THE new Nissan Micra made its world public debut at the Paris Motor Show, promising more space in a smaller body and technology traditionally reserved for luxury saloons.
The supermini, with its highmounted headlamps, will go on sale early next year with a full range of engines and three and five-door body styles. A concept convertible with a folding metal roof, called the CC, also looks close to production readiness.
The new Micra is shorter but taller than its predesesor, leading to a more upright seating position that creates greater interior space. Every model will have sliding rear seats with a potential travel distance of 20cm that allows the boot volume to flex between 240litres and 370litres, depending on carrying requirements and the need for rear seat legroom.
Mid- to high-range models will also feature keyless entry with an 'intelligent' keyfob that can unlock the car's doors merely by being within one metre of the lock. Users simply press a button on the car to gain entry, avoiding the need to fumble in pockets or bags for keys when hands are full.
Steering wheel-mounted radio controls and rain sensitive windscreen wipers provide further evidence of the cascade of specification from luxury cars into the supermini segment.
The present Micra will sell about 43,000 units in the UK this year, and Nissan is anticipating similar volumes for the new car, although its fleet/retail mix will alter sharply in favour of retail sales. Reaching the end of its life cycle, the current Micra has a higher proportion of low margin fleet sales into sectors such as rental and bodyshop courtesy cars than Nissan would like, and it is aiming for more profitable business for the new Micra.
Brian Carolin, managing director of Nissan, said: 'We are expecting more than 40,000 sales, and we expect retail to account for more than 30,000 of those, which will be more profitable business and will also help the car to a segment leading residual value position which is important for fleets and for PCP business.'
Importantly for Nissan, the new Micra will feature a diesel engine for the first time, with a 1.5 dCi common rail unit joining the range alongside 1.0, 1.2 and 1.4 petrol engines. Prices and specification of the range have yet to be finalised.
Next year will also see higher performance diesel engines arrive in both the Almera and Primera range, developing 136bhp to exceed the 130bhp of Volkswagen's impressive diesel range.
Diesel only accounted for 2.3% of current Almera sales, although Nissan foresees than rising to 15.5% next year, while diesel-powered Primeras account for just 24% of sales, well below the sector average.
307CC a production cert
PEUGEOT has quashed any doubt that its dashing 307 convertible – currently labelled the 307 CC (pictured below) – will go into production next year.
The car, which has an electrically operated folding metal roof, offers seating for up to four adults. It is not yet confirmed how much the car will cost, but it is expected to be priced against the Vauxhall Astra Cabriolet, of which the 2.2-litre version retails for £18,995. The 307CC is powered by a 2.0-litre 16-valve four cylinder engine that develops 180bhp.
Peugeot is also injecting higher performance into its 206 range with the unveiling of a 180bhp Gti, alongside an all-new Partner, the environmentally-friendly fuel cell vehicle the H20 and the urban concept car, Sesame.
Lifting the lid on Pluriel
PARIS offered the perfect backdrop for French manufacturer Citroen to lift the lid off the latest model to join its C3 range - the Pluriel (below).
Due for a UK launch in June next year, the saloon/cabriolet pick-up will cost about £13,000.
Citroen believes the supermini's prime selling point is that not only does the roof slide back and the B-pillars lower into the body of the car, but the side arches can also be removed to convert the car into a genuine cabriolet, which it calls the Pluriel Spider.
Citroen also used the event to showcase its redesigned Berlingo and its Airdream coupe concept car that managing director Claude Satinet poetically declared 'is an invitation to dream'.
Cayenne set to spice up market for SUVs
Porsche will be gunning for the Range Rover and other luxury prestige sport utility vehicles when its radical Cayenne reaches UK showrooms in the spring.
Boasting a 0-60mph acceleration time of 7.2 seconds and a top speed of 150mph, the lead-in S version should be the pacesetter in its segment at a price of less than £45,000, said Porsche president Dr Wendelin Wiedeking when the car made its world debut on the eve of the Paris Motor Show.
He added: 'We are looking at making a challenge at the top sector of the car market, and while we think one third of our buyers will be present Porsche owners, we're expecting to achieve a lot of conquest business. This will be the first car in the family, not the second or third – and I will not be surprised if most of our customers choose this model,' said Wiedeking.
UK list prices for Porsche's long-awaited third model range will be announced at the Birmingham Motor Show, but the Turbo is expected to cost about £70,000.
Developed jointly with the Volkswagen Touareg, the Cayenne features four-wheel drive, traction and stability management systems and self-levelling air suspension. Sales will begin early next year.
Hot touch from the cool Swedes
THE ice cold Swedes have created two red-hot cars variants of the S60 and V70 to tempt drivers who enjoy life in the fast lane.
The S60R and V70R feature the same 2.5-litre in-line turbocharged engine that generates 300 bhp and propels the S60R from standstill to 62mph in 5.7 seconds, 0.2 seconds quicker than the V70R.
Maximum torque of 295lb-ft appears at just 1,950rpm with the manual gearbox, and 258lb-ft with the automatic.
Both cars will feature revised chassis technology – labelled Four-C (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept) by Volvo – that offers three chassis settings, comfort, sport and advanced sport, so that rear seat passengers don't have to suffer a washboard ride, while lone drivers can benefit from a nailed down ride for optimum sport performance.
The Four-C chassis adjusts the car's shock absorbers 500 times per second so that the car is always parallel to the road.
Expect prices of about £34,000 for the S60R and £37,000 for the V70R when they go on sale in the UK next April, with Volvo anticipating annual UK sales of the R models to reach 800 units.
A faster Cruiser
A GO-FASTER version of the Chrysler PT Cruiser could soon be on sale in Britain.
At the show, Chrysler Group president Dieter Zetsche said moves aimed at future growth included offering a turbocharged 2.4-litre example of thehatchback model next year in markets outside the US.
He would not be drawn on whether the car would be made available in right-hand drive form, but Chrysler and Jeep UK managing director Simon Elliot told Fleet NewsNet: 'Our view is that it is likely Britain will be included.
'We have made strong representations and are increasingly confident about it.'
According to Zetsche, Europe is set to play an increasingly important role in finding new customers as the group doubles the number of models it produces with diesel engines and right-hand drive over the next five years.
Jaguar goes naked for XJ saloon launch
JAGUAR revealed the bare bones of its new XJ saloon by displaying the new car without paintwork to show its aluminium construction.
The luxury contender is 200kg lighter than the outgoing model but Jaguar promises greater strength, robustness and dynamic ability from the lightweight construction. The new body, for example, is 60% stiffer than its predecessor.
The new XJ will go on sale next spring with a choice of four engines, a 3.0-litre V6 (marking the return of the XJ6 badge), an all new 3.5-litre V8 and a 4.2-litre V8 in both naturally aspirated and supercharged forms.
Viewed independently, the outline silhouette of the new XJ looks very similar to the current model, although Jaguar sources insist that side-by-side the two cars will be markedly different. The doors of the new model, for instance, are deeper and the car's waistline higher than the current XJ, while the wheels are closer to the car's corners, promising improved dynamic performance.
But it's perhaps the headlamps that will identify the new car most clearly, oval rather than circular in shape, either side of a grille that takes its styling from the original 1968 XJ6 with intersecting horizontal and vertical bars. Drivers and passengers should also appreciate a significantly more spacious interior than the 'cosy' feel of the current model.
Bentley's fresh face
USER-choosers with an limited company car budget will be interested in an old name that has received a spectacular fresh lease of life. Bentley's long-awaited medium-size model carried the Continental GT badge when it was revealed at the show. With a six-litre, 12 cylinder engine producing more than 500bhp, the Continental uses a six- speed automatic transmission and four- wheel drive to reach a top speed of more than 180mph.
The ultimate in luxury
FOR the global chief executive with everything, Daimler- Chrysler's new Maybach offers the perfect road-going luxury, luxury normally associated with private Boeing 737s and giant Mediterranean yachts.
The rear seats extend like giant leather deckchairs, but should the owner ever oust the chauffeur, he or she will find the accelerator pedal provides access to a twin-turbocharged, 5.5-litre engine that pours out 550bhp and 664lb-ft torque and allows the Maybach 57 to accelerate from rest to 62mph in only five seconds.
But the real surprise of DaimlerChrysler's new flagship is the way it drives, according to passenger car chief Prof Jurgen Hubbert who said: 'Believe me, this car goes even better than the figures suggest. Despite its size, it is very agile,' he said. Deliveries are expected to start next month.
BMW Z4 unveiled
WITH a long bonnet, short tail and minimal overhang at both front and back, BMW is promising a no- compromise roadster from its sharply-styled Z4 convertible, set for launch next spring.
The soft-top car had its global premier in Paris with two straight-six engines, displacing 2.5 and 3.0 litres respectively. The smaller engine develops 192bhp and accelerates from 0-62mph in 7 seconds, while the 3.0-litre develops 231bhp and takes just 5.9 seconds to reach 62mph from standstill, yet both meet Euro IV emission standards. The higher performance model will come with the option of a six-speed gearbox, also available with manual shifts via Formula 1-style paddles on the steering wheel. For practicality, BMW insists the Z4 can swallow two sets of golf clubs or four crates of wine in the boot with the roof down, while runflat tyres as standard means there's no need for a spare wheel.
IS range grows
LEXUS unveiled its IS200 SportCross at the show a year after introducing the first incarnation of the model – the IS300 SportCross.
The two-litre six-cylinder engine will already be familiar with drivers of the IS200, while the car will also be available with two new designs of alloy wheels, offered on 16-inch rims as standard. Also on the stand was an eye-catching vision of the future, the Lexus used in Steven Spielberg's film Minority Report, set in 2054. The Lexus concept, used by Tom Cruise in the film includes ideas for a DNA recognition entry system and an automatic accident avoidance system.
Ford's niche strategy for fragmenting fleet market
FORD will close a gaping gap in its product range with the launch of a mini-MPV in the second quarter of next year.
The new car, revealed as the concept C-MAX at the Paris Motor Show, will give the blue oval a fresh contender in the lower medium sector where it already dominates with the best-selling Focus.
The car will also give Ford a neat progression of models for the burgeoning MPV lifestyle niches, from Fusion through C-MAX (it's name and whether it will carry the Focus badge have yet to be confirmed) to Tourneo Connect and Galaxy.
This niche strategy is essential for the manufacturer if it is to create genuine retail and user-chooser appeal in its product range, and avoid relying on the cut-throat market of fleet sales.
The Focus has already achieved this goal, delivering strong residual values that have received a further boost with the car's first place in the German TUV reliability survey – the first time in 13 years that a non-Japanese car has won the accolade.
Paul Thomas, managing director of Ford of Britain, sees significant future opportunity for Ford to capitalise on a demand-pull approach to the market, where the manufacturer's flexible production plants allow it to make cars to meet demand rather than produce cars that the company is then forced to push into the market.
'We are not selling what we can make, but making what the customer wants. I would rather have our market share made up of many different models than rely on high volumes from one model, and that will certainly help residual values.'
Such an approach is essential if Ford is to survive the fragmentation of the fleet sector where traditional fleet hierarchies are rapidly dissolving.
At one time Ford's product range of Fiesta, Escort, Cortina and Granada provided the skeleton of the majority of company car choice lists, but employee demand for greater choice has created a mini-revolution in fleet policies. The principal victims of this change have been cars in the D-sector, like the Mondeo, squeezed on one side by prestige marques and on the other by the lifestyle flexibility of mini-MPVs.
It is a situation that Ford has already acknowledged at one end of the scale with its closer working relationship with Volvo and Jaguar rather than developing a Scorpio-sized car.
At the other end of the scale, Thomas sees clear opportunities among 'downsizers', with Focus likely to sell between 140,000 and 150,000 cars this year despite not offering an MPV variant.
'We still see a healthy D-sector, although sales will be down from their halcyon days. In the fleet market we are seeing a downsizing in the displacement of petrol engines and people are coming from the D-segment into higher specification C-segment cars, and becoming more individualistic in their vehicle requirements,' he said.
New cars such as the Fusion, SportKa and StreetKa, alongside the C-MAX, will give Ford the opportunity to compensate for pressure in its traditional markets by generating incremental sales in new niches, while its new diesel technology has given it a powerful weapon to compete in its original strongholds.
The second generation TDCI common rail diesel engines looked set to account for close on 45% of Mondeo sales in September, appealing to tax-shy company car drivers eager for a low emission car under the new benefit-in-kind tax system.
The big challenge for Ford is to ensure its blue oval brand keeps pace with its '45 in five' strategy. No manufacturer can build a brand without the right product, but Ford has suffered with its product strength ahead of its brand strength.
Former Ford executive Wolfgang Reitzle used to assess the strength of any car brand by its residual values.
With the Focus, Ford has shown that it is possible to build mainstream volume and a powerful brand. If it achieves the same demand-led approach to market with its new strategies, fleets will be among the biggest winners.
Multi-media C-MAX for the family of the future
AS concept cars go, Ford's C-MAX is as close to a production model as one is likely to see, with sources at the manufacturer hinting that the only principal change would be a move from four to five seats on the production model.
Seat numbers led Ford to cancel a five-seater MPV model based on the current Focus platform when Vauxhall arrived with the ingenious seven-seater Zafira.
Now, however, Ford believes that the mid-market MPVs only require five seats, a configuration that allows a more stylish design than the functional 'boxiness' of seven-seaters. Ford executives say large families can always scale up to a Galaxy, if seven seats are a prerequisite.
The C-MAX naturally showcases the very latest concept technology, including an iRIS (integrated remote imaging system) encompassing an in-car camera that transfers images to a personal digital assistant (PDA).
This will enable parents to keep watch on children in the backseats while they leave the car to pay for fuel, for example. The device should also deliver compelling evidence for sibling squabbles about 'who started it'!
Multi-media is very much on the agenda for this type of family MPV, with C-MAX offering a rear seat DVD system with screens mounted in the rear of front-seat headrests, and a DVD-based satellite navigation system with the ability to take live traffic information and programme alternative routes.
And in a bid to optimise use of interior space, the C-MAX (below) uses an airline-style central console running the length of the roof of the car, containing the iRIS camera, reading lights, and two roof stowage compartments accessible to rear-seat passengers.
'Vans' set to head GM's brand revival
TRANSLATIONS can be misleading, but the news that Opel (and therefore Vauxhall) sees a much expanded role for vans in its future is accurate whichever way you interpret it.
On the one hand, the single greatest success story for Opel/Vauxhall in the last few years has been the Zafira minivan, while on the other hand the development of a new light commercial vehicle range in tandem with Renault has enormously strengthened General Motors' van offerings.
It is hard to overestimate the importance of the Zafira to GM's future thinking, with senior executives repeatedly referring to the seven-seat MPV as an example of how its innovative design and engineering can produce a class-leading product that customers flock to buy.
Hence the pressure resting on the shoulders of the ingenious new Meriva, GM Europe's take on a mini-MPV, which offers a highly flexible seating arrangement for up to five people on a relatively small platform.
The car goes on sale next year, and marks the definite start of GM's plans to target market niches rather than rely on its traditional supermini, lower medium and upper medium contenders to slug it out in oversupplied, and therefore ultracompetitive, low margin sectors of the market.
'Right now we're working towards developing new market opportunities by changing our model mix,' said Carl-Peter Forster, chairman and managing director of Opel and vice president GM Europe.
'Our product programme will be more heavily weighted towards new concepts and contemporary body styles like vans – and we'll be placing a greater emphasis on niche models.'
This philosophy will apply to the Signum, due for launch next year on the Vectra platform, which GM claims will offer 'business class' travel with MPV-style seating options in an estate-shaped car.
For Forster, these new cars are defined as Opel/Vauxhall product because 'they all offer a high degree of flexibility and they are full of fresh ideas'. The manufacturer is also relying on these products to restore some lustre to its brand that it concedes is in need of revitalisation.
In a private interview, Rick Wagoner, chief executive officer of General Motors, said: 'Opel has been a mid-market brand, but the view is that it has drifted down from its position in the late 1980s. Our cars have all the advantages, but also all the costs, of German engineering, so we have to position the brand higher.'
Volkswagen's rumoured move upmarket out of the heat of the mid-market kitchen will give Opel/Vauxhall some breathing space, but Wagoner is in no doubt that his company's destiny lies in its own hands.
'We have to provide a compelling offer and give something that other manufacturers do not offer. If you have the right product enough times you will have the right badge. Zafira has worked very well and we need to duplicate that with other products,' he said.
'We have lost share because we have not offered options that people think are better than the competition.'
Kevin Wale, managing director of Vauxhall, believes the manufacturer can gain a couple of percentage points' improvement in its UK market share by capitalising on its expanded product range.
'Our job is to influence user-choosers, as well as retail buyers, and we are trying to reposition the brand as younger and more aspirational. We have the product range – we have never had such a positive reaction to the launch of a new car as we have had with Vectra – and we will have the flexibility of the Meriva, Zafira and Signum.'
And returning to the expanded role for vans in Vauxhall's future, Wale identified the successful year the manufacturer is enjoying with its new Vivaro panel van, alongside its longer established Combo, Astravan and Movano.
'We have a strong product range for fleets with multiple lcv requirements, we understand fleet and lcv users, and our interaction with users is a significant advantage,' he said.
Bold new Rover in Tourer Concept
ROVER has confirmed its commitment to producing cars that borrow styling from its Tourer Concept Vehicle.
Although designed for genuine production feasibility, it is unlikely the TCV will ever be made but it does give a strong hint to the manufacturer's future direction.
MG Rover group product development director Rob Oldaker said: 'This concept car gives a strong indication of the way that our design team is developing a bold new personality for Rover. The TCV shows the kind of all-round versatility and luxury that we believe a Rover should offer.'
The first new product to be spawned from the TCV will go on sale in 2004.
Audi shows new sports model
AUDI'S top sports model in the A4 range will come to the UK next April. The S4 quattro is powered by a 4.2-litre V8 engine that produces 344bhp and comes with six-speed manual gearbox. Pricing has yet to be announced but expect to pay between £35,000 and £40,000.
The S4 shared the Audi stand with the new Audi A8 (pictured above), which is also due for a UK launch next year and rivals the BMW 7-series and Mercedes-Benz S-class.
The German manufacturer expects to sell 1,200 A8s in the UK during its first full year in 2004. The top-of-the-range model will retail for about £54,000.
Sporty SEAT debuts Cordoba
PARIS marked the world debut of the SEAT Cordoba, the saloon variant of the Ibiza, which arrives in the UK next May or June.
Booted superminis account for a small percentage of the small car sector, and SEAT is planning to sell only about 1,000 units next year, with guide prices pegged fairly level with the five-door Ibiza.
The Cordoba is likely to start at under £10,000 for the 1.4 petrol, rising to £12,000 for the 1.9 TDI (100bhp) S model, and £13,500 for the 130bhp TDI SE.
SEAT director Kevin James said the fact that the Volkswagen group had decided to put the high-performance TDI 130 into the Ibiza range, but not the Polo, indicated the clear brand distinctions operating within the group, with SEAT now confirmed as the sporty range.
The seven-seat Alhambra also looks set to receive a welcome power boost by the end of this year with the arrival of the TDI 130 engine, while the power output from the Toledo 1.8 petrol is set to reach 180bhp as the car gains the engine already well employed in the Skoda Octavia vRS.
Fiat and Alfa unveil newcomer duo
Alfa Romeo used the show to unveil its high performance GTA version of the 147. The car uses the same 250bhp 3.2-litre V6 engine found in the 156 GTA. Meanwhile, sister company Fiat unveiled the estate version of its new Stilo at the show.
The Stilo Station Wagon was shown in both petrol and diesel guises and offers up to 1,480 litres of luggage space and opening tailgate glass.
Fiat Group also displayed its new 1.9-litre JTD common rail diesel engine in 140bhp 16-valve guise. This engine will make its first appearance in an Alfa Romeo in the UK next year in the 147 and 156.
Spotlight on Espace
RENAULT put its new Espace under the spotlight at the Paris Motor Show. The Espace IV shared the Renault stand with the new generation Megane, a Clio V6 and the Ellypse concept car.
Describing the Espace, due for launch in the UK next year, Renault said it offers 'more sophisticated features, more adaptable functions and a new level of travelling comfort'. It also boasts, the manufacturer says, the biggest glass sunroof currently on the market.
Two versions will be offered: the Espace IV and Grand Espace IV, which is 20 cms longer, providing more space in the cabin.
Mazda2 offers a clever solution
AN innovative approach to interior packaging promises to set the new Mazda2 model apart in the fiercely competitive compact hatchback sector.
And the spacious family car will also boost the renaissance of the Japanese brand early next year when it begins to roll from the lines of the Ford factory in Valencia, Spain, Mazda Corporation president Lewis Booth claimed at the Paris Motor Show.
'The first dedicated Mazda model to be built in Europe signposts the future of this company. It is the car that sets the scene for the model line-up we and our customers have been waiting for,' said Lewis at the launch of the all-new Demio replacement, which is based on the new Fiesta platform.
'The heritage of this company is reflected in a design that makes the best possible use of all available interior space. Even the door trim uses a concave shape to provide extra room.
'While the new RX8 sports car will represent the ultimate expression of the brand when it is launched early next year, it is this car that will play the key role in showing the DNA of the company,' he added.
Launched as the Demio in Japan in August, the Mazda2 is already winning higher sales than had been anticipated.
With a choice of three new petrol engines sized from 1.25 litres to 1.6 litres and a new 1.4-litre common rail turbodiesel motor, the mini multi-purpose car will also be available with automated shift manual transmission.