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Geneva auto show revs with optimism

Published:Sunday | March 7, 2010 | 12:00 AM

GENEVA (AP):The 80th Geneva Motor Show opened its doors to the public last Thursday, offering a note of optimism and fun after two difficult years for the industry.

The hybrid revolution, however, remains elusive.

Among the stars of the show are Nissan's Juke crossover, Alfa Romeo's Giulietta hatchback and the Volvo S60 sedan.

German automakers Audi and BMW went head-to-head in the hot hatch segment, a European term for amped up subcompacts popular with younger style-conscious buyers.

Audi presented its A1, available in three- and five-door versions, as a direct challenger to BMW's Mini series and a big departure from its larger, more mature models. BMW, in turn, raised the stakes by building its biggest ever Mini, the Countryman, a four-door, all-wheel-drive version of the successful 1960s revival.

Show visitor Kevin Leutwiler from Switzerland said he admired the A1's aggressive, sporty style but added "it's not a car for a tight budget". The A1 retails from about ?15,000 (US$20,460), which is still cheaper than the basic Mini Countryman starting at ?21,000 (US$28,650).

The economic downturn in recent years has deterred many potential buyers from purchasing new cars, though scrappage incentives have helped ease the pain somewhat for automakers.

sales dip expected

Most manufacturers are expecting a dip in European sales this year despite the economic upswing, due to the sudden end of cash-for-clunkers programmes. The Italian and German markets, which were buoyed by schemes that saw the government pay incentives to drivers who traded in older, polluting cars for more efficient new models, are forecast to be especially hard hit. Some experts expect sales to drop by as much as one million in Germany, where 3.8 million cars were sold last year.

Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne told reporters at the show that the Italian market would be 1.7 million vehicles without the incentives, compared with 2.15 million in 2009. Incentives in Italy kept sales from plummeting last year, dropping just 0.2 per cent from a year earlier.

But he insisted that the crisis is over. "The important thing is to manage the future," Marchionne said.