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Left: André-Marc Chevallier, General
Manager of the "Sociétés du Groupe Denis
Frères au Japon", on this undated photo.
On his right is Hatsuya-san, who was
specifically in charge of Citroen (doc. A.-M.
By his own account, André-Marc
Chevallier, 80 years old when I
could meet him in Paris last June,
2010, enjoyed an exceptional work
and life experience in Japan. He
arrived in Tokyo in 1951 on the
invitation of his uncle François
Chevallier, who had created there
a trading company called
"Comptoir des Produits
Métallurgiques Tubulaires et
Miniers" (they liked long names in
those days, didn't they),
"Prometumi" in short, simplified
into "MTM" in 1958. He also
managed other businesses, such
as "Shinga Ei", tasked with the
promotion of French cinema in
Japan. In 1956, André-Marc was
asked to start yet another business
entity, the "Société Centrale
Internationaux" (SCETI), with the
goal to promote and sell French
technology in Japan; that same
year, his uncle decided to retire in
France, and gave the
management of the whole thing
to André-Marc, only 26 years old
Meanwhile, Nichifutsu Boeki (litt.
"French-Japanese Trading") was
another local trading company,
founded before the Pacific War
and managed by fellow
Frenchman Roger Péricat, whose
main activity was to represent in
Japan the respectable French
trading firm Denis Frères,
headquartered in Bordeaux.
Let's start with Mr. Chevallier. He was not much directly involved with the Citroen business,
but he does recall one unique encounter: well before the merger with Nichifutsu, his uncle
François sent him to Paris to propose a representation in Japan to a selection of French
companies, including Citroen. That was in the spring of 1956: "I was surprised to be received
by no less than the big boss himself (Robert Puiseux probably). He was very negative, he
complained about all the trouble they had on that market before, and said he was not
interested." Not really surprising, knowing that Citroen had suffered legal headaches before
the 2nd WW with a certain Mr Yamauchi, who held the patents for the Citroen brand in Japan
and refused to compromise... Nevertheless, the other trading company, Nichifutsu, finally
obtained the representation rights, in 1958, so Mr Chevallier found himself in charge after the
merger in 1959.
The company profiles above come from publications of the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan; "Bulletin
Jan-Feb 1955" (left), when Nichifutsu Boeki, founded and managed by Roger Péricat, was essentially the local agent for
the large French trading firm Denis Frères; and "Economie et Marchés Jan. 1969" (right), thus well after the 1959 merger of
Nichifutsu's activities with those of another trading company created locally by François Chevallier, the SCETI, forming the
"Companies of the Denis Frères Group in Japan", managed from 1961 by his nephew André-Marc Chevallier. It is
interesting to note that Citroen was only but one of the many businesses of this relatively small group of companies, which
certainly partly explains the lack of success of this venture. As a matter of fact, the Citroen representation rights were
transferred later that same year to Seibu, a major Japanese retail group.
Above: these photographs, dated 1966, show several Citroen models displayed in the front yard and on the street in front
of the MTM Building. According to Mr. Chevallier, Hatsuya-san sometimes organized such events for journalists and
potential customers, in the absence of a real show-room. These pictures come from a Japanese site with a huge number
of nice vintage car photos; here is the link (Japanese):
Now to Mr Audinet. He does not try to hide the
fact that the Citroen business was not a
success: "First a trial, then, very quickly, a
half-failure... We managed to sell at most 30 to
50 cars a year, and it was the less profitable of
all our activities. For us, Citroen mostly meant
worries and trouble."
"Representatives from Citroen's headquarters
seldom visited Japan; they did not show any
interest in our activity, they did not invest, and
their reactions were rather arrogant whenever
we asked something."
"Nichifutsu alone clearly did not have the
power to build this brand into a success in
Japan, so it is quite natural that we decided to
give up when the opportunity arose, in 1969,
when the Seibu Group expressed interest. It is
said that Kumiko Tsutsumi, the daughter of
Seibu's founder, who had stayed in France,
was the one to propose her father to show
Citroen cars in his department stores."
"Many of the few DS customers were
Japanese expats back from a stay in Europe.
Doctors, artists.. Some foreigners too, but
the French ambassador did not have one, he
considered it too "strange", too innovative.
The Consul, a certain Claude Bredillet, did
have a DS though, and he just loved to stop
every now and then in order to show how the
hydraulic system could lift and lower the car
"We had to give lots of information about the
hydraulic system to the local authorities, but
we were careful because in those times
Japan was doing everything to steal and copy
foreign technologies. On the other hand, I do
not recall any request for technology transfer
from Japanese companies."
Citroen, and the DS, have obviously not meant
good sales and profit to its Japanese importer,
in comparison to its other business lines at
least. But it did not prevent the DS to secure a
fan base of its own in Japan, as many
documents and testimonies can show.
Hirao-san, who worked many years as a secretary to the
General Manager, has kept a few photographs and many
nice memories of her time in the MTM Building. She can
be seen here at the presentation of the 1967 model-year
DS (above) ; with a young colleague, Ohtsu-kun, who was
then working for Nichifutsu Jidosha (below) ; and with
other female coworkers, in front of the MTM Building
(bottom) (documents Y. Hirao).
In 1958 though, Roger Péricat had obtained to
represent the Citroen brand in Japan, and he
had created the subsidiary "Nichifutsu Jidosha"
(litt. "French-Japanese Automobiles") to that
aim. In September of that year, about the time
the first ID19 landed in Japan, François
Chevallier agreed to sell his companies, MTM
and SCETI, to Denis Frères; it became
effective on January 1st, 1959, and Nichifutsu
moved in the MTM Building a few months later.
Two years after, in 1961, on the request of the
group's management in Bordeaux, André-Marc
Chevallier, then 30 years old, was promoted
General Manager of the whole group of
companies in Japan.
He remained in that position until his return to
France in 1967. He was then replaced by his
deputy since 1962, Bertrand Audinet de
Pieuchon. While Mr Chevallier focused on the
technology transfer activities, Mr Audinet was
more involved in the trading part, including
Ciroen. He too was 80 years old when I could
talk to him, last November, 2009. Although the
actual job was handled by Hatsuya-san, Mr
Audinet did have many interesting memories to
Nichifutsu Jidosha was a
subsidiary of Nichifutsu Boeki, a
trading firm established locally by
Frenchman Roger Péricat. It
merged in 1959 with another local
trading company, forming the
"Companies of the Denis Frères
Group in Japan", and continued
the Citroen representation until
1969. Its former directors and
staff kindly shared a few
documents and memories.
Above: the famous Citroenist and future President of the
Citroen Club of Japan, Mr Sugiyama, posing in front of
the "Chevrons" displayed on the outside wall of the MTM
Building (doc. T. Sugiyama).
(Many thanks to MM Chevallier, Audinet,
Martin, and Mrs Hirao for their kindness.)
Hatsuya-san can be seen on the left of this Ami 6, during
the 1964 Motor Show. The Ami, and the 2CV, did not sell
well either, not corresponding to what Japanese customers
expected from imported (=expensive) cars. Photo shown on
the cover of "Economie et Marches" (a publication of the
French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan), Feb.
Above: the "MTM Building" in Akasaka, hosting all the activities of the
"Companies of the Denis Frères Group in Japan" from 1959 onwards.
Nichifutsu Jidosha, the subsidiary taking care of the Citroen sales, had its
offices on the first floor. Some car servicing was done in the backyard it
seems, but there was no show-room. A Traction, and the Citroen
"chevrons" symbol, can be seen on the foreground (from a Denis Frères
brochure edited in 1963, courtesy J.-P. Martin).
Below: a group picture, taken in front of the MTM Building, maybe during the
last visit to Japan of André-Marc's uncle, François Chevallier (ninth from
right, in front of his nephew), sometime in the mid '60s. Above the door in
the back one can read "Nichifutsu Jidosha", followed by "Kabushiki
Kaisha", Japanese for "Company Limited" (document Y. Hirao).