Carmakers gathering in Geneva this week are scrambling to boost their presence in booming emerging regions, as they showcase the new models they hope will boost their share of Europe's flat market at the auto show.
European car sales are expected to remain roughly stable in 2011 now that the scrapping incentive schemes that propped up demand have finished, while sales in markets like Asia, Latin America and Russia will keep growing.
Carmakers are pinning their hopes on cracking these markets, signing partnerships with local players, designing new models with those regions in mind, and increasingly, presenting new cars to the public in these regions.
But the Geneva auto show lets us take stock of the European market, Societe Generale analyst Philippe Barrier said.
Unlike Frankfurt or Paris, it is more European, less 'local', he added, referring to the other two major events in Europe's auto industry calendar.
Geneva, which is traditionally slanted toward higher-end models, will play host to a slew of mass-market launches too, as carmakers jockey for a bigger slice of Europe's stagnant demand.
Italy's Fiat will highlight the fruits of its tie-up with Chrysler, when it presents a new Lancia line-up based on its U.S. partner's models.
Japan's Mitsubishi will unveil a new small concept car dubbed Concept Global Small while Suzuki will show another concept car, the Swift-S.
Volkswagen will announce the return of the Golf convertible, and display a revamped Tiguan SUV.
French carmaker Renault, hoping it can put the industrial espionage scandal that has engulfed it since January behind it, will concentrate on design at the auto show.
Design head Laurens van den Acker, and not Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn, will address the media on Tuesday, as Renault presents two concept cars -- a multi-purpose vehicle, as well as the Captur crossover, based on partner Nissan's Juke.
Renault showed images of the sporty Captur when it unveiled its new strategic plan and pledged to boost its model line-up.
Renault will also present the enlarged version of its Kangoo electric van, part of the group's bid, with partner Nissan, to be a leader in the burgeoning technology.
Early mass-market electric vehicles like Nissan's Leaf and U.S. carmaker General Motors' Chevrolet Volt, are now on sale in Europe and the show will be a chance for carmakers to talk about early reactions from customers.
As Western carmakers increasingly seek to tempt consumers in markets like China -- now the world's largest car market -- many premieres, in particular of bigger sedans and high-end models, now take place in those regions.
French brand Citroen will premiere the sporty, high-end DS5 at the Shanghai auto show in April, sticking to unveiling a concept car this week in Geneva.
German premium carmaker BMW is expected to wait for Shanghai to take the wraps off the new 6-Series coupe.
The recovery of the luxury market will enter full flow, wrote IHS Global Insight analyst Ian Fletcher in a note, cautioning however that the growth in demand for these vehicles would come from Brazil, Russia, India and China, not the former core markets of Europe and North America.
We may see that events in these regions begin to take precedence over the more established order, he added.
A spokesman for French carmakers' association CCFA agreed: With premieres now reserved for China we see that the world has changed. In the longer-term there is a question mark over the survival of intermediate auto shows like Geneva.
For now, Geneva keeps its lead on luxury, playing host to the world premiere of Aston Martin's V8 Vantage S and Ferrari's new FF model, the first Ferrari with a real boot.
(Editing by Hans Peters)