FLEETS will be at centre of one of the biggest battles for business in years as the key manufacturers prepare to unveil their core models for 2004.
Three major new fleet models have been unveiled before making their debut at next month's Frankfurt Motor Show.
The new Vauxhall Astra will make its public debut, where it is fighting for attention against the fifth generation Volkswagen Golf (pictured below in three-door form for the first time), while the new Volvo S40 will also be revealed in the metal.
The five-door version of the Astra is due for a May 2004 launch and will be followed by an estate in the autumn and a three-door in the spring of 2005.
UK sales next year are likely to reach about 50,000 units, increasing to up to 75,000 units in its full year of sales. Vauxhall executives estimate that UK fleets will account for about 60% of total sales.
Pricing has yet to be decided and is likely to be announced early next year. Its key competitor will be the Ford Focus – a new model is also set to be launched in 2004 – but Vauxhall bosses believe the Astra will be better equipped and will include features such as side airbags and ABS as standard.
Five petrol engines and three diesels will be available and power outputs will range from 80bhp to 200bhp. All are Euro IV compliant.
The Golf (pictured below) will also be launched with a choice of Euro IV compliant diesels and 'modular' doors which reduce repair bills when a panel is damaged.
Using electronic power steering instead of hydraulic steering, fuel consumption has been reduced by about 0.5mpg.
Volvo expects at least 50% of new S40 sales to be to businesses in the UK when it goes on sale at the end of February. The UK will be the second largest market for the car (pictured below) after the US and models will include a 136bhp 2.0-litre common rail diesel and a 220bhp turbocharged five-cylinder T5.
Production of the existing S40 will continue until the new range is complete, while a compact premium estate, badged V50, will appear later in the year.