VAUXHALL's new Astra (pictured below) promises to be a weapon of 'mass disruption' to rivals' fleet sales in the UK as it steps up the battle for market share in the business sector.
Among the heavy guns rolled out by GM to back the launch were Rick Wagoner, General Motors' president and chief operating officer, and Carl-Peter Forster, chairman of the board at Vauxhall's sister company Adam Opel.
Supporting the beginning of the sales offensive was Kevin Wale, managing director of Vauxhall and Jonathan Browning, GM-Europe's vice-president of sales, marketing and aftersales.
Wale said: 'We have high expectations of the Astra. It performs well against the Volkswagen Golf and has been well received. We are expecting sales to be about 100,000 a year.'
The Astra will arrive in the UK next year with all guns blazing, backed by a new engine line-up that includes three Euro IV compliant diesels, the company revealed. Among them will be a Euro IV compliant 1.9-litre CDTi ECOTEC, offering 150bhp and 232lb-ft of torque.
The engine will also be introduced in the Vectra and Signum, both of which will also be fitted with a new diesel particulate filter system, enabling them both to meet Euro IV emissions requirements. A senior GM executive said: 'I admit that in the past we definitely needed to catch up in the diesel market. However, with the CDTi engine generation, we have been able to close the gap between the top competition and ourselves.'
The full range of engines in the Astra covers from 80bhp to 200bhp, including 1.4-litre, 1.6-litre, two 2.0-litre turbo petrol engines and a 2.2-litre direct injection petrol model.
The five-door is the first model that will arrive in the spring, followed by the estate and then the three-door in 2005. It will be similar in style to the GTC Geneve concept shown at the Geneva Motor Show.
Equipment includes automatic headlamps, a hill-climbing assistant, tyre pressure monitoring system and a dynamic chassis system to blend the best aspects of performance, handling and comfort.
Bosses at Vauxhall have not yet confirmed whether there will be a liquefied petroleum gas-powered version, although it is thought likely.
Wale said: 'LPG has a clear position in the market place and is an environmentally effective solution which should be fully supported.'
The car also offers design cues for the next Vauxhall Zafira, the seven-seat model that has been a major success in the market, which will be based on the Astra platform. Forster said: 'The new Astra stands as an example of our comprehensive model offensive and consistent renewal of our product portfolio.'
Vauxhall reveals new Vectra estate prices and options
THE new Vauxhall Vectra estate will be priced from £16,045 when it reaches the UK's shores in November. The starting price is for the 1.8 LS or Club model, while a 2.0 DTi diesel in the same specification costs £16,945.
SXi models start from £17,545 for the 2.2-litre direct injection petrol, rising to £17,995 for the 2.0-litre turbo. Elegance trim offers the 2.2-litre petrol and 2.2-litre diesel, priced at £18,145 and £18,995.
Top-of-the-range Elite trim offers the 2.0 turbo at £21,300 and a 3.2-litre V6 for £22,350, while the 3.0V6 diesel, already used in Signum, will be offered at £25,100. The 3.0 V6 diesel is also being offered in saloon and hatchback variants for the 2004 model year.
Vectra will also undergo subtle changes to its rear lights, some interior alterations and new specification, including the introduction of the Travel Assistant first seen on Signum.
A CVT auto will also be offered with 1.8-litre engined-models, for a £1,000 premium. Other options will include swivelling bi-xenon headlamps and Twin Audio.
Vauxhall and Saab integrate
VAUXHALL and Saab are streamlining their fleet operations in a bid to improve service to customers across the brands. The firms are integrating their national sales organisations and realigning back offices to share resources.
Sales teams with customer contact will still be separate to protect brand identity, but their support will come from a common team.
Browning said: 'This is making us easier to do business with and it will make it easy for the fleet customer wanting a portfolio of products, as areas such as fleet support will be multi-brand. It simplifies orders and warranty. Not all the best options will come from Vauxhall – for example, Saab has a very good customer relationship management system, so it is a two-way flow of ideas and processes.'
As a result of the changes, Saab is to concentrate on selling its cars to fleets of less than 50 vehicles while Vauxhall, will sell the Swedish cars to larger fleets.
Citroen pulls out of deals as pound plummets against Euro
CITROEN has backed out of thousands of fleet car sales in Britain because of the plummeting value of Sterling against the Euro.
Officials at the French firm have budgeted to register 5,000 fewer Picasso multi-purpose models with Motability buyers this year and lose at least 3,500 deals with daily rental companies with the C5 executive car, it was revealed.
The decision to give up hard-won market share became inevitable when the pound slumped to E1.43, said Citroen UK managing director Alain Favey.
'Just 12 months ago, the exchange rate was E1.64 to the pound. Currently, the pound is worth little more than E1.40 and this value represents a 12% reduction. This practically wipes out our operating margin.
'Much as I hate to give up market share, it makes no sense at all for us to continue doing business at nil profit. Margins in these two fleet sectors are around 15% and are the thinnest in the market. I'd rather drop the business and concentrate our efforts on winning orders in more profitable sectors,' Favey said.
As the company was launching its new C2 small car range at the show, he added: 'Citroen is not a charity. Unlike some of its competitors, it does not intend marketing cars at any cost. As long as the exchange rate of Sterling remains where it is against the Euro, we will stay out of these two fleet areas.
'I admit we will not be able to recoup the volume we have given up, but our aggressive approach did result in us gaining a 7% share of the retail sector last month and we're now taking a very aggressive stance with light commercial vehicles.'
Concept hints at the shape of new Peugeot 407
NEXT year's 407 looks like causing quite a commotion in the fleet upper-medium market if Peugeot's striking concept is anything to go by.
The 407 Elixir, shown for the first time, claims to be 'a glimpse into the future trends of the marque', but insiders at Peugeot claim the front end and the interior are virtually production ready, which means that the 407, due to be launched in 2004, should become the aesthete's choice in a traditionally conservative sector.
Peugeot has taken the long cat's eye lights from the 307 and 206 and made them even more feline, with a more prominent nose badge and an expansive air inlet.
A revised version of the 406 Coupe also made an appearance with a large front air inlet, providing further evidence of Peugeot's new design direction.
The interior of the 407 Elixir, although clad in expensive leather and milled aluminium, is virtually production ready – hoses for electric wires and air vents from door to dash were all in place, suggesting more thoroughness than is usual in a concept.
Fleets will get their first look at the 407 proper next spring, with an on-sale date of August 2004 at the earliest.
Peugeot also joined the raft of manufacturers unveiling Euro-IV compliant engines, with the launch of two new units: a version of its 2.0-litre HDi, which will shortly be available in the 307, and an all new 1.6-litre HDi soon to be fitted in the 206 and 307. Also shown for the first time was a 1.3-litre petrol/natural gas dual fuel engine for the Peugeot Partner which reduces CO2 level by 20% to 146g/km.
FLEET experts have given Honda's new diesel-powered Accord executive car range a massive vote of confidence, it was claimed at the show.
As saloon and estate versions fitted with the Japanese company's first in-house compression-ignition motor made their public debut, Honda UK head of corporate sales, James Daulton, described predictions of 40% residual values over three years by CAP Monitor as a 'major achievement' for the brand.
He said: 'This is a massive vote of confidence in how good these cars are perceived to be by fleet market experts and it augurs well for our future. Our low carbon Civic IMA has already won 500 UK business sales and our Isuzu-powered diesel Civics are doing well with the fleets. With the diesel Accords now coming on stream, Honda has its strongest fleet line-up in its 30-year history in Britain.'
He added: 'Our strengths have always been reliability, build quality and strong residuals, but this new 2.2-litre turbodiesel Accord range helps us become a really credible fighting force in the UK and should be responsible for at least one third of the 15,000 registrations we're aiming to achieve next year.
'The fact that we're now able to offer a 138bhp, Euro IV-compliant diesel in the Accord means we are now able to do business with a whole range of companies, local authorities and industries where we just couldn't begin to compete two years ago.'
Asked if the development of the 2.2-litre engine would prompt Honda to design further diesel engines, an official said: 'We are watching market trends across Europe, but we have no plans to develop a smaller diesel engine at this time.'
Toyota on course
TOYOTA is on course to achieve its ambition to reach its European sales target two years early, it was announced at the show.
Toyota Motor Europe chief executive officer Dr Takis Athanasopoulos said: 'We wanted to grow to the level of 800,000 annual registrations by 2005, but we will overtake that target before the end of this year.
'Given our current growth momentum with the Corolla, Avensis and RAV4, we are now aiming to achieve annual sales of 1.2 million by the end of the decade.'
6-series and X3 extend BMW's new model blitz
BMW's recent aggressive strategy of launching new model lines at a virtually unmatched rate shows no sign of abating, with first looks at its 6-series coupe, X3 and revised X5, as well as a show debut for the 5-series.
And Dr Helmut Panke, chairman of the BMW board of management, claimed the firm was not about to slow down with its turnover of new product.
He said: 'Applying our brand strategy, we are right in the middle of a product and market initiative quite unprecedented for our company, with the intention to grow and expand at the same time in a dual process.'
Panke believes BMW's growth will come in two areas: increasing market share in the core model line up of 3, 5 and 7-series, and expansion into new segments or sectors where BMW has not been represented for some time.
The 6-series and X3 sports utility vehicle are elements of the second part of the strategy. According to Panke, the time is right to re-enter the premium coupe segment, currently dominated by Mercedes-Benz.
He said: 'We seek to establish a suitable offer preferably in all premium segments relevant to the BMW Group in the mid term, strengthening and expanding our position in the luxury performance range. For a number of years we have been observing stable growth in this segment, which has grown by approximately 50% in the last 10 years.'
The 6-series will come with a 4.4-litre V8 engine producing 333bhp and will be available early next year.
Panke claimed the X3 will be the first premium vehicle in the compact SUV sector, which means it will compete against the likes of the Land Rover Freelander, Nissan X-trail and Toyota RAV4.
On sale early in 2004, BMW GB claims to have 4,000 orders already, eight months before the model goes on sale in Britain, with total sales expected to reach around 6,000 units. The X3 will be available with 2.5 and 3.0-litre petrol engines with a 2.0-litre diesel in autumn 2004. Prices will start at £28,615 on-the-road.
BMW also showed the revised X5, with three new engines – a 4.4 and 4.8-litre petrol and 3.0-litre diesel – and more aggressive front end styling.
Renault unveils Grand Scenic
RENAULT used the show to showcase a wide range of new vehicles, including a seven-seater MPV, a funky concept and a hot-hatch Megane.
Its latest Grand Scenic, which goes on sale during spring next year, is expected to account for up to 25% of total Scenic sales. The range currently sells about 40,000 units in the UK a year.
As well as inheriting existing Scenic engines, the seven-seater version will also get a 1.5 dCi diesel with 100bhp, and a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine offering 165bhp. Renault will announce prices closer to launch.
Well known for its expressive design, Renault used the show to unveil two variants of the funky Be Bop concept. The concept car was shown as all-terrain SUV and sport model, under the Renaultsport brand.
Renault chairman Louis Schweitzer stressed the Be Bop would not go on sale, but said it was a prime example of what Renault calls touch design. He said: 'The Be Bop is about fun. These cars are not meant for production but it means that we are thinking about a mid-sized MPV.'
The manufacturer also showcased its Megane Renaultsport. The hot hatch is due for launch early next year and will be powered by a 2.0-litre 225bhp turbocharged petrol engine.
It will come with a six-speed gearbox and although pricing hasn't been announced, it will cost less than £20,000.
Maserati's new Quattroporte aims for bosses
A NEW luxury saloon will be vying for the attentions of managing directors and senior business executives following the world premiere of the Maserati Quattroporte.
The Pininfarina-designed car is powered by a V8 4.2-litre engine, offering 0-62mph in 5.2 seconds and 400bhp at 7,000rpm, with maximum torque of 333lb-ft at 4,500rpm. The new flagship will go on sale during January 2004, with right-hand drive production starting in the spring.
In the UK, sales are expected to be 100 to 150 units a year. The launch is the latest stage in a major campaign to develop Maserati's fortunes.
In the past five years, the company has introduced efficiencies at its plant in Modena and has seen overall sales grow from 666 units in 1998 to 3,300 last year.
The desirable MPV
COMPANY car drivers wanting a stylish alternative to boxy MPVs should look at the Grandis (pictured below), Mitsubishi believes.
Launched in the UK in the second quarter of 2004, the six or seven-seat Grandis will come with a 2.4-litre petrol engine, followed by a diesel later in the year.
Stefan Jacoby, president and CEO of Mitsubishi Motors Europe, said: 'Grandis is the first MPV customers will buy because they want it, rather than because they have to.'
The firm's strategy, which will see 14 new models launched in europe by 2007, is to build cars that provoke a response, such as the daringly-styled Outlander.
Rolf Eckrodt, president and CEO of Mitsubishi Motors Corporation, added: 'All of our new models will embody our new design direction with cool and emotional styling.'
Lacetti 'crucial' for Daewoo
GM Daewoo revealed its latest new product since becoming part of the giant GM family.
The Lacetti made its debut offering a choice of 1.4, 1.6 or 1.8-litre petrol engines. It is the second product derived from the all-new J200 platform, with the recently launched Nubira being the first.
The Lacetti will arrive in the UK in the first quarter of 2004, followed later in the year by an estate car.
Andy Carroll, managing director of GM Daewoo UK, said: 'It is crucial for our future growth plans that we have an attractive hatchback in this popular market sector. Having this new hatchback from next year will appeal to an ever larger target group of young, price-conscious buyers in the UK.'
Prices and on sale date will be announced early in 2004.
S40 set to challenge prestige German cars
VOLVO aims to stir up the premium upper-medium sector with its all-new S40 (pictured below).
The new car is 48 millimetres shorter than the current model, but is wider and taller, improving passenger space.
And as well as an eye-catching exterior, Volvo is claiming a market first with the introduction of a 'free-floating' centre console. Controls for equipment such as the radio and heating are placed on a thin metal plate which joins the transmission tunnel with the dashboard.
It shares the same type of safety system as found on larger Volvos, including WHIPS (Whiplash Protection System) and SIPS (Side Impact Protection System). Volvo also claims the design of the front-end will reduce injuries to pedestrians in the event of an accident.
Petrol engines will be a 1.6-litre unit offering 100bhp and a 1.8 with 120bhp, while there are two five-cylinder units, with a 2.4i offering 170bhp and a T5 offering 220bhp. Diesel drivers have a choice of 1.6D, with 110bhp and a 2.0D with 136bhp. Models will start leaving the factory at the end of this year, with a sales target of about 70,000 cars. The UK will take 8,000 S40s a year, with about 50% of sales going to fleets.
Orders are being taken from October, with models in the showrooms for February or March. Current S40 and V40 production is continuing until mid-2004, to fill engine gaps until the full new range is available.
The S40 is the first in a new line-up of compact models developed by Volvo sharing common technology, with the V50 compact estate next to be launched in spring 2004.
Euro IV diesel and 3 head Mazda push
THE Mazda3 was unveiled at the show, along with new Euro IV-compliant diesel engines which will give extra impetus to its UK fleet proposition.
Stephen Odell, senior managing executive officer, Mazda Motors Europe, highlighted the importance of building cars that were attractive to the European market. He said: 'We are giving European drivers the first chance to drive the Mazda3. Europeans will put the car to the test it deserves. The strongest response to our new products has come from Europe and reflects the great job being done by our team.'
Mazda's sales in the UK are up 45% year-on-year and some models, such as the RX-8, are seeing as many as 70% of customers choosing a Mazda for the first time. It expects to sell 12,000 of its new lower-medium contender in the UK in a full year, with more than half going to fleets.
Mazda also unveiled a new Euro IV-compliant 2.0-litre diesel engine with a particulate filter for the Mazda6. Engineers claim an improvement by up to 25% in NOx emissions, and 75% for particulate matter. The 2.0-litre 119bhp version emits 172g/km of CO2 (177g/km in the estate) and the 133bhp derivative, 174g/km of CO2. Other cars will get the engines from October.
RACING driver Michael Schumacher shared centre stage with Fiat's new Panda at the show. The five times Formula One world champion helped launch the new car, which is due to go on sale next year.
Fiat also presented its new Idea, a 'tall' model with five seats and a roomy and versatile interior which will compete in the burgeoning mini-MPV sector. It features front seats that fold forward to form tables and a sliding rear seat and has a flexible luggage compartment.
Six airbags, ABS, electronic brake distribution and brake assist will be fitted as standard and the new 1.3-litre Multijet, claimed to be the smallest, most advanced second generation common rail diesel engine, will be available from launch.
The 16-valve unit from Fiat-GM Powertrain produces 70bhp at 4,000rpm with emissions said to be well inside the Euro IV limit.
The Panda will also come with Multijet power as well as Fiat's familiar 55bhp and 60bhp petrol engines paired with either five-speed manual transmission operated from a dash-mounted gear lever or a new Dualogic unit with sequential and automatic modes.
Five colourful versions of the Panda were displayed at the show, four powered by the 60bhp 1.2 8v engine and one by the 70bhp 1.3 16v Multijet.
A Fiat spokesman said: 'This is the most advanced proposal in the city car segment, a compact car that is nonetheless comfortable and roomy, perfect in town traffic, but equally enjoyable on longer trips.'
Striking Hyundai concept 'ready for production'?
BETS were being taken at the show that Hyundai's striking Convertible CCS concept vehicle will become reality within a short time.
The 2+2 car has a remote control roof with a fully automatic boot lid system. Based on the 2.7-litre Coupe, it has a clever design that allows the driver to have a panoramic sunroof, or just remove the hard-top altogether.
It is the work of Hyundai's new Frankfurt-based research and development centre through a partnership with Karmann.
If the car did come to the UK, it is believed the price would be less than £20,000. Before the show, Hyundai hosted an opening at its new multi-million pound European headquarters, which also houses research and development and its design centre.
At the opening, the firm revealed that the first priority would be to produce a range of Euro IV and V- compliant diesel engines, which will be available by next summer. Hyundai's UK managing director David Walker said that predicted sales for the year would rise from 2002's 29,300-plus to about 32,000.
Kia unveils new Picanto city car
KIA offered a first glimpse of its new small car for the UK at the show. The Picanto is offered with a choice of 1.0-litre and 1.1-litre engines with carbon dioxide emissions of 120g/km and 130g/km respectively.
The 1.1-litre engine offers 64bhp at 5,500rpm, while the 1.0-litre achieves 62bhp at 5,500rpm. A 1.1-litre diesel version of the Picanto is planned for 2005.
Transmission is either five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. Initial production will be 120,000 units a year, with a sales target for Europe of 60,000 in 2004. And in a vision of what Kia thinks it could become, the firm unveiled the KCV-III concept car, powered by a 2.0-litre engine offering 145bhp at 6,000rpm.