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1888: Start of Benz sales in Germany and abroad
- Sole agency rights for Benz vehicles and engines in France granted to Frenchman Emile Roger in spring 1888
- Successful sales of Benz patent motor cars, safeguarding the ongoing development of the automobile to large-scale production standards
In the spring of 1888, the French engineer and designer Emile Roger in Paris was granted the sole agency rights for Benz vehicles and engines in France. Roger was not only a high-performing sales partner for Carl Benz, selling vehicles from Germany with great success; this step also marked the beginning of foreign sales for Benz.
In 1888, the automobile was still in its infancy. Just two years earlier, Carl Benz and his competitor Gottlieb Daimler had invented the novel means of transport – completely independently of each other. Whereas Daimler always had his sights set on marketing as well (the innovative engineering was predominantly the realm of his companion Wilhelm Maybach), Benz was not what you would call a natural born salesman. He was a meticulously working engineer who did believe in the success of his invention but preferred to devote himself to his work in the workshop rather than to marketing activities. He nevertheless knew that ongoing development was only to be financed by successful vehicle sales. He found the right partner in Emile Roger.
The Frenchman had already been selling Benz gas engines in Paris and therefore had contacts with the company in Mannheim. In early 1888, the French engineer saw one of the first three-wheelers at Benz in Mannheim. Roger recognized the potential of this invention as well as its marketability. ”After a trial run and having had the operation and control of the car explained by me, Monsieur Roger saw to the shipment of the car, paid for it and took off with his purchase,” Carl Benz reported in retrospect in 1913 in “Allgemeine Automobil-Zeitung”. Shortly afterwards, Roger not only assumed responsibility for selling Benz cars in Paris but also tried to set up an international sales organization.
Successful car salesman
Roger, the first representative of the Mannheim-based factory, was the one who sold the largest number of cars in the early days. By 1893, Benz had sold some 60 percent of the total of 69 cars produced to France. It was the success of his invention in the French market which allowed Carl Benz to start series production. At the time, he did not find buyers in Germany, as he wrote in a letter to the director of the South Kensington Museum in London in 1914: “It was only after [Emile] Roger had made this innovation known in Paris and imported and sold several cars there – among them one sold to Panhard & Levassor as early as 1888 – that we were able to start production, and from then on, we had a lot of work.” By the turn of the century, Benz had supplied about a third of the total production volume of over 2,300 automobiles to France.
Roger was granted the sole selling rights for France and all other countries outside Germany. He set up a small factory in France where he had parts from Mannheim and locally built chassis assembled into vehicles which were marketed under his own name. Soon, however, Benz demanded the purchase of complete vehicles as only this would guarantee the safety of the overall product. Roger countered by pointing to the high customs duties, claiming that the car would become so expensive that it would be unmarketable in France.
By the way, Roger acquired the reputation of having invented the fully operational motorized vehicle in France, at least for a while. He strengthened this impression in leaflets about horseless vehicles, in which he described himself as an engineer and designer, without even mentioning the name Benz. That Emile Roger adorned himself with borrowed plumes is also expressed in the letter Carl Benz wrote to the South Kensington Museum in 1914. The museum’s director had asked him for authentic information about the motorized vehicle of 1888 which had just been acquired by the museum and bore a Roger badge: “As to the car with vertical crank axle and horizontally mounted engine flywheel, I can assure you with absolute certainty that the car was built by me and only sold by Roger in Paris. Roger never built engines or vehicles himself but procured everything from us.”
Racing as part of the marketing strategy
Nevertheless, Roger’s marketing strategy was successful. He used the numerous racing events in those days – in which his cars, unlike competitors, made it to the finishing line and occupied top places – to present Benz cars to a broader public. Again, however, he conveniently “forgot” to mention the name Benz. In July 1894, Roger participated in the first “International Competition for Vehicles without Horses” on the route from Paris to Rouen. He was awarded fifth prize with explicit mention of the “ successful modifications he has made on the petroleum car.”
With regard to the second international competition one year later, Carl Benz had been warned that his name would once again fall by the wayside and sent Hans Thum and Fritz Held from Mannheim to compete in the Paris – Bordeaux – Paris car. These two gentlemen took turns at the wheel on the 1,200-kilometer route. In spite of quite a few adversities, Hans Thum finished in fifth place, Emile Roger in eighth. Places one to four as well as six and seven were occupied by cars with Daimler engines.
The year 1896 saw the final breakthrough for Carl Benz. For the Paris – Marseille – Paris long-distance rally in September that year, two cars – a Vis-à-Vis and a Phaeton – were built under his personal supervision. Of the 50 cars lined up at the start, just nine crossed the finishing line – among them the two Benz cars. Now that Benz had provided proof of his cars’ reliability, 200 orders for the Velocipede were received within next to no time. And the first taxi cab based on a Benz design started operating in Paris at that time. In December 1896, the journal “La Nature” reckoned that these motorized cabs would become widely accepted if only because they were three meters long and thus two meters shorter than a horse-drawn carriage. According to the order books for the Benz patent motor car, kept in the archives of Daimler AG, Benz supplied 121 cars to France in 1897 – twice as many as in the preceding year.
The oldest patent motor car in original condition
One example of Roger’s vivid activities is the patent motor car no. 3 of 1888, which is today owned by the Science Museum in London. It is the oldest patent motor car in original condition that is known to exist. It was sold by Roger to Great Britain, as borne out by a badge on the car, and was most likely the first gasoline-engined vehicle to be operated in Britain. It features vis-à-vis seating and had originally been fitted with a folding leather top and wood spoke wheels.
It is not known to whom Roger sold the car. But it can safely be said that model no. 3 was presented at the 1889 World Exposition in Paris. The British buyer presumably saw the car in Paris and brought the technical miracle onto the island. The Science Museum bought the car in 1913 from a Miss E. B. Bath from King’s Lynn, Norfolk, for five pounds. Miss Bath had received the Benz from her brother who had worked in the motor industry. Until the end of the 1950s, the Science Museum regularly entered the car in events before displaying it as part of its collection. The car returned to Germany for the first time in 2007 and was initially displayed in the Dr. Carl Benz Museum in Ladenburg. From January until November 2008, it can be admired in the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart. In the Daimler model-building workshop, an elaborate true-to-the-original 1:3 scale model of this car is currently being manufactured.