SUPPLIER SOURCES say that Renault's replacement for the Twingo in 2004 will be significantly larger than the current model.
As a result, the Twingo successor will function as a kind of minivan version of the next Clio.
That's what carmakers generally do. They grow cars out of the segments they're in by making the replacement bigger.
It may not seem like segment-busting at the time because the size increase is usually quite small. Engineers just want to make the car roomier.
But within two or three generations the old car is no longer in the same category. Or more likely the definition of the segment has changed.
The Golf class is still the Golf class, just as it was 15 years ago. But the entire lower-medium sector has grown by almost a full segment during that period. The problem is that customers may not be ready to move up.
Carmakers often acknowledge gaps they create and fill them with new models. But the new model may be conceptually experimental, like the Ford Ka or Opel Agila. Gap fillers tend to be different because carmakers must protect against cannibalization.
But if the new, smaller model is not what customers want or need, they may turn to other brands. Loyalty takes a hit.
The increasing size of upper-medium cars is one reason sales in that segment are shrinking. It's not necessarily that three-box sedans are pass, as some say. More likely the traditional Passat and Vectra buyers don't want a car quite so big.
Cars get bigger, but the infrastructure doesn't. Parking spaces in Europe are still scarce and the spaces still tiny, whether on the street or in a parkhaus. None of that has changed. And fuel prices aren't falling either.
The car that turned Opel around in the late 1980s, the first Vectra, succeeded because it did not grow in size. It stayed the same, while the Volkswagen Passat grew. Since then Opel has lengthened the Vectra twice. The Passat and Ford Mondeo have also become larger in their recent forms.
The success or failure of many products in Europe during the past 10 years has boiled down to size. The small minivans succeeded where the full-size minivans failed.
Volkswagen inadvertently passed some traditional Polo customers down to the Lupo, which is closer in size to the Polos of the 1980s than the current Polo is. But it is slightly too small for VW owners. And once out of the Polo customers looked around to see what others had to offer.
The Lupo has suffered against Fiat's Seicento and Punto. Both the Twingo and the Volkswagen group's own Seat Arosa outsell the Lupo.
Of course, many up-sized replacements have been successful. The Peugeot 206 is noticeably bigger than the 205. But Peugeot always plays on the fringes of the main segments. The 206 is slightly smaller than the Polo and Fiesta. It has benefited by filling gaps left by others that have grown bigger.
One thing is for sure: size discipline matters.