Daihatsu will use its new Terios mini-SUV to lead an ambitious new model program aimed at achieving annual sales of 100,000 units in Europe by 2001. The Terios arrives in July.
The Terios will be Daihatsu's third new model this year. A fourth will follow in August. Two further models come next year, and two more in 1999.
Daihatsu's 100,000-unit target for 2001 represents a huge jump over its 1996 passenger-car total of just 21,520. Daihatsu's best performance to date in Europe was 40,000 units.
Germany, the UK and the Netherlands will lead the build-up in sales. Daihatsu UK Chief Executive Paul Williams hopes to be selling 20,000-25,000 units - 1 percent of the UK market - by 2001. He is critical of previous Daihatsu managers for what he calls a short-term approach to business.
'Daihatsu UK used to be just a trading company,' he said.
'What my predecessors did was simply look at each year in isolation. What we are doing now is taking a strategic approach,' said Williams.
'In our planning we have started by working back from the year 2001-02 and where we want to be then. That dictates what we are doing now.'
Germany and the Netherlands - where Daihatsu holds 1.5 percent of the market - will follow parallel growth paths, said Williams. The UK operation is the prime mover for Daihatsu's European expansion.
Williams blames Daihatsu's weak European sales showing in the early and mid-1990s on a combination of yen-induced high prices and a dull model range.
Now Daihatsu has its distinctive mini, the Move, the Grand Move MPV, and the Cuore sub-mini. Soon it will add the Terios sport-utility. Now Daihatsu is beginning to support its products with advertising and image-building.
In two weeks at the end of April Daihatsu UK spent more on advertising than in the whole of 1996. The 1997 ad spend to date has been over £10 million ($16.2 million).
'The Charade is a very worthy car,' said Williams, 'but you can't create a brand around it, the Hi-Jet van and the old-style 4x4s.'
The raft of new models, said Williams, will allow Daihatsu to build up its brand image. That image will be of unusual, generally small and often imaginative niche vehicles.
The narrow, upright Move and the stylish Terios off-roader are expected to give the Daihatsu brand a high profile. The Terios is expected to have annual sales of at least 10,000 units across Europe.
The facelifted Cuore sub-mini, that has benefited from its rival small cars moving upmarket, shows how currency movements have influenced prices.
'Eighteen months ago when we were offered the Cuore it would have cost £7,500,' said Williams. 'It was far too expensive, so we didn't take it.'
The Cuore recently relaunched in the UK now costs less than £6,500, undercutting the Polish-built Fiat Cinquecento.
Some of the half-dozen new Daihatsus due by 1999 will be incremental models and others will be replacements, says Williams. Most will be small cars.
Apart from the new Charade due next year, Daihatsu will steer clear of mainstream market sectors.
For example, said Williams, 'we won't take a middle of the road replacement for the Applause,' a large, lower-medium segment car. 'It doesn't make any sense to enter highly competitive markets that are declining anyway -and we can't build a brand on a me-too car.'