The industrial activities of Adolphe Clément are complex. He had a background in the cycle industry, made a fortune from acquiring the French rights to Dunlop tyres, and became involved with a number of makes of cars. In 1896 he entered the combine Clément-Gladiator-Humber (France) and during this period was also a director of Panhard-Levassor. Automobile manufacture began early in 1899 when his Levallois-Perret works took on production of the Clément-Panhard voiturette. Motor tricycles and quadricycles followed and the first all-Clément car of 1900 was an improved quad with side-by-side seating and a rear-mounted De Dion-Bouton engine.
To design up-to-date front-engined cars Clément hired the outstanding mechanical engineer Marius Barbarou in 1901 who was later to hold key positions with Benz, Delaunay-Belleville and Lorraine-Dietrich. The shaft-driven Clément cars were practical and well made and found a ready market, the British Commercial Automobile Syndicate headed by the Earl of Shrewsbury & Talbot selling the cars in Britain initially as Clément-Talbot, and from October 1903 as plain Talbot.