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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 February 2006, 20:33 GMT
Automotive industry descends on Geneva
By Jorn Madslien
BBC News business reporter in Geneva

The global automotive industry is gathering on neutral soil this week, as Geneva's annual motor show gets under way.

Nissan Pivo
Car makers are going to ever greater lengths to attract attention

TV crews will spend much of Monday filming the latest car models criss-crossing the city's streets, while inside the giant exhibition halls the final touches are applied on the glitzy stands.

Then, in the evening, there will be sneak previews ahead of Tuesday and Wednesday's official press launches.

For the car industry, the Geneva show offers a tremendous opportunity to showcase their wares - making it host to one of the industry's biggest marketing efforts in Europe.

Mass market

Europeans tend to buy smaller cars, and fierce competition has been squeezing profit margins for years, forcing car makers to go to ever greater lengths to attract buyers.

The most spectacular-looking small car on display is Nissan's pivoting Pivo, whose body rotates on its platform to make urban driving easier.

Peugeot 407 coupe
Peugeot has high hopes for its latest model

As a concept car, the chances are it will never reach mass production.

Less futuristic models include the Focus convertible coupe from Ford, the latest in a long line of carmakers to take advantage of sliding prices for retractable roofs to bring them to more mainstream vehicles.

Its sister marque Volvo, meanwhile, will show off its similarly-sized C30 concept, which was given a warm reception in Detroit in January, while Ford's ally Mazda is showing off its face-lifted 3.

Also in the small car segment, American marque Dodge is coming to Europe to unveil its Hornet hatchback, a departure for a brand more well-known for large vehicles.

Similarly, Kia - which is due to start production in Slovakia this year and has become the fastest growing marque in Europe - will unveil a sleek hatchback concept.

If it enters production, the car would be part of a spruced-up model range that should, according to the Korean carmaker's declared goal, boost its sales to more than 500,000 over the next two years.

Such a sales target seems ambitious, but it pales in comparison to Peugeot's 206, more than five million of which have been sold in seven years.

Peugeot hopes its latest model, on display in Geneva, will soon push sales above the six million mark.

Sports cars

Sports car lovers are in for a treat, as Porsche and Ferrari are planning cars whose power pushes the envelope.

Aston Martin Rapide
Aston Martin's four-door coupe will arrive years before Porsche's

Porsche's latest 911 has 480 bhp under the bonnet, well ahead of any previous bearer of the iconic brand.

Similarly, Ferrari's 599 GTB Fiorano boasts 620 bhp - the Italian carmaker's most powerful front-engined car ever.

Rival Aston Martin is also making a splash with its 450 bhp Aston Martin Rapide, a four-door coupe set to hit the road three years before Porsche's own four-door Panamera.

Among the - marginally - more down-to-earth sports cars are a string of new roadsters, including the funky new Opel GT, a re-version of the popular late-60s muscle car.

The car not only looks American, but will be built in the US by Opel's parent company General Motors. By spring next year the first shipments to Europe should help boost GM's image.

Alfa Romeo will unveil the latest version of its iconic Italian sports car, the Brera Spider, in yet another attempt to lure back customers spooked by the quality issues that have haunted the company in the past.

BMW, meanwhile, will show off its latest Z4 roadster, as well as a coupe.

Lotus will be there as well, displaying its mad-hatter Exige S sports car, its fastest yet. The UK sports car firm is also launching a four-seater coupe, which - unlike its racier models - even has a carpet.

But Lotus is particularly proud of its Aluminium Performance Crossover (APX) concept: essentially a showcase for the company's engineering skills.

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