IHS comments on French market outlook in advanced of Paris Motor Show

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The event opens to the press on 2nd October, with a wide range of automakers and component suppliers set to exhibit, with domestic automakers set to take centre stage at their home event as they seek to show that they are far better placed than a couple of years ago.

Leading the way will be PSA Peugeot-Citroën's three brands, which will be showing several concepts which offer some indication as to the future direction of its brands. Among them will be another roll-out of Peugeot's Exalt sedan concept following its unveiling in Beijing (China) earlier this albeit with changes to the types of material and detailing. This will be joined on Peugeot's stand by the Quartz crossover concept which is the brand's vision for a performance orientated crossover. The styling features a long bonnet and wide arches with a glass roof. This is powered by a plug-in hybrid powertrain combining a 270-bhp version of its 1.6-litre gasoline (petrol) four-cylinder engine combined with a battery-powered front and rear axle both producing 85kW of power.

Perhaps more relevant though, is the 208 Hybrid Air 2L and Citroën C4 Cactus Airflow 2L. These vehicles have been developed as part of a research initiative to produce a vehicle that s capable of achieving a fuel consumption of below 2L/100km that is accessible at a normal price point by 2020. This is said to have been partly underwritten by the French government as part of its wider "New Industrial Plan" PSA has also been joined by Renault in this initiative (see below) as well as being supported by a broad number of suppliers. In order to reach this goal, Peugeot and Citroën have paired a three-cylinder, naturally aspirated 1.2-litre gasoline engine with a compressed air energy storage unit, a hydraulic pump/motor unit and an automatic transmission with an epicyclic gear train in a system known as Hybrid Air. However, the pair has also focused on reducing weight through leveraging new material technologies as well heavily developing the aerodynamics to cut air resistance.

PSA will also show a concept for its newly spun-off DS brand which it hopes to develop in to a serious competitor in the premium segment. The Divine DS can be seen as a statement of intent for its ambitions to leverage the positive feeling for French luxury consumer brands. While the concept is heavily stylised, some of its main design cues are already being used on the China-only DS5 LS sedan.

As noted above, Renault has also developed its own concept as part of the French government initiative with the EOLAB. However, instead of using its current product line-up as a basis as PSA has, it has started with a clean sheet of paper for the sub-compact. Through a combination of sophisticated aerodynamics, lightweight materials and Renault's first ever plug-in hybrid powertrain, the vehicle is said to achieve fuel consumption of 1L/100km. At the same time, Renault will also show the replacement for its Espace large multi-purpose vehicle (MPV). While few details have yet been offered as to the specification of this model, images show a vehicle which has moved in a crossover direction in-line with current trends.

Nevertheless, this has not stopped Ford from using the event to unveil its second generation S-Max large MPV, which it will no doubt be hoping will achieve similar success to the previous generation in attracting new customers to the brand. It will be joined by the fifth-generation Mondeo, which will finally be launched in the region after many months of the delays due to a range of issues, not least the planned closure of Ford Genk (Belgium) site. Both models may well be shown in Ford's new high-specification Vignale trim level as it attempts to attract customers looking for greater luxury at a lower price point.

The Volkswagen (VW) Group's brands will be out in force in Paris with new and updated models as it seeks to maintain sales momentum towards its goal of being the largest automaker globally. Although it is likely to save a few surprises for the days leading up to and on the opening of the show, such as a new Lamborghini concept, its VW brand has already shown off its latest-generation Passat (which is likely to be a big obstacle to the Mondeo's success in the D segment) and Golf Alltrack. Audi will also display a cabriolet version of the TT. However, it has also been reported that the brand will also test the waters with yet another TT-based concept, a five-door TT Sportbrake.

The growth in popularity of the B SUV category in Europe of late is undeniable, with sales in the EU having more than doubled during 2013 and expected to grow by over 40% y/y to around 545,000 units during 2014 according to IHS Automotive. Many more models are set to join the incumbents’ ranks at the show. These include Honda's HRV, Suzuki Vitara, Fiat 500X and the European launch of the Jeep Renegade. South Korea's SsangYong will also display its intentions to enter this space with two concepts – the XIV Air and XIV Adventure. Staying in the crossover field, Toyota will also unveil a new two door compact crossover-based sports-car hybrid concept, the C-HR, a vehicle which the automaker has said is the type of vehicle it would like to bring to market. It remains to be seen whether a business case for this model can be created.

However, the traditional B segment is not being ignored. Hyundai is set to launch its second generation i20 in to the market, in both three- and five door variants, the former intended to offer more rakish looks to back up its Coupé moniker. It will be joined by the third generation of Skoda's Fabia which will not veer too far from the tried and tested formula for the brand in offering strong value for money. Honda will also reveal its new Jazz as well, which is already on sale in Japan as the Fit, and which it hopes will help to turn its fortunes in the region around. Other automakers showing new and updated models in the sub-compact class are General Motors (GM), which will host the launch of the Opel Karl/Vauxhall Viva; it hopes to use this to maintain a relationship with customers of the Chevrolet brand, which has now exited the region. It will be displayed alongside the very heavily updated Corsa. Premium automakers Daimler and BMW Group will also be there with the already revealed Smart ForTwo and ForFour and the new five-door hatchback Mini, respectively.

At the other end of the spectrum, a number of companies will be hoping to put the German premium brands under pressure with the introduction of key new models. Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) will play host to Jaguar's re-entry in to the small sedan category with the advanced XE which will feature a new aluminium architecture and Ingenium engine family. Its sister brand, Land Rover will unveil its Discovery Sport which is intended to replace the Freelander. It will also turn "Discovery" into a sub-brand in its own right alongside the more luxury-orientated Range Rover. Volvo will show its second-generation XC90 SUV to the public for the first time as it seeks to push upmarket with this key model, which features cutting-edge technology. Infiniti will display its latest efforts to be considered more seriously as a competitor to the established premium brands, the Q80 Inspiration. This four-door sedan is targeting customers at the top end of the market with its rakish, sports car looks.

Outlook and Significance:

The event will take place in a difficult market place. On the local basis, the French market remains far weaker than it was before the economic crisis. Although passenger car demand is expected to increase by almost 2% y/y this year, it will still stand at around 1.82 million units, some 10% below the average in the middle of the previous decade between 2003 and 2007. New attractive models, notably from the domestic automakers, are attracting customers into the market. However, the country continues to face pressures that are causing a drag on the light-vehicle market such as high unemployment, with little expectation that this will change in the short term, while the economy remains lacklustre compared to neighbouring countries. There is also a feeling that the current French government lacks direction when addressing the wide-reaching issues that it is facing, and no quick solutions to these issues are likely. With this in mind, IHS Automotive expects that the market recovery will be protracted to some degree, not returning to previous levels until 2017 at the earliest and fluctuating until at least the end of the decade.

Looking at the wider picture in Europe, there is something of a two-speed mode depending on where an individual market is on the recovery curve. Despite one-off stimulus factors such as Spain's PIVE scrappage scheme, there is still a wide spread of performance, with the biggest influence in some markets being simply the exceptionally low base comparison levels, particularly in Southern and Central Europe. However, the gains in these markets are based on shaky foundations as many of the difficulties faced at the height of the economic crisis are still very much apparent in some cases. There is also certainly evidence that other stronger markets are increasing on the back of more solid economic underpinnings. IHS Automotive expects that registrations in the EU will rise by almost 5% y/y during 2014 to almost 12.5 million units, although this will be some 19% down on the pre-crisis average recorded between 2003 and 2007. We also do not expect demand in the region to reach earlier levels and expect demand by the end of the decade to stand at around 14.3 million units, over 1 million cars below the earlier average. With this in mind, automakers will need to be increasingly creative and innovative to win over customers in future, as well as keeping a keen handle on their business model.

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