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CAR confidential: You ain’t seen nothing yet

The car industry isn’t exactly a dull place to work right now, is it? The last 12 months have ushered in a recalibration of the motoring map – with some of the vast conglomerates of the late twentieth century unravelling before our eyes. First to crumble was DaimlerChrysler; now we’re seeing Ford’s empire go the same way as Queen Victoria’s.

The Blue Oval divested its playboy sports car brand Aston Martin for £479 million back in March, and now it’s poised to sell its remaining Brit brands Jaguar and Land Rover any day. As we went to press at Christmas, a deal was expected early in the new year, with Indian manufacturers and a private finance group leading the bidding.

Companies that placed size over strategy are struggling.

Expanding the old order has proven riskier than breaking into one of the emerging markets, and 2007 brought a flurry of business partnerships in the booming territories of Russia, China, India and South America.

Renault, for instance, has just bought a 25% stake in Avtovaz, Russia’s largest carmaker and manufacturer of the infamous Lada brand; nobody is cracking jokes now though, instead applauding the former Soviet state’s 20% annual growth. It’s the sort of increase about which mature western markets can only dream.

Not that Europe has entirely run out of innovation – 2008 will bring a brace of new brands to the UK: Infiniti (Nissan’s upmarket premium brand to rival Toyota’s Lexus) and Lancia (a badge absent from the UK since the rust and reliability woes of the Nineties).

What else can we expect in 2008? The environment will continue to hog the headlines and that invisible gas CO2 will set the agenda for carmakers, policy makers and decision makers like never before. If you thought the green story dominated 2007, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

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