René Panhard and Emile Levassor founded the automobile industry. The other branch of Panhard General Defense goes back to 1984 with the creation of Auverland by François Servanin, which has sold more than 9,500 military vehicles in France and 40 other countries. Since January 2006, the activities of the two firms have been combined to form the Panhard General Defense company which enables it to offer a full range of combat and support vehicles.
The history of the automobile industry provides an excellent chronology of the evolution of manufacturing throughout the industrialized world. The first automobile was produced in 1894 by Panhard et Levassor in Paris. The early manufacturing, called craft production, was typically done in small shops by skilled craftsmen. Henry Ford started using the process that came to be known as mass production with the Model T in 1908. What made mass production successful was the introduction of the moving assembly line by Ford in 1913.
In 1904, the French Army received its first Panhard-Genty armored cars. Since then, the Panhard name has been closely liked to all operations carried out by the Army. The AMD-178, the EBR, the AML-60/90 and now the Sagaie and the VBL, have impressed generations of crews. The robustness and performance of Panhard have been valued advantages in moments of crisis, for the foreign armies.
The development of motor transportation for military use was in its infancy in the United States. The first official attempt took place in 1903 when a combined battery and store wagon was constructed. Nothing has been done to determine the most advantageous types of vehicles until recent years. In 1912 an attempt was made by the Board of Ordnance and Fortification to have a tractor test. The initial step was interrupted by a recommendation that the test be delayed until a Panhard tractor could be purchased from France. That type of vehicle had been reported upon as producing remarkable results.
The great advantages of the internal combustion tractor over the steam tractor were its mobility and independence of constant renewal of fuel and water. The French made a more thorough study of this type of tractor than any other country and had developed five or six of them. The one that proved most efficient in the trials was the Chatillon-Panhard traction motor, a machine which applies the power to any or all of the four wheels. The development of this type solved the problem of a powerful military tractor capable of hauling heavy loads at a moderate rate of speed. At the beginning of the war there were from 200 to 300 of this type available for military use in France.
To meet the need of a motor fuel from a non-petroleum base, several automobile manufacturers devised gas producers which can be attached to a truck and used with the ordinary internal combustion engine. In the autumn of 1925 a series of tests were held and pilot trucks were entered by Panhard, Berliet and Renault. Charcoal is the basic fuel for the Panhard and Renault, while the Berliet uses wooden chips. The gas formed is a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The Panhard four-ton truck, with a maximum speed of 35 km. per hour, used 49 kg. of charcoal per 100 km.
The development of French motor vehicles provides a useful illustration of the superiority of doctrine over technology. The Army used early model half-tracks in experiments of the 1920s, and these greatly impressed the German observers.60 Half-tracks were most suitable for rapid operational maneuver and motorized units, however, which at the time were not emphasized in French doctrine. Thus, deployment of half-tracks was dropped for lack of interest. Armored cars played a relatively minor role in French doctrine as well, because reconnaissance had less importance in the French doctrine. As a result, the high-quality Panhard armored cars of the 1930s were given a low priority, although the quality of the product was technically equal to that of the Germans.
Panhard have the world's longest record in the development of wheeled armored vehicles. They produced the 8-wheeled EBR armored car which was designed soon after WW II and is still one of the most remarkable wheeled vehicles to be produced. It was only being retired from service in the French cavalry regiments in the 1980s. Since 1960, Panhard had produced the 4-wheeled AML. The AML has been used not only by the French Army, but by several others, due largely to its combination of light weight and effective armament. The AML 90 version is armed with a 90-mm gun, although its weight is only 5.5 tonnes (12,128 lb). This gave it more gunpower in relation to its weight than any other armored vehicle and it set a worldwide trend in the use of 90- mm low-pressure guns in light armored vehicles. In the 1980s, Panhard produced yet another outstanding design, the ERC-90S. This 6-wheeled vehicle is also armed with a90-mm gun, but of a much more pow-erful type than that mounted in the AML.
In addition to procuring the ERC-90, the French Army foresaw in 1977 the need for a much lighter wheeled armored vehicle, to which it gave the generic designation VBL, Vehicule Blinde Leger (light armored vehicle). This vehicle was capable of a wide range of missions but in particular of reconnaissance and of antitank combat with guided missiles.
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