Frankfurt motor show opens

Wednesday, September 12, 2001

FRANKFURT, Germany -- Volkswagen AG showed off its redesigned Polo compact and Ford touted its revamped Fiesta as the world's top carmakers unveiled their newest models Tuesday at Europe's biggest auto show.

The designs reflected top carmakers' search for ways to shore up sales in a market facing a severe squeeze.

Volkswagen AG, Europe's No. 1, promised that its latest Polo will work out cheaper for drivers in Germany than its predecessor. A slowdown in VW's home market, the biggest in Europe, has blunted the company's sales growth for this year.

Rival Ford, meanwhile, pledged that its newest Fiesta would double the troubled corporation's share of Europe's hugely competitive small car market.

"We're looking to double where we've been in the past two years, and we think we will do it with this product," said David Thursfield, chairman of Ford's European unit. "We were at 12 or 13 percent a few years ago and now we're down to around 7 percent."

The Fiesta, first introduced in 1976, has long been a mainstay of the company's strategy in Europe, but more recently it has lost out to rivals such as the Peugeot's 206.

Peugeot stablemate Citroen also presented its small C3, a model with a rounded style that recalls the classic 2CV.

Auto executives at the Frankfurt International Motor Show said that the cooling economy put pressure on them to act.

Volkswagen chief executive Ferdinand Piech, presenting the new Polo and a 2.7 percent worldwide sales rise in the first eight months of the year, acknowledged the need "to do our utmost to revitalize the German market with an attractive range of products."

He blamed German domestic sales for a 0.2 percent sales downturn in Western Europe.

Fiat, presenting its new mid-size Stilo as a rival to VW's Golf, said that the "major weakness in the Italian market" means it needs more sales abroad to lift its European market share of about 10 percent.

Still, Roberto Testore, the chief executive of Fiat Auto, forecast that "the European auto market should settle in 2002 at about the same level as this year."

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