Volume carmakers are ready to fight back against the premium brands that have been stealing their market share.
At the 2000 Paris auto show that opens to the public on September 30, manufacturers such as Citroen, Ford and Renault will be the stars.
Skoda, Toyota and Volkswagen will have supporting roles.
All will unveil cars designed to stop shrinking sales in the critical upper-medium segment, which is about 10 percent down in western Europe this year.
The mainstream brands have already watched the full-size car segment virtually disappear from Europe map as cars like the Ford Scorpio and Renault Safrane have gone out of production.
The market they once defined has fragmented between growing sales of people movers and of premium brand sedans made by the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
The volume brands do not want to see the same thing happen again one segment lower.
'With the loss of the old large executive segment, some of the manufacturers thought that people would downsize to these upper medium cars,' said Charles Moss, analyst for LMC-JD Power in Oxford, England. 'But that's just not what we're seeing. People have moved toward premium brands like the BMW 3 series and Audi A4.'
The companies also keep blurring the definitions of the segment. VW is a prime example, Moss said, relentlessly pushing the Passat upmarket.
Holding the line on sales won't be easy. Smaller premium brand cars like the Volvo S60, being shown to the public for the first time at Paris, and the Jaguar X400, or Baby Jaguar, due to launch next year, could cut the size of the sector further for volume makes. And the Mercedes-Benz C-class has already received rave reviews.
The all-new Citroen C5, Ford Mondeo and Renault Laguna are therefore vital to their brands in Europe.
Ford is basing its hopes for a European turnaround on Mondeo. Renault hopes Laguna will build on momentum generated by its hugely successful Scenic.
The Citroen C5 is designed to re-inject flair into a brand many feel has lost its distinctiveness.
The companies are loading these cars with the kinds of standard safety, comfort and performance features that would have formerly only been found in the premium carmakers' offerings.
In some cases, they are even exceeding what premium brands offer.
These new upper medium cars are being asked to do larger jobs than their predecessors. Mondeo is nearly as large as the old Scorpio. It will almost straddle the upper medium and full-size segments. Renault hopes Laguna will expand its market coverage with two dramatically different body shapes, a five-door hatchback and a wagon.
The new cars will nudge the Laguna upmarket.
Engineers are also trying to build more sportiness and driving pleasure into the volume offerings. Skoda has a sport version - the RS - of its new Octavia range. The Octavia RS will be the highest performance Skoda yet. The facelifted Avensis is designed to be more fun to drive than the current model.
The facelifted Passat, the segment leader, will be getting an eight-cylinder engine next year in a bid to challenge premium segment entries. The face-lifted Passat being shown in Paris will be better looking but won't cost any more than its predecessor, VW officials say. Value for money: That's also part of the new equation.
'I don't think the upper medium market is going to disappear or go the way of the executive segment,' said JD Power-LMC's Moss. 'What is becoming clearer is that compete, you have to have car that is quite exceptional. Product is everything and in upper medium area.'