Small cars aim to challenge foreign rivals

German carmakers will this week unveil a range of new small, fuel-efficient cars at the world's biggest motor show to challenge a market currently dominated by French and Asian rivals.

Small cars aim to challenge foreign rivals
Photo: DPA

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.

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

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Emergency numbers fail in several German states

Callers to the emergency numbers 110 and 112 weren’t able to reach operators Thursday morning in several German states.

The 112 emergency number on an ambulance.
The 112 emergency number on an ambulance. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

The emergency number 110 for police and 112 for fire crews failed around the country early Thursday morning, with callers unable to reach emergency operators for urgent assistance between about 4:30 am and 5:40 am local time.

The Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Aid is looking into these outages, which were reported in states including Lower Saxony, Baden-Württemberg, and  Brandenburg, and in major cities like Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg, and Frankfurt. Cologne was further affected by cuts to electricity, drinking water, and regular telephone services. Lower Saxony also saw disruptions to the internal phone networks of police and hospitals.

Emergency services are not reporting any more disturbances and people should be able to once again reach 110 and 112 around the country as normal.

Investigators are looking into the problem, but haven’t yet established a cause or any consequences that may have happened due to the outage. Provider Deutsche Telekom says they have ruled out the possibility of an attack by hackers.