GENEVA - For Japanese carmakers, the Geneva auto show was mainly a supermini show.
While Volkswagen, General Motors and Ford launched lower-medium models this year, Toyota, Honda and Nissan targeted the next size down.
Toyota showed the Yaris and Honda had the J-BX.
Nissan's Micra had its biggest facelift since its 1992 launch. Daihatsu drew applause for its innovative Sirion.
The French showed Yaris-fighters: the Renault Clio and the Peugeot 'two-oh-heart,' a concept coupe version of the 205 replacement due this autumn.
Japanese makers are aiming at superminis because import quotas end next year.
'They've been concentrating on bigger cars like the Primera,' said analyst Steven Reitman of Merrill Lynch in London. 'Now they will actively go after volume.'
The Yaris will go on sale in Europe next spring, sourced from Japan. In three years, production will begin in France. Eventually, the Yaris will be offered in more body styles, including a pickup.
'The Japanese have elected not to play in the segment here in a major way,' said Greg Melich of Morgan Stanley in London. 'But as the quota comes off they are saying, 1/8Hey, we should naturally be strong in this class.''
The competition may usher in a new era of high content. For instance, the Yaris' tiny 1.0-liter engine has variable valve timing.
'The segment is getting stronger because customers want easier parking and better gas mileage,' said Melich. 'They want that as long as they get all the bells and whistles.'