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Highlights from press day at the Geneva motor show

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MG Rover's attendance at Geneva not a policy U-turn

MG Rover's presence at Geneva was not a sign that the company had changed its policy on motor shows according to executives.

John Towers, head of the Phoenix consortium that bought MG Rover from BMW, said a few months ago that Rover would only attend motor show if it made economic sense to do so, not as was widely reported at the time that he was ruling out shows altogether. It was this thinking that led to Rover's controversial decision to stay away from last year's Birmingham Motor Show.

Explaining, the company's presence at Geneva John Parkinson, MG Rover's sales and marketing director, said there were two criteria by which shows were now judged.

“If a show is either provides a real selling opportunity or if we have new models to unveil then we will attend,” he said. “We have new cars and, unlike in the UK, we can transact on the stand here, so Geneva fulfils both criteria. We won't be at Earls Court this year because it fails on both counts.”

However, MG Rover has announced that its latest models will make their UK debut at the Fleet Show, Alexandra Palace, 1 to 3 May. The event is organised by Automotive Management's sister publication Fleet News.

MG Rover will reveal its three new MG saloon models, plus the new Rover 75 Tourer.

Angus Gray, MG Rover's fleet sales director, MG Rover recognises the importance of the Fleet Show: “By attending this event, we will demonstrate our commitment to the company car market, responsible for at least 20 percent of our business.

" To the business user, the fleet show is also one of the best events to host the launch of our new and exciting MG and Rover products. The cars are available for sale in the summer, so the timing of the show is spot-on.” He added: “Since its launch, the Rover 75 has featured very strongly in the compact-executive car sector with keen pricing and excellent specification. We are confident that the new estate will add to the success of the saloon. We believe that our four new body styles, seen for the first time in the UK at the Fleet Show, are all strong contenders in the company car market and will attract a great deal of interest from visitors to the event.”

Surprise unveiling of MG Sports Estate

MG Rover made a surprise show debut of an MG sports estate version of the 75 Tourer, also revealed at Geneva, alongside the newly badged sports versions of the R25, 45 and 75.

Codenamed MG X11, but with the market name of MG ZT-T, the sports estate (pictured below) extends the MG brand to five-models and 22 engine configurations. Deliveries of the X11 estate will start in autumn, initially with the 2.5-litre KV6 engine. 260PS and 375PS V8 engine versions are due in 2002, with rear wheel drive.

Rover says chassis components have been tuned to combine with unique MG-style alloy wheels and lowered suspension to provide a road-hugging cornering ability. The new, deep front air-dam enhances the aerodynamics of the car with reduced lift, while also increasing air intake.

MG external style cues include a body-coloured MG radiator grille, with stone-guard mesh, plus black cappings around all the glass areas. The sports exhaust tailpipes, housed within a heat shield, fit into the rear bumper for good ground clearance and “racy” looks.

Also inside are specially developed sports seats, MG-style instrumentation, a new fascia and console finish, trim fabrics and sports steering wheel.

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MG Rover turns to 'Z-cars'

The new range of MG saloons recently revealed under their 'X' codenames, will now be officially identified with a Z prefix with the letters R, S and T. The X30 (formerly the R25) has become the MG ZR, the X20 (R45) is now the MG ZS and the X10 (R75) is the MG ZT.

Core versions of the MG saloons will be further distinguished by the engine's power output, so the MG ZR with the 160PS VVC engine will be called the ZR 160.

Mazda on the verge of deciding home of new small car

##Mark Fields--left## Mazda Motor Corporation president Mark Fields (left) confirmed to the press at Geneva motor show that the company has decided to begin production of a new small car in Europe in 2003 and the location would either be Saarlouis, Germany, or Valencia, Spain.

“Do we have big plans for Europe? Definitely,” he said.

The new car will replace the Demio once production starts in 2003.

There are also plans for Mazda to make its next lower-medium replacement for the 323 at one of Ford's European plants, built on the Ford Focus platform. Ford owns a 33.4% stake in Mazda.

Mazda reveal an 'environmentally friendly' sport tourer

Mazda revealed it concept for a “versatile, economical and environmentally-friendly sport tourer of the future” (pictured below) at the show.

Mazda says it earns its 'green' laurels thanks to a hybrid engine consisting of a light-weight high-performance 2.0-litre S-VT plant, plus an electric motor. The electric motor – with zero emissions – is for use in towns. It generates 40KW and 108Nm torque, recharging on the move through the petrol engine and a regenerative braking system.

The tourer also has four-wheel drive.

The MX Sport Tourer adopts the door system from the RX-8 design engineering model, removing the need for centre pillars and allowing easy access to the rear seats. Other distinctive features include a sports car cockpit area, an 'easy-to-use' luggage space and a retractable roof for open-air driving or to allow transport of large loads, pick-up style. The rear seats also store away to create a flat floor and a maximum cargo capacity of 1,250 litres.

Electronic technology includes a keyless entry system that reacts to an ID card and a pop-up display screen that can be removed and used as a cordless device for internet and email access.

Phil Martens, Mazda managing director of product strategy, design and product development, said: “The MX Sport Tourer showcases the innovative design and technology beyond our next generation of products. It's a new kind of vehicle, a hybrid that combines the athletic styling and open air fun of a sports car with the functionality of an estate model.

“It's a vehicle that's right for Europe.”

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Mitsubishi UK provides blueprint for MMC turnaround plan

Far from being concerned about the implications of the turnaround plan unveiled by Mitsubishi Motor Corporation to stem its recent losses, Mitsubishi's dealers in the UK should feel confident they are leading the way back to financial health.

At a press conference yesterday at the show, Rolf Eckrodt, MMC's chief vice-president and chief operating officer, reiterated the need for cost cutting in the group's 'turnaround plan', first outlined in Tokyo on Monday.

This involves a 20% capacity reduction, a plant closure in Japan, a reduction in platforms from 12 to 6, a 15% reduction by 2003 in material costs and a 14% reduction in the group's global workforce.

“We don't go for bloody price cuts,” Mr Eckrodt said.

Questioned on whether he would be copying Chrysler Jeep UK boss Simon Elliott in sending out letters to his dealers reassuring them of their future, Jim Tyrrell, Mitsubishi Motors UK managing director, said there was no need.

He told AM-online: “We have experienced our own, quite dramatic turnaround in the UK. Six months ago we were losing a lot of money and the dealers weren't happy. So we set about doing some fairly basic things such as getting the product right, taking the complexity out of the range, renegotiating prices and simplifying marketing programmes.”

Despite Eckrodt's opinions on price cuts, Mitsubishi UK has reduced list prices twice in 12 months, the last time in December.

“As a result our retail sales are up 1.25% against 0.8% last year and our total volume for the year is 30% up,” said Mr Tyrrell.

“We have in effect shown MMC in Japan the success of the actions its outlining and as a result our dealers won't see any impact in the short-term from the MMC turnaround plan.”

In the long-term, he said the 125-strong dealer network will see a better thought-through product cycle, more new products - but even less product complexity.

New 'secret' variant of 307 under development

Peugeot officially unveiled its 306 replacement, the 307, at the show, together with details of the equipment and power trains available when the car goes on sale in the UK in June.

It will eventually be available in hatch, saloon, estate and steel roofed cabriolet versions, plus Peugeot UK managing director Tod Evans said, a “secret” variant. He said at the show: “One of the variants is completely unique design to Peugeot. I haven't seen anything like it at Geneva. But I can't say anymore.”

Mr Evans said the 307 will be available in all its guises within 18 months of launch.

The 307 will, depending on the version selected, offers ABS with electronic braking distribution, emergency braking assistance, ESP and anti-skid system, front airbags, side and curtain airbags, automatic emergency call in case of air bag triggering, active rear seat, retractable steering column, pretensioner seatbelts and active footrests.

It will also be offered with a range of telematics equipment during 2001. It will be available with CD and radio with GPS, GSM Wap with voice recognition and synthesis. On-board navigation will be available offering emergency call, direct link to the customer contact centre, recommended routes and traffic information.

Engine options will include 1.6 16v, 2.0 16v, and 2.0 HDi 90bhp. Later this year a 110bhp HDi engine with particle filter will be available as will an automatic version with the Porsche Tiptronic gearshift system.

At launch the entry level model will be the XR presence (with air-con as standard), available with three or five doors and 1.6 16v or 90bhp diesel. The XS Premium has 15-inch aluminium wheels, climate control, fog-lights, auto windscreen-wiper. The XT has wood effect trim and velour seats, with leather available as an option. The XT Premium has climate control, electric rear windows, fog-lights, automatic windscreen wipers and additional storage space.

Top-of-the-range is the XSi model with 17-inch aluminium wheels, colour-coded side-protection and bumpers, half-leather sports seats and five CD changer. It is available with three or five doors and with the 2.0 16v petrol engine.

The 307 (pictured below) marks the appearance of a new platform designed for PSA vehicles.

Service intervals for the car will be 20,000 miles for petrol models and 12,000 for diesel HDi.

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Ryton stood no chance of being home of the 307

Peugeot's Ryton plant stood no chance of becoming the home of the new 307 according to company UK managing director Tod Evans.

He said at the show: “Ryton's working three shifts of seven hours making 200,000 cars and as such is bursting at the seams. There's no logic in putting a second model in there with the 206.”

The car will be built at Mulhouse and Sochaux in eastern France.

Tata and PSA negotiate on engine supply deal

Indian auto manufacturer Tata is in advanced talks with PSA/Peugeot-Citroen on the supply of engines.

Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata said at the Geneva motor show: “We have been talking to PSA and others about diesel engine supply.” Tata, he said, would soon be integrating “a European sourced” petrol engine in its small car the Indica, specifically for overseas markets and plans are in place to turbocharge its own 1.4-litre Euro III diesel engine as well.

The 5-door Safari, already on sale in the UK, is also set to be available with an “outsourced” high performance diesel engine, likely to come from PSA.

If all goes to plan the Indica is set for its UK launch in 2002. An estate version could follow, Mr Tata said, 18 months afterwards.

Of the engine supply plans a PSA source said: “We will sell engines to almost anyone who wants to buy them. We make no bones about the fact that we will remain independent and thrive through co-operation.”

Tata unveiled a two-seater Aria coupe (pictured below), built on the Indica platform, at the show together with a 3-door Sports Utility Vehicle.

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Hyundai says exotic can also be affordable

Hyundai dubbed its new HCD6 roadster as it made its European debut at the show, the “affordable exotic car”.

Bert Kreber, marketing vice president at Hyundai Motor Europe, said: “This concept provides a strong indication of where Hyundai is going in the sporty car market. It will appeal to young people and to baby boomers who enjoy driving with the wind in their hair."

However, there are no plans to a build a production version of the HCD6 (pictured below), but some design and style elements from it may be included in future Hyundai production cars.

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