It is spring 1962 and a young man fresh from military service is working in the family workshop run by his father who set up a cabinet-making business at 2, rue du commerce in La Limouzinière in 1932. He is putting together a caravan from any materials that come to hand so he can go on holiday. The young man’s name is André Padiou and this caravan is the beginning of the story.
The cabinet-making workshop in the centre of La Limouzinière in the French département of Loire Atlantique was getting too small. So the first plant was built near the current site. These new premises were to be extended several times before 1975 when the current factory was built on the other side of the street.
André’s brother Philippe Padiou became the general manager of Pilote before assuming the title of CEO a few years later.
In 1976 and 1977 technical director André Padiou made several trips to the US where demand for motorhomes was booming. While there, he visited the plants of two manufacturers: Winnebago and Fleetwood. Back inFrance, he gambled on the success of this formula and developed a prototype for his own personal use. It was not long before a coachbuilt motorhome went into production. This was the R430 which was based first on a Bedford chassis and later on a Ford chassis.
The original plan was to name the very first motorhome the ‘Rally’. However, it was christened Pilote at the last minute and only the letter ‘R’ preceding the model number was kept.
Two years later in 1978, there were three coachbuilt motorhomes in the brand catalogue: the R360, R430 and R530 on a Ford or Bedford chassis. Philippe decided to test market sixty of the vehicles for the 1978-1979 season. They were an instant hit. Two hundred motorhomes were sold in their first year on the market and 500 the year after.
Pilote streaked ahead of its French competitors. In two years, the company became the top manufacturer in France and was highly successful in other countries. One in every four motorhomes was sold in countries bordering on the EEC including the Scandinavian countries, Italy and Spain.
Based on an innovative idea picked up in theUnited States, Pilote became the first brand in France to pave the way for motorhomes by throwing themselves immediately into the industrial venture of production and the commercial venture of exports. Their masterstroke was to market a highly-competitive range of motorhomes which quickly made a spectacular breakthrough.