PARIS - The Golf, Astra and Escort/Focus might be the traditional leaders of the lower-medium segment, but the Renault Megane is the leader this year.
'Megane was No. 1 in Europe over the first two months of 1998, ahead of Astra, Escort and Golf,' said Thierry Dombreval, Renault vice president for marketing.
The two-month scorecard according to JATO Dynamics:
'We sell all the cars we can make,' said Dombreval. 'We are lacking Scenics. I think Megane sales will be between 500,000 and 600,000 units this year. Anyway, we must do much better than last year.'
Standard versions of the Megane are doing well, but the 22,000 units of the Megane Scenic compact minivans make the Megane a star. The competitors don't have minivan versions on the market yet.
The lower-medium segment is in a state of change. The Scenic is the biggest catalyst, but not the only one.
Sales of station wagons and convertibles are also increasing, at the expense of sedans, three-doors and five-doors.
According to Peugeot statistics, sedans and hatchbacks made up 85 percent of lower-medium sales in 1993 and 74 percent in 1997. Over the same period, the share for wagons rose from 10 to 16 percent; minivans from 0 to 4.5 percent; and convertibles from 1.5 to 2.3 percent.
PSA is working in a new platform for the segment called PF2. 'We will certainly make more than five models based on this platform,' said Vincent Besson, Citroen product planning manager.
Most marketing executives expect a compact minivan sub-segment or segment by 2001.
This year, the Fiat Multipla and Mitsubishi Spacestar arrive. They will be followed by the Opel Zafira and Citroen monobox in 1999, and models from Ford, Volkswagen, Nissan and Peugeot in or after 2000.
In 1998, Scenic sales could reach 300,000 units. Ruediger Hedfeld, the Zafira brand manager, forecasts 150,000 Zafira sales in 1999.
'Within the next three years, the compact minivans will stretch the size of the whole segment,' said Renault's Dombreval.
'I will not be surprised,' he said, ' if it catches 33 to 34 percent of the European market, instead of 30 to 31 percent currently.'