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Japanese mount major push for Frankfurt

TOKYO - Japan's carmakers tend to keep a low profile at the Frankfurt show, saving their most dramatic and significant premieres for the biennial Tokyo motor show in October. All major Japanese carmakers are losing money in Europe, so many of the unveilings will be of models that soon will go on sale there.

Here are some of the cars to watch for.

Nissan

Nissan Motor Co. promises to outshine Japanese rivals at Frankfurt by a wide margin. It will show the mm.e, a concept subcompact not too different in appearance from the next-generation Micra; and the Crossbow, a concept forerunner of the next Patrol sport-utility.

It also will use Frankfurt for the world premiere of the five-door hatchback Primera, which joins sedan and wagon versions already on sale in Japan. All three versions will be built for the European market at Nissan's Sunderland plant in the United Kingdom.

Nissan also will launch European sales of its X-Trail small sport-utility.

The mm.e, a compact three-door hatchback, is built around what Nissan calls a "mono silhouette" shape rather than the traditional three-box sedan design. The look features side windows that taper symmetrically to the front and rear.

Nissan describes the cabin as an "upper volume" that surrounds occupants in a large, cocoonlike cabin. That, in turn sits on a second "lower volume." The lower volume offers protective "shoulders" running from front to rear, incorporating the wheel arches into one fluid mass.

Internet and communications technology, advanced navigation and audio systems are integrated in a computer-controlled center display.

The new Micra, known as the March in Japan, will share a platform with the Renault Clio. Renault owns 36.8 percent of Nissan.

In an effort to build on the reputation of the Patrol as a true off-roader, the Crossbow features an integrated winch, side step, tow hooks and external refill points for lubricants and coolants. Few of those touches are likely to be in the production version.

The show version of the four-seater Crossbow has the dramatic colors common to show cars: an olive-tan dashboard that contrasts with the car's square, silver edges and olive wood. The interior also has a T-shaped high-graphics screen in the center console in front of the airplane throttle-style transmission lever.

In addition to the usual enhanced GPS navigation information, the screen can provide large-scale mapping, and information on road surfaces, traction levels and altitude.

Toyota

Toyota Motor Corp. will show a highly fuel-efficient car that beats the long-sought goal of going 100 kilometers, or 62.5 miles, on 3.0 liters of fuel. The ES4 uses a 1.4-liter common-rail diesel and a continuously variable transmission to achieve 100 kilometers on between 2.5- and 2.7-liters of fuel. The car is based on the Yaris/Vitz platform and has an all-aluminum body that seats four.

Toyota's two bread-and-butter sedans, the Camry and Corolla, will make their European debuts. The Corolla, designed in Europe and produced at Toyota's plant in Burnaston, England, goes on sale next year as a three- and five-door hatchback.

Sedan and station wagon versions, imported from Japan, and a compact minivan with the Verso badge, also will be offered.

The redesigned Camry just went on sale in the United States.

Mazda

Mazda Motor Corp. will show the redesigned 626 sedan, its standard bearer in the C segment against the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Taurus and Nissan Altima. This is a critical car for Mazda, which hopes to persuade other brands in the Ford group to use the 626 platform for future B/C models. To keep the spotlight on the 626, Mazda will save the latest version of its just-approved RX-8 four-door sports car for the Tokyo show.

The updated Premacy also will make its European debut. It features a 2.0-liter engine above the 1.8-liter on the previous model, plus a restyled front end.

Honda

Honda Motor Co. will lead with the three-door Civic built in the United Kingdom, a vehicle it plans to export to the United States. It also will show a Civic powered by a 1.7-liter diesel. It is Honda's first diesel-powered Civic offering in Europe.

Honda also will show its subcompact Fit, which debuted in Japan in June and already is off to a blazing sales start. It will be known as the Jazz in Europe. It will be Honda's rival to the Toyota Yaris when it goes on sale in Europe in early 2002.

Mitsubishi

Mitsubishi Motors Corp. traditionally has been one of the most aggressive Japanese makers at the Frankfurt show. It would show one or two technology-heavy concepts in Frankfurt, knowing its stand at the Tokyo show would be outgunned by Toyota's.

Not this year. Mitsubishi's new design chief, Olivier Boulay, is pressing his staff to have concepts ready for the Tokyo show that will convey Mitsubishi's new brand identity. Frankfurt is not a priority.

Mitsubishi might display the latest in its series of concept cars packed with advanced safety technologies, or the Eclipse EV prototype that drove public roads on the perimeter of Shikoku, the smallest of Japan's four main islands, driving 410 kilometers at one point on a single battery charge.

You can reach James B. Treece at jtreece@crain.com

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