Gas driven cars were developed by the French and were available as early as the 1920s, when the car manufacturer Marius Berliet started producing commercial, wood gas powered cars.
Manufacturers such as Panhard & Levassor and Renault followed shortly afterwards. Charcoal was used as the raw material for the gas, which was produced via a gas generator.
As it was almost impossible for civilians to get hold of petrol during the German occupation, the wood gas generator, or ‘gazogène’, provided a welcome alternative. Approximately 50,000 cars with gas generators, such as this converted Hotchkiss delivery van were on the roads in France in 1941.
However, deforestation became an issue, with 150,000 tons of wood being consumed annually, so further production of gas generators was forbidden by the Germans. Not only was this another way in which to curb the mobility of civilians, it was also an excuse to confiscate more vehicles.