While several Japanese automakers prepare small, fuel-efficient vehicles for North America, Europe's automakers will be filling in niches through 2009, mostly in the higher-priced segments.
It took several years for U.S. managers to convince their European bosses that large SUVs were not a passing fancy here. But timing is everything.
Gasoline prices are north of $3 a gallon in many regions, SUV sales are sliding, and this year Mercedes-Benz and Audi are launching big SUVs. BMW's redesigned X5 goes on sale in November. Two BMW crossovers are expected in the next 30 months, along with a model from Audi.
In the coming years, BMW is rounding out its car range with high-performance M variants. Audi is filling in gaps with the A5 and A7 coupes. And Aston Martin and Porsche see room for growth - each will launch sleek, four-door, coupelike sedans.
At the other end of the spectrum, the two-passenger, high-mileage Smart - a car that is a shade over 8 feet long - will go on sale in 2008. But the car will be marketed through an independent distributor, not under the Mercedes-Benz brand. Insiders say the automaker is afraid of tainting the brand with a $15,000 car.
Aside from Smart, the Europeans are wary of bringing small cars to the United States. Mercedes-Benz killed plans to import the compact B class. Audi says it will not export the A2 to the United States.
Sources say BMW will bring the entry-level 1 series to the United States as a sedan. But insiders say the timing will be influenced by exchange rates; today's weak dollar cuts into profits of goods shipped here from Europe. Even Volkswagen does not think one of its smallest cars, the Polo, is suitable for the United States.
There are questions about Ford Motor Co.'s Premier Automotive Group. Will one or two brands be sold? Vehicle plans of any PAG brand could change rapidly if a brand has a new owner.
Here are European automakers' vehicle plans for North America through 2009.
You may e-mail Diana T. Kurylko at [email protected]
You may e-mail Mark Rechtin at [email protected]
Jamie LaReau and Rick Kranz contributed to this report