Peterhansel, who has won six bike events and five car races, finished in sixth place in his Mini, 4min 21sec behind stage winner Carlos Sousa (Haval) after the 180km special from Rosario to San Luis
Argentina's Orlando Terranova (Mini) was second just 11 second behind Sousa, with 2011 champion Nasser Al-Attiyah, in third, 47 seconds back.
"At 30km before the finish we had a flat tyre. Apart from the flat, I had good feelings with the car and the special. True, it wasn't a great start, since losing three minutes in such a short special is nothing to write home about, but it's a start nonetheless," said Peterhansel.
Sousa added: "Our car doesn't have air conditioning and all the air inlets got clogged. After 50 kilometres, the turbo air outlet broke down and sent all the air directly towards me.
"It must have got hotter than 70 degrees centigrade and we had trouble breathing. The reason I drove so fast was that I wanted to get out of that inferno, but I really thought we wouldn't make it.
"We suffered like dogs to earn it."
However, it was a disastrous day for former NASCAR and IndyCar star Robby Gordon who lost over two hours after a multitude of problems in his V-8 powered HST Gordini SUV.
Stage one result
1 Carlos Sousa (POR) 2:20:36
2 Orlando Terranova (ARG) 2:20:47 +11.000
3 Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT) 2:21:23 +47.000
4 Nani Roma (ESP) 2:21:51 +01:15.000
5 Carlos Sainz (ESP) 2:24:39 +04:03.000
6 Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA) 2:24:57 +04:21.000
7 Krzystof Holowczyc (POL) 2:24:57 +04:21.000
8 Christian Lavieille (FRA) 2:26:18 +05:42.000
9 Leeroy Poulter (RSA) 2:26:33 +05:57.000
10 Erik van Loon (NED) 2:26:38 +06:02.000