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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 March, 2004, 09:41 GMT
Carmakers battle for market share
By Jorn Madslien
BBC News Online business reporter at the Geneva motor show

The open-topped Rolls-Royce
The open-topped Rolls-Royce is one of the highlights

Ooooh, what a catwalk! Or is it a bullfight?

Good looks abound at the Geneva Motor Show with plenty of new models on show.

But the extra dose of fiery flamboyance and the smell of testosterone means this is more than merely a display of the latest fashion statements.

Nimble footwork is a must for the car makers here as they duck and dive in their perpetual race to gain market share.

For the British, it is hats off for the long awaited launch of a convertible Mini and an open-top experimental model from its larger cousin Rolls-Royce.

Our aim with this is a rise in sales, a decline in costs and a reduction of investment in the business
VW chief executive Bernd Pischetsrieder
Both car makers are part of the automotive group BMW, and car enthusiasts the world over are keen to discover what the German owners are doing with the British brands.

"I know you will all be speculating that this is a new series model, waiting in the wings," Rolls-Royce chief executive Tony Gott said about the 100 EX model which was created to celebrate the company's centenary.

"Well, it isn't."

The Mini and the 100 EX will be joined by roofless models from Aston Martin, including both the DB9 and a Vanquish Roadster adapted by the Italian coach builder Zagato.

Italian passion

The Italian heritage continues with Toyota's latest 402bhp 155mph super car, which is seen as a tribute both to the inventor of the battery, Alessandro Volta and to Italian design.
Audi A6

Its hybrid engine system was both made possible by and named after the Italian scientist, while its looks carry the signature of Italdesign - Giugiaro.

The car is significant as it solidifies Toyota's lead in hybrid technology, which combines ordinary petrol or diesel engines with electric motors.

And for rich, middle-aged driving enthusiasts, the car goes one step further.

At 38 miles per gallon, the Alessandro Volta should make it possible for them to fulfil their sports car dreams without upsetting their environmentally aware teenage daughters.

Fiat revival

Troubled Fiat Auto is also making a splash for Italian design, with its subsidiary Alfa Romeo pushing ahead with its strategy of several new model launches over the next few years - spearheaded by its rough looking Crosswagon 4x4.

Renault's Wind - a three-seater car
Times are tough for car makers
Fiat's relaunch of its iconic 500 bubble car is also getting plenty of attention, though the car is on show only as a concept at this stage.

Fiat insists it will not put the Trepiuno into production, though the consensus at the show is that it should.

The question on everybody's mind will be whether demand for Fiats and Alfas can be revived under the new chief executive Herbert Demel whose task it is to push through a 2.1bn euros restructuring programme aimed at bringing Fiat Auto back from the brink.

People's car in trouble

Volkswagen Group will also attract a great deal of attention as its new Audi A6 continues a lifelong struggle to eat into markets essentially owned by rival Germans BMW and Mercedes.

VW, which with its slew of subsidiaries is Europe's largest car maker, has recently faced considerable humiliation due to disappointing sales of its remodelled flagship, the Golf.

Industry observers are also concerned about VW's bottom line.

VW's profits were sliced in half last year, and the car maker has been forced to offer discounts to sell the new Golf which was launched during the autumn at the Frankfurt Motor Show.

There is much talk of a forthcoming belt tightening exercise that should slice a whopping $5bn off its costs.

Investment in luxury models like the VW Phaeton and its Bentley and Bugatti brands is expected to be reduced as the maker of the "people's car" returns its focus to its more ordinary Seats, VWs and Skodas.

"Our aim with this is a rise in sales, a decline in costs and a reduction of investment in the business," VW chief executive Bernd Pischetsrieder said in his statement.

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