Fleet News

Geneva Motor Show

FLEET NewsNet speaks to leading figures in the automotive industry at one of the world's most important motorshows.

Exciting Ford cars ahead for UK fleets

FORD will reward its dedicated fleet customers with new, emotive and exciting products in the next few years, Ford of Europe president and chief operating officer Lewis Booth has promised.

'Our fleet customers have been tremendously loyal to us and our job is to continue to give them great products and continue to look after them,' he said.

The former Mazda boss, who recently took over the loss-making operation, added: 'I want to add to the emotional aspects of our cars. A lot of work has been done already, but I'm going to keep pushing hard on that. Getting more people to experience the new Fords is the key to what the company has achieved over the past few years. I think we now have the lead in producing cars that are stunning to drive. We need to encourage more people to try them.'

He claimed residual values on Mondeos were starting to improve, even compared to some of the premium brands.

Booth said that after losing $1.1 billion last year, he expected a significant turn-around in the business to take losses down to between $100 million and $200 million this year.

The company expect to achieve this through restructuring, continued work on reducing fixed costs, and a full 12 months' benefit from the C-MAX and the restyled Mondeo.

'I'm much more positive about the future because we can consolidate the work that has been put in place, particularly in the second half of last year,' said Booth.

'Naturally, I'm unhappy about the way things are at the moment because I hate to lose money, but I am convinced we have a good plan and our people are aligned around it.

It will be hard this year and the intense competitive environment will continue to make it hard for several more years to come, but I inherited the foundations of a plan and we are beginning to move on it – and we will pull through.'

Booth was speaking at a preview of Fiesta RS concept, set to be launched in the next two years.

Developing more than 180bhp from a highly-tuned version of the 2.0-litre Mondeo Duratec HE engine, the production version of the car would have a 0-60mph acceleration time of around seven seconds.

TeamRS director Jost Capito said: 'This concept shows how we continue to treasure the RS brand. We won't finalise technical specifications until we hear from potential customers, but you can take it from me that we have no intention of disappointing them.

'I know that people want excitement from their cars and I want to add to the intensity of our development work to make sure they get it from us.'

Ford diesel boost will give a sporty feel

COMPANY car drivers will get more diesel power when Ford unveils a new flagship version of its Duratorq engine.

Due to be released later this year in the Mondeo, the new 2.2-litre unit will achieve 150bhp output and will be marketed as the company's first heavy-oil engine with sporty characteristics.

As Ford announced that its best-selling 2.0-litre, 115bhp TDCi Mondeo engine now meets Euro IV emissions regulations, chief engineer Phil Lake told Fleet News: 'We are very serious about diesel and are convinced the 30%market share it enjoys at the moment will rise to more than 50%. Our research shows that company drivers like the benefits of diesel, but still feel the engines seem lacking in power below 1,500 revs, the speed at which most turbochargers cut in. Our solution has been to stretch our 2.0-litre unit to provide an extra 10% of power from very low engine speeds.'

He said the extra capacity was noticeable at higher speeds but made a bigger difference when accelerating from rest, particularly with an automatic transmission. Torque figures are not available because the engine has yet to be homologated, but Lake added: 'This new engine represents a massive leap ahead in output and should make a dramatic difference to the performance of the Mondeo.'

Work on third-generation common-rail diesels is at an advanced stage and the company will introduce its next Duratorq family units, operating at 1,800 bars pressure, by 2007.

MINI ragtop loses its head

THE MINI has proved that company car drivers in the premium sector will choose small cars if the product has the right quality, safety and driving pleasure, its top executive claimed at the show.

Speaking at the launch of the MINI Convertible (pictured below), Dr Michael Ganal, member of the board of management, said: 'I can well remember some critical statements we heard before introducing MINI in the market. There were people saying that a premium model in the small car segment simply couldn't work.

'Since launching the MINI in late summer 2001 we sold approximately 345,000 up to the end of last year. Success of this kind clearly proves that customers are also looking for a premium model in the small car segment.

'Premium therefore is not a question of size but rather a question of the right concept. MINI enjoys a great image and outstanding popularity the world over simply because it is different from other small cars.

'There is no alternative to the MINI.'

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The convertible will be launched in MINI One and MINI Cooper versions, with a Cooper S model coming later. The roof retracts electrically and at the touch of the button, and stores behind the rear seats and above the boot.

Ganal added: 'We intend to continue along the path of success with our MINI. Indeed, launching the two MINI convertibles in Europe in early July, we expect further momentum in our worldwide sales and we could well imagine a further increase of MINI's global sales volume by the end of the year.'

Toyota leads the way on emissions

TOYOTA believes its latest diesel technology is so advanced it is likely to meet the next stage of emissions rules before they have been finalised.

A senior executive at the Geneva unveiling of the new seven-seat Corolla Verso told Fleet News its investment in D-CAT diesel engines is for the long term and the technology will be able to meet future emission rules.

The Japanese manufacturer currently offers its ultra-clean D-CAT diesel in the Avensis in the UK and Germany – countries that offer low-sulphur diesel – with a particulate and nitrous oxide (NOx) reduction catalyst.

Thierry Dombreval, executive vice-president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Europe, said: 'We see D-CAT as a Euro V solution. The criteria of Euro V is still unknown but even if the European Commission decided to cut back the particulate and NOx limits by 50% we would still comply with the regulations. To comply with Euro IV emissions, a car's NOx emissions must be below 0.25g/km and particulate emissions must be below 0.025g/km.

The Avensis D-CAT has NOx emissions of 0.11g/km and particulate emissions of 0.002g/km.

Dombreval said D-CAT engines would be rolled out across Europe once more markets become available with low-sulphur fuel, but in the future it might need to employ the technology on all its large diesels to ensure they comply with future emissions rules.

He said: 'For a car like the Yaris we could achieve Euro V by adding a particulate filter,' he said. 'But D-CAT would allow larger cars to meet future emissions standards.'

Fiat hints at 500 relaunch

FIAT'S concept Trepiuno offers a clear hints towards a possible relaunch of the Fiat 500 (pictured below), according to company insiders.

The prototype is a reworking of the cars that marked the first wave of mass motorisation in Italy back in the 1950s. It is compact – just 3.3 metres long – but has innovative seating configurations that means up to four people can be accommodated. With European consumers favouring city cars, and with Fiat's heritage of producing quirky, enjoyable small cars, the Trepiuno could be an instant success. Fiat says it needs to carry out significant research before the car comes to market, which probably rules out a 2004 launch.

The Trepiuno combines retro – including a canvas hood found in many superminis of the past – with modern technology.

The tail-lights work with LCD screens that display readings in graphic mode, passing communication from the car's interior to its exterior.

Fiat has taken a minimalist approach to the interior, resulting in an open, airy cabin. Thin front seats allow so much room that two further places can be created through arranging the backrests and cushions. Configurations include two seats, three seats and three-plus-one seating.

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Order books set to open for new Audi A6 saloon

THE order books will open on the new Audi A6 saloon in April, with prices starting at £24,175 on the road.

UK prices were revealed at Geneva for V6 and V8 models, with first deliveries due on June 12. Engines include a 177bhp 2.4-litre V6 – the smallest offered at its launch – a 256bhp 3.2-litre V6 with FSI direct injection and a 335bhp 4.2-litre V8. The diesel will be a 225bhp 3.0 TDI V6.

Transmission options include a six-speed manual, a six-speed Tiptronic automatic and the latest version of Audi's Multitronic transmission.

New features include a version of the Multi Media Interface (MMI) found in the Audi A8 and in 2005 the A6 will also gain air suspension.

Audi A6 prices (OTR): 2.4 SE £24,175; 3.2 FSI SE £30,225; 3.2 FSI Quattro SE £33,225; 4.2 Quattro SE £42,775; 3.0 TDI Quattro SE £31,680.

Jaguar goes diesel for its fleet buyers

JAGUAR'S diesel offensive stepped up a gear in Geneva, with the launch of its V6 engine in the S-type, which will be available from May.

A product of the Ford-PSA diesel partnership, the twin-turbo 2.7-litre V6 will develop 206bhp and 320lb-ft of torque, offer Euro IV compliance on the six-speed manual as well as 40mpg.

But although the engine will also be available to other Ford and PSA brands, Jaguar's own engineers have made improvements to the noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) performance specific to the S-type.

Jaguar managing director Mike Wright said: 'Having a diesel powered Jaguar is something our customers and potential customers have been demanding.'

A diesel version of the X-type was launched in September 2003 and Wright said 3,000 had already been sold in Europe and diesel orders were outnumbering petrol orders by two to one.

He added that a diesel engine in the S-type gave Jaguar access to a much larger section of the executive car market in Europe, where more than 50% sold are diesel.

'Introducing the new V6 diesel does much more than simply broaden the S-type range – it makes Jaguar accessible to a significant number of premium saloon buyers who will only consider a diesel car.

'Our message to those people is simple – Jaguar now has the car that you want,' he said.

The 2004 S-type also includes some subtle styling changes, improvements to interior quality, new instruments and an aluminium bonnet (rather than steel) to improve weight distribution.

Meanwhile, the XK coupe and convertible have received a makeover for 2004, with a new mesh grille and spoiler, new wheel options including 20-inch BBS Sepang alloys, a driver-controlled automatic speed limiter and a choice of 'premium' or 'technology' option packs.

New Colt set to challenge mainstream superminis

MITSUBISHI will be challenging mainstream superminis this summer with the UK launch of the new Colt (pictured).

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Posting a 19% sales increase in the UK in 2003, Mistubishi is hoping to improve further following the arrival of the Colt.

The European production version of the Colt was unveiled last week in Geneva, and Thomas Weigant, executive vice-president and director of Mitsubishi Motors Europe, believes the new car will bring new features to the supermini segment.

He said: 'The new Colt has the right ingredients – it is well engineered and well equipped. It is also a clever car with the longest legroom in the segment, the best rear seating flexibility, and unique features like its refrigerated glovebox where you can put a 1.5-litre bottle of water.'

The Colt will come with a choice of three petrol engines and two versions of a DaimlerChrysler-sourced 1.5-litre common rail diesel.

The entry-level car will offer a three-cylinder 1.1-litre with 75bhp, while other engines include a 95bhp 1.3-litre and a 109bhp 1.5-litre.

A 95bhp version of the diesel will arrive first with a 68bhp variant following in 2005. Mitsubishi hopes 85% of Colt sales across Europe will be conquest sales with an average of 100,000 units sold a year over its life-cycle, with a three-door version joining the range next year.

Weigant added: 'We wanted a new kind of B-segment car in Europe, for Europe. We wanted a non-mainstream car in a mainstream segment. From the moment we launch it our European customers will feel the difference.'

A production version of the high-performance CZ3 Tarmac concept shown last year – perhaps an Evo variant – was also confirmed for 2005.

Hybrid RX300 is a fuel miser

LEXUS will showcase the performance benefits of its petrol-electric hybrid power trains when the RX300 goes on sale next year as it plans to introduce more fuel-saving hybrids.

The company believes its Hybrid Synergy Drive technology will allow it to compete with cars like the BMW X5 4.4i on performance, while offering the fuel economy and carbon dioxide emissions of a family saloon.

The RX400h uses a 3.3-litre V6 plus two electric motors – one at the front and one at the rear – with an overall power output of 270bhp. Lexus promises a 0-62mph time of less than eight seconds, with impressive mid-range torque.

Lexus also showed the new GS saloon in Europe for the first time following its public debut in Detroit in January. Due on sale in 12 months, the GS will be the first Lexus to signal a new design direction for the company.

Thierry Dombreval, senior vice-president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Europe, said: 'Both the RX400h and the new GS are a clear statement about our company's strong commitment to further strengthening Lexus' unique product positioning.'

Altea retains concept's original radical styling

CONCEPT car designs don't usually make it into production without being watered down, but Seat's new Altea mini MPV (pictured) proved it can be done.

Based on the Altea Prototipo that made its debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show, its styling retains the head-turning look of the concept.

Its large radiator grille and cat's eye-style headlamps set the tone for future Seats, including the next Leon hatchback.

The firm hopes playing the design card will help set the Altea apart from key rivals. Seat is also promising strong performance. With each engine in the range delivering more than 100bhp, two petrols and two diesels will power the car. Petrol units are the 1.6-litre 102bhp and 2.0-litre 150bhp while the oil burners will be a 1.9-litre 105bhp and 2.0-litre 140bhp TDI engine.

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Keen performance is likely to be matched by keen pricing – expect entry level cars to start around the £13,000 mark – with high levels of standard kit including ABS brakes, traction control, twin front and side airbags, air con, six-speaker stereo and CD player.

The Spanish car maker hopes to sell up to 2,500 units when the Altea goes on sale in the UK on July 1. During its first full year, it is expected to sell more than 5,000 units.

Smart and fast

HIGH-performance versions of the smart roadster and smart roadster-coupe were unveiled at Geneva offering a 20% boost in power.

Brabus versions of both body styles produce 101bhp from their 698cc turbocharged three-cylinder engines. Sports suspension and 17-inch alloy wheels are standard, as well as heated leather sports seats and distinctive Brabus styling features.

Brace of concepts

TWO Honda concepts were unveiled at the show.

The IMAS was designed to present a sports car with the benefit of electric/petrol hybrid technology. But the futuristic HSC was the focal point, giving a glimpse of the next NSX supercar.

Honda also revealed an updated Stream, with a revised front-end and small changes inside.

Aston Martin's showstoppers

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ASTON Martin had a couple of stunners at Geneva. One was the official DB9 Vantage convertible (above) and the other was a design study by Bertone: a Vanquish 'shooting brake' (below) – the perfect load lugger for all that designer gear.

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Modus is biggest in small car sector

A NEW version of the Renault Clio promises to be the biggest model in the small car segment when it goes on sale in October.

But Renault UK has decided against using its spacious newcomer to compete in the burgeoning sector for mini-MPVs. Instead, the five-door Modus will be lined up against the Honda Jazz and Audi A2 as a premium alternative supermini.

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A spokesman said: 'Our aim is to achieve a significant number of additional sales, so the Modus will be positioned in the heart of the supermini sector.'

Research into the next generation Clio line-up, due in 2006, revealed that three-door versions will be most in demand.

He said: 'We don't want to compromise the design of the new Clio for the relatively small number of people who prefer five-door superminis, so we opted for separate ranges.'

He said the Modus will be more upmarket than the Clio, but the entry-level price will stay under £10,000.

Featuring a choice of 1.4-litre and 1.6-litre petrol engines and 1.5-litre turbodiesel units in 80bhp and 100bhp form, the Modus has a split-opening tailgate and a novel rear seat that can be altered to carry either two or three passengers.

The production car's world premiere is at May's Birming-ham International Motor Show.

Peugeot 407 set for big cost battle

EXTENDED service intervals are to be added to aggressive pricing in a bid to sharpen the impact of Peugeot's new 407 range in the UK corporate sector.

Two-litre HDi versions of the saloon and SW line-up will be the French company's first to carry intervals of 20,000 miles or two years, it was revealed at the Geneva Motor Show.

The new servicing deal will represent an average saving of £400 over 80,000 miles compared with the outgoing turbo-diesel 406.

A spokesman said: 'We mean business with this new range, and aim to offer particularly low operating costs. Introducing this package on servicing allows the 407 to spend more time on the road instead of being in the service bays. Lifting the period from 12,000 miles on turbo-diesels means the car will skip one full service in the 80,000-mile period because we've also extended the particle filter replacement limit from 48,000 miles to 72,000 miles.

'These extensions sharpen our offer in a segment that is now highly competitive, and we are confident this action will help quickly establish the 407 as leader of the D-sector pack.'

Introducing the 407, Peugeot chief executive Frederic Saint-Geours said the project development programme had been designed to anticipate new aspirations of D-segment customers by offering vibrant looks, driving pleasure and unrivalled safety.

'We were looking for a car that would make an immediate visual impact and I think we have succeeded,' he said.

Peugeot UK will target user-choosers with the new range, which goes on sale in June.

While the fleet market will account for up to 80% of 407 registrations, the SW will represent up to 30% fleet mix.

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Spec-B Legacy puts Subaru in frame as a driver's car

SUBARU has confirmed plans to build a driver-focused range-topping version of the Legacy to go on sale by the end of the year.

The Legacy 3.0R Spec-B is based on the current Legacy 3.0R, but carries over components from the rally-inspired Impreza WRX STi. The 3.0R's standard 17-inch alloy wheels are upgraded to 18 inches, while the standard five-speed automatic transmission is replaced by a six-speed manual gearbox.

Aluminium pedals give the interior a more sporting character while the car has special Bilstein dampers.

Available in both saloon and Sport Tourer versions, the Spec-B has the same 245bhp 3.0-litre 'boxer' six-cylinder engine as the standard 3.0R.

Kyoji Takenaka, president and chief executive of Subaru, said: 'With sophisticated and tuned suspension we believe this model will boost the Legacy's appeal as a true driver's car.'

RR shows stunning soft-top concept

ROLLS-Royce celebrated its centenary with a stunning drophead concept.

Called the Rolls-Royce 100EX and powered by a massive 9-litre V16 engine, the car features suicide doors while a wooden picnic table slides from the boot for dining at those essential high society summer events.

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Surprise sighting of Xsara replacement

A CAR not due to be revealed for another six months made a surprise appearance. Disguised as a rally car, Citroen gave a hint of how the three-door C4 (pictured) will eventually look when it is launched at the Paris show in September. The five-door C4 will be restyled to appeal to different buyers in the C-segment.

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Mercedes-Benz fills another new niche

MERCEDES-Benz will broaden its luxury car line-up in 2005 with a new niche model described by the company as a four-door coupe.

The CLS-class was first shown as a concept car at last year's Frankfurt Motor Show, but a production version was unveiled in Geneva last week.

Based on the E-class, but distinguished by its frameless windows and tapering rear, the CLS will initially be offered with two petrol engines – a 272bhp 3.7-litre V6 and a 306bhp V8.

It will feature a high level of specification as standard, including part-leather seats, 17-inch alloy wheels (18-inch on CLS 500), seven-speed automatic transmission, electrically- adjustable front seats and a tyre pressure sensor. Prices are expected to start at about £45,000.

Future developments will also include the PRE-SAFE system fitted in S-class models, which automatically activates the seatbelt pre-tensioners, adjusts the angle of the front passenger seat to allow the airbags to work more effectively and closes the sunroof if it detects the risk of a crash.

Professor Jurgen Hubbert, member of the board of management for Mercedes cars, said: 'What better way to build on our success than by continuing our strategic product offensive so we can carry on making exceptional cars? This approach will enable us to occupy specific market niches as well as open up new segments. The CLS is the first car to combine the comfort and practicality of a saloon with the elegance and dynamism of a coupe.'

Tigra promises driving pleasure

GENERAL Motors launched the new Tigra coupe/cabriolet at Geneva, with GM chief Bob Lutz promising that future Vauxhall and Opel product would always feature great design and driving pleasure.

The Tigra will join the Peugeot 206CC as a small hardtop cabriolet, with a fully retractable electric steel roof. It will have 440 litres of bootspace, because the roof folds almost vertically into the body.

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The car comes with either 90bhp 1.4-litre or 125bhp 1.8-litre engines.

The Tigra, which will go on sale in late summer, is part of GM's strategy to produce more niche vehicles as the market becomes more dissipated. This strategy has started to be seen with the recent arrival of the Meriva and Signum.

Carl-Peter Forster, chairman and managing director of Adam Opel AG said: 'The Tigra plays an important role in our offensive and shows the new direction we've taken with our product portfolio, 20% of which will soon consist of niche models.'

Lutz also praised the sales performance of the new Astra, despite the car not being available for delivery yet.

He said: 'We're getting off to a fast start with this product and we've had 30,000 advance orders for the car across Europe.'

Volvo puts the women in front

VOLVO believes the needs of female drivers need to be better addressed in the future and has produced a concept car designed to appeal to women.

Hans Olov-Olsson, president and CEO of Volvo, said: 'We are part of an industry dominated by men and we feel that car design demands a new approach. We started this project with women taking all the decisions and in future we will target the fast-growing number of women buyers in the premium segment.'

The result of the project is the YCC or 'Your Concept Car', which incorporates many features Volvo believes women drivers will want in the future. The design team was made up entirely of women.

As a result, the car has all-round parking sensors, plastic bumpers running all the way round the car, seat materials that can be interchanged and are more patterned, and a groove in the headrests for ponytails.

According to its research among female drivers, Volvo believes that women are not interested in what is going on under the bonnet and the car will book itself in for a service and then notify the driver. The doors also automatically open when the driver or passenger comes near.

Olov-Olsson added: 'If you meet the expectations of women, you exceed the expectations of men.'

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New Octavia after 1m units

AFTER nearly one million units have rolled off the production line, the Skoda Octavia is to be replaced by a new model, which made its world debut at the show. The all-new Octavia, which is expected to go on sale in Europe from June, will come with four airbags, ABS and brake assist as standard.

Although the new car keeps the overall look of the old model, key changes include new headlamps, new bonnet and updated rear end. However, most of the changes are on the inside, where the interior has moved closer to Volkswagen standards of parts and build.

A new central console incorporates audio, navigation, ventilation and air conditioning, while the standard equipment list is extensive, including four airbags, ABS, central locking, height-adjustable drivers seat and tilt and rake adjustable steering wheel on even the Classic base model.

Engines include a 1.6-litre FSI, offering 115bhp, and 150bhp 2.0-litre FSI from the Volkswagen family, while there is a 105bhp 1.9-litre and 140bhp 2.0-litre diesel, vital to entice fleet drivers to try the brand. Both 2.0-litre models have six gears.

Also available is the DSG semi-automatic gearbox, that offers the benefits of a manual, including fuel economy, but with the ease-of-use of automatic changes. The gearbox made its first appearance on the 3.2-litre Audi TT.

Judge us purely on our cars – MG Rover

FLEETS have been urged to judge MG Rover on its products and the standards of its service as the company battles persistent attacks on its finances.

It has urged decision-makers to hold open discussions with the firm about what it can offer companies, rather than being distracted by financial rows.

MG Rover has already held a series of discussions with major fleets to show them its product plans for the next year as part of its target to increase sales to more than 110,000 units from 96,000 last year.

Rover claims it will reveal a new 45 model, which is fighting against models including the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Volkswagen Golf.

Although there are currently no immediate plans for any MPV products that are selling so well among consumers and fleets alike, the firm says there are innovations ahead.

Rob Oldaker, MG Rover Group's product development director, said: 'Where we see specific markets, we can develop products to suit them – for example, with the large engine flagships. These won't sell in very large numbers, but they also have a sales job to do for the brand.

'We will continue to carefully develop niche products that also make the most of our heritage, without looking back.'

Oldaker is certain that the renewed range will bring growing interest from fleets.

He added: 'We won't be doing any large discounts or uneconomical buy-back deals, but we do want to engage with fleets constructively in all areas.

'We are encouraging our fleet sales teams by adding more people, with 20 in full and we want dealers to do a lot of business on their own terms.'

MG Rover is also planning a massive expansion of its dealer network in the UK and Europe as it looks to increase sales this year.

The new face of Rover was also revealed at the show on a range-topping V8 version of the 75 (pictured below). The model, which marks the centenary year for Rover, has been given an exclusive front end with large grille, designed to hark back to previous V8 Rovers.

The car is expected to cost about £35,000.

Tucson set for autumn launch

HYUNDAI has taken a crucial step towards its target of becoming a top five global carmaker by 2010 with the unveiling its latest model at Geneva.

The Korean carmaker took the wraps off its new Tucson SUV, which will hit showrooms in September.

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Going head to head with soft roaders like the Toyota Rav4, Honda CR-V and Suzuki Grand Vitara, the Tucson gives the firm the opportunity to capitalise on one of the UK's fastest-growing market sectors.

With five doors, the Tucson sits below the existing larger Santa Fe SUV and Terracan off-roader.

Hyundai admits there will be some cannibalisation of the Santa Fe range as it strives for volume sales of about 3,000 units.

This will be driven by a competitive entry-level price of less than £13,000 and a wide range of standard kit, including a six-speaker stereo system, CD player, ABS brakes and six airbags.

The Tucson will provide Hyundai dealers with the opportunity to sell nine different variants, their widest range yet.

These include two petrols, one diesel, manual, automatic, two wheel drive and four wheel drive in two different trim levels – GSI and CDX.

Nissan newcomers to replace Almera

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THE Nissan Almera will be dead and buried by the time a production version of the company's Qashqai concept (above) car reaches showrooms in the next three years.

Nissan is exploring how two or more vehicles that don't fit into traditional market segments could replace the Almera.

Nissan has said it will not replace the Almera with another traditional five-door hatchback because it is difficult for the company to make a profit on that type of car in Europe's crowded market.

Shiro Nakamura, senior vice-president of design, said: 'Aimed at a young, pre-family buyer, Qashqai is a dual-role compact crossover concept. During the week it is a tough city dweller, but at the weekend it heads for the hills.'

The company will sell its Murano large SUV in the UK from 2005 following its success in North America. About 1,000 Muranos will be sold annually, each featuring a 245bhp 3.5-litre V6 mated to a continuously variable transmission.

Similar in size to a BMW X5, it will include 'Birdview' satellite navigation, leather seats, air conditioning, a Bose audio system, electrically-adjustable front seats and reclining rear seats as standard. It is likely to be priced at about £30,000.

Flexa points the way to new Mazda4

MAZDA will launch its mini-MPV contender at the Paris Show in September, after a successful first showing of its MX-Flexa concept at Geneva.

The car, to be called the Mazda4, will complete a line-up that UK managing director Phil Waring says will enable the firm to compete in all key fleet sectors.

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The Flexa has sliding doors and six seats, although the Mazda4 will come with seven seats when it is unveiled later in the year. Much of the exterior and interior styling will be the same, although the concept's flashy front and rear lights will be toned down.

Stephen Odell, Mazda's senior managing executive officer in charge of global sales, marketing and customer service, said: 'It's not by chance that we chose the Geneva show to launch this important concept. The people carrier segment continues to be an important and growing segment in many markets around the world.'

Mazda is forging ahead with development of its small Fiesta-sized car which will be sportier than the Mazda2 and will be launched in 2005.

It also used Geneva to show off its environmentally-friendly RX8. The car is powered by hydrogen, with water as its only emission. It can also use petrol if required. The one-off car is undergoing trials and is several years from production.

Chrysler hopes UK gets caught in the Crossfire

AS part of the group's product offensive in Europe, Chrysler unveiled its new Crossfire SRT-6, which will be available in both coupe and roadster versions, as well as showing off the final production version of the 300C saloon.

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First unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show last year, the 300C is likely to go on sale in the UK in early 2005. There are currently three engine choices, the huge 340bhp 5.7-litre HEMI V8 engine, a 253bhp 3.5-litre V6 and the smaller 193bhp 2.7-litre V6.

When it is launched in the UK, there is also likely to be the option of Chrysler's new 2.8-litre CRD diesel engine.

Built on the next generation rear-wheel drive platform shared with Mercedes-Benz, it will spawn a range of new cars due this year. Defined by a long bonnet and dramatic profile, the 300C also shows off the new face of Chrysler's future model line-up. If successful in the UK, Chrysler could also introduce the 300C Touring. The estate version has a 770-litre load area, which increases to more than 2,000 litres with the rear seats folded. Customers will be able to order the Touring with permanent all-wheel drive.

Also coming to the UK will be the Crossfire SRT-6. This will be the first SRT-badged Chrysler car to be introduced to markets outside North America.

It will be powered by a 330bhp 3.2-litre supercharged V6, giving it a 0-62mph time of just over five seconds and a limited top speed of 158mph. Prices are expected to start at about £33,000 and both coupe and roadster versions should go on sale in the UK this summer.

Wind in the wings

RENAULT has confirmed a production version of its Wind concept car will hit the roads in a few years.

Based on the Clio platform, the Wind is a two-plus-one roadster and is powered by a 136bhp 2.0-litre engine.

A spokesman said the Wind was designed to gauge public reaction. A production version would be about three years away.

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D-Bone revealed

DAIHATSU revealed a new concept car – the D-Bone – an open sports four-wheel drive cross between a buggy and a sports car.

Power comes from a three-cylinder 659cc turbo.

The model fits in with the firm's slogan, 'we make it compact'.

BMW pitches in as drivers go upmarket

The premium estate market will grow by a quarter over the next decade, and BMW expects its new big estate to take an increasingly large share of the expanding sector.

Launching the BMW 5-series Touring, chairman of the board of management Dr Helmut Panke said: 'There will a 20-25% segment growth in the Touring's market in the next 10 years. We are confident that we will be able to sell more of this new Touring than of the previous model.'

According to BMW GB, the Touring will account for a quarter of fleet 5-series sales in the UK, which would equate to around 4,000 units annually out of an expected total of 15,000. Drivers will start taking delivery in May.

Four engines, none at the lower end of the range, will be available from launch – the 525i 2.5-litre developing 192bhp, the 545i 4.4-litre V8 offering 333bhp, the new 525d producing 177bhp and the 530d with 218bhp.

Diesels will be Euro IV-compliant with a particulate filter and avoid the 3% supplement on benefit-in-kind tax. There will be a choice of three transmissions: manual, automatic and a sequential SMG gearbox.

The luggage compartment is variable in size from 500-1,600 litres, which is up to 125 litres more capacity than the previous model. All cars come with self-levelling suspension and automatic tailgate opening and closing as standard.

Panke said BMW would make no concession in its drive to produce cars that stood out and were controversial.

He said: 'We are moving into markets with a strong focus and there are clear expectations. All BMW cars offer unique driving pleasure and we will never build a boring car.'

Volkswagen concept coupe is widest and longest of all

VOLKSWAGEN unveiled its latest concept car at the Geneva motor show. The coupe convertible, labelled the concept C, follows the German manufacturer's recent concept R roadster and concept T SUV prototype.

Although currently just a design study, styling cues from the Audi TT-sized concept are likely to make it into a Golf convertible in the future. Positioned in the lower mid-class segment, the concept C is wider than any other convertible in the A or B sector and in terms of length is slightly longer than the Bora.

The four-seater features a new generation fully retractable electro-hydraulic folding steel roof, which also has an integrated sliding glass sunroof. With the roof retracted, boot space is approximately 200 litres, but when the roof is up this doubles to around 400 litres.

##GenVWCoup--none##

Volkswagen's newest concept shares much of the same styling DNA as the concept R and T, such as the distinctive headlights and rear lights and deep arrow-shaped grille. It is powered by Volkswagen's 150bhp 2.0-litre FSI engine and has a six-speed manual gearbox, although a high performance model could follow.

Volkswagen is calling the concept C 'series-model-mature', which implies that in terms of styling at least, it is close to a production model that will almost certainly come to market in 2006.

If the concept C does make it into production, it will be a strong rival to the likes of the Peugeot 307CC and the Renault Megane Coupe Convertible. It is expected that the concept C is likely to be badged as the Golf coupe-cabriolet, with prices likely to start around the £20,000 mark.

BMW M5: What lies beneath?

BMW unleashed the Concept M5, a V10, 5.0-litre 500bhp monster with seven-speed sequential gearbox and aggressive exterior detailing.

The production car will be launched this year and will look exactly as the concept version externally. Internally, it has yet to be signed off, and the windows of the car at the stand were blacked out as a result.

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Cerato is Kia's big fleet hope

THE new Cerato will give Kia its first real opportunity to break into the fleet market when it goes on sale in the UK in late May.

The c-sector car is the first product of Kia's European design studio in Russelsheim, Germany, and is, says the company, a car designed solely for the European market. Sales this year are expected to reach 4,000 units, rising to 6,000 in the first full year.

Fleets will account for 20% – double Kia's model range average – although UK managing director Paul Williams suggests the split could be even higher.

He said: 'Residuals are key to success in the fleet market and ours are already rising across the board. The Cerato will definitely have a fleet bias and once we start on that curve, the growth could be exponential.'

The new Cerato will be launched with a choice of two engines – 1.5-litre CRDi common-rail diesel and 1.6-litre petrol. The UK will not take the 2.0-litre petrol or diesel versions 'until the market is right', says Williams. 'We need to keep our range simple and easy to understand in terms of derivatives and options because it makes it easier for sales staff to sell.'

In five and four-door options, the Cerato attempts to cross the best bits of an MPV with an estate, adding a touch of coupe to the styling mix.

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