Car makers rethinking strategy for 2008

( dpa )- German car makers are rethinking their model strategies for 2008 amid a new car sales slump and the growing image problems faced by performance cars with high carbon dioxide emissions.

Early in 2007, company bosses were still dreaming of launching new sports cars and Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) last September but the heated climate debate forced them to change their strategy.

"Some people even joked that this year's IAA had mutated to some kind of green week," said Gerd Lottsiepen of Germany's traffic association (VCD) in Berlin.

Car makers were forced by the turn of events to polish up their image and to present their specific versions of low-fuel consumption "eco-cars".

At the same time consumers appeared confused by a political debate on taxing cars with high C02 emissions. Germany's car registration authority (KPA) meanwhile reported an 8 per cent drop in new car registrations for the first nine months of the year over 2006. Some 62.9 per cent of all new cars sold were company cars.

New car launches such as the Mercedes C-Class boosted sales for the marque but did little to halt the general trend. The much hyped new models such as the Fiat 500, VW Tiguan , the new Renault Twingo and Audi's bestselling A4 came too late in the year to influence sales.

"The year 2008 will be another year of transition," says car market expert Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer . "New models can liven-up the market but the big impetus will come in 2009 when more private consumers are expected to find their way into the showrooms", he predicts.

Several new models in the compact car range are in line for renewal in 2009 such as the VW Golf, Ford Ka, Ford Fiesta and Opel Agila .

Many of the current new models are aimed at small buying segments such as the Audi A3 convertible, the BMW 1-Series Roadster or the coupe version of the VW Passat . It remains to be seen whether the revival of the VW Scirocco , scheduled for launch in early 2008, will be a sales hit. Several new SUVs are coming up such as the Ford Kuga, Mercedes GLK, Audi Q5 and BMW X6 coupe .

The new generation SUVs are being offered in special eco-versions with lower fuel consumption and C02 emission figures. But another environmental issue is expected to play a big role. The European Union has scheduled for 2010 lower nitrogen oxide emission levels, requiring new technology for diesel engines.

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