It is an article of faith in the auto industry that a serious global player has to be in the United States.
The top executives of European automakers that don't sell there - Fiat Auto, PSA/Peugeot-Citroen, Renault and the Volkswagen group's Seat and Skoda brands - are therefore familiar with the same old question.
When will their companies launch in the world's largest national vehicle market?
The sensible answer is frequently given by PSA's Jean-Martin Folz: "Some time before the end of this century."
The cost of a US launch these days would almost certainly exceed the rewards. Besides, with limited management and financial resources, automakers see much more interesting business opportunities elsewhere as they plan their long-term strategies.
Max Pemberton is the author of "Megatrends in the Global Motor Industry," a report published by London-based research firm autelligence.com. He explains, "The big three vehicle markets in 2000 were the United States, Japan and Germany. By 2030, the big three will be China, India and the US in that order."
By that time, adds Pemberton, vehicle sales in emerging markets will comfortably exceed those in the developed world. At the start of this century, the ratio was around 3-to-1 in favor of the developed world.
If this happens, it would be a magnitude 7 shift in the auto industry's tectonic plates, not a gentle earth tremor. In only one generation, it would reverse everything the automotive world has known.
Under the circumstances, the decision-makers in Paris and Turin are right to push the US to one side to concentrate on increasingly affluent emerging markets.
The right question for all automakers - not just those that aren't in the US - is what are they doing in response to the increasing wealth in emerging markets?
The US will continue to be a big and vital market. But it is a mature and cutthroat arena with very demanding customers. An investment of a couple of billion euros wouldn't make much impact there.
However, it would in China, India or some of the other Asian markets that are destined for major growth over the next couple of decades.
Car-lust in those countries means cars won't sit long in showrooms. Consumers there have few of the brand prejudices that are the norm in established markets. At this stage, they want wheels, not badges. Brand preferences will come later.
These are the real reasons for the Renault Logan and the proposed Volkswagen 3-K. The models won't make much money, if any, but they are critical to the establishment of their makers' credentials in emerging markets.
Just as German drivers of today fondly recall their first Beetle, Italians their first Fiat 500 and Britons their first Mini, models such as the Logan and 3-K will create the early motoring memories of tomorrow's buyers in China and India, in Russia and Iran.
These are the foundation stones that need to be built. Launching in the US is yesterday's luxury.
E-mail Correspondent Richard Feast at