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Small cars aim to challenge foreign rivals

The Local · 15 Sep 2011, 06:30

Published: 15 Sep 2011 06:30 GMT+02:00

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In the past, they built their reputations on sleek sports cars and luxurious limousines that were generous in their fuel consumption.

But with customers increasingly environment conscious and concerned about rising petrol prices, their launches at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) will mark their move into what is already a crowded market.

This year, the main attraction at the stand of Volkswagen, maker of the iconic Beetle and Golf models, is its brand new city car, Up!

Measuring a mere 3.54-metres (11.61-feet) in length, it is VW's smallest model and is aimed at city-dwellers in developed economies who are ecology-conscious and also feeling the pinch of the economic crisis.

Following the market launch of Up! in December, Europe's biggest carmaker is planning a complete "New Small Family" range, as well as electric versions of the new models from 2013.

Underlining the city car as an essential part of its strategy to become the world's leading carmaker by 2018, VW also unveiled its new Nils concept car – a futuristic, see-through one-seater – at this year's IAA.

Nor are the more upmarket makers remaining idle.

Daimler's Mercedes-Benz brand is presenting a rejuvenated version of its B-Class and a prototype of its electric Smart car.

BMW meanwhile is unveiling its i3 concept electric car, as well as new versions of its Mini.

Stefan Bratzel, auto industry specialist at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch Gladbach, said the main challenge for German auto makers would be endurance in an already crowded sector.

The outlook appears to be favourable in Europe, where the overall market share of compact cars has risen from 30 percent in 1990 to more than 40 percent today, according to the European auto industry association AECA.

"If a manufacturer wants to achieve a global presence, it must offer something in this segment" to win the middle classes in countries such as China, India or Brazil, Bratzel argued.

Only North America appears to be resisting the trend so far, according to

VW chief Martin Winterkorn, noting that the Smart compact car produced by

rival Mercedes-Benz never really took off on the other side of the Atlantic.

Story continues below…

German manufacturers also face stiff competition in the sector from French and Asian rivals, said Ferdinand Dudenhoffer of the Center for Automotive Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen.

VW, in particular, "has no experience whatsoever in low-cost cars," Dudenhoffer argued.

"We wish them lots of luck," said Renault's number two, Carlos Tavares, when asked about Volkswagen's move into the segment.

"There is clearly a trend towards 'downsizing' in Europe. But the more fragmented the market is going to become, the more complicated it will be," he said.

AFP/The Local/mdm

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

08:35 September 15, 2011 by Englishted
Small and fuel -efficient is good.

But price is the main thing.
10:00 September 15, 2011 by The-ex-pat
The French and Asian rivals will have nothing to worry about, as anything from VW or BMW will be nice and small with a huge price tag. Rather than make them cheap and sell thousands, it will be the price of an executive toy and sell hundreds and every one will wonder why it flopped. I will lay money on the table that the VW will be at least €10000 more expensive than the French or Asian cars.
10:21 September 15, 2011 by mshameemahmed
A good Asian car, would cost around 3 to 4 k with European std.
11:37 September 15, 2011 by ND1000
Nothing has convinced me to buy a Asian car over a German car yet.
16:06 September 15, 2011 by catjones
ND1000....the highest ranked (JD. Powers) auto was Lexus. Acura ranked higher the BMW, VW and Audi and equal to MB. VW was ranked lowest.

germans have been blind-sided by germans.
13:47 October 1, 2011 by Wrangler
All things considered, (from a personal standpoint) I'd love to own a German car someday (maybe a BMW) but so far, whenever I shop price and fuel efficiency-wise, among many parameters used, German cars always gets beaten by the Japanese car makers.

Now, if money is no object, I'd go for the entry level Porsche Boxster.
14:12 March 10, 2013 by honeybeee
Reading the article almost 2 years later , but it seems this trend will be never changed on the auto stage. Recently Germany family owned car-parts supplier Schaeffler Ag has already launched their new product , introduced a concept car that has higher fuel efficiency for India.The company has upgraded an already existing B segment car with drive train features, which is claimed to help reduce fuel consumption by 10%. This auto model has been regarded as the special custom-made for India . This really shows that small but the highly fuel-efficient saving cars will always get the mass popular welcome .
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