A pioneering Frenchman and three German luxury car company executives are the newest members of the European Automotive Hall of Fame. Albert, marquis de Dion, August Horch, Wilhelm Maybach and Eberhard von Kuenheim will join the current 22 members of the hall of fame, which was created in 2000 and is in the Palexpo, home of the Geneva auto show. The induction ceremony is March 2 in Geneva.
The automobile was invented in Germany, but the French pioneered its use and development as a social icon. One person behind both phenomena was Albert, marquis de Dion.
The visionary industrialist, together with his engineering partner Georges Bouton, began producing self-propelled steam vehicles in 1882. Their company patented a light rear axle, which was named after de Dion, to improve the ride of the vehicles.
A patent for a high-speed single-cylinder gasoline-powered engine was filed in 1890; production started five years later. The engine would power more than de Dion's vehicles. De Dion and Bouton sold licenses to build the system, as well as thousands of complete engines, to 150 different carmakers and motorcycle manufacturers.
By 1900, De Dion-Bouton was the world's largest carmaker with an annual production of 400 cars and 3,200 engines. The backbone of the company's model range was the 1899 petite voiture, the world's first series-production small car. De Dion-Bouton provided a surprise in 1910 when it introduced the impressive 35-hp production V-8 engine, the first of its kind.
De Dion also founded the first automobile club in 1895 and organized the world's first auto show in Paris in 1898.