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article imagePeople Power And Family-Value Transporters

By Heiko Haupt     May 25, 2001 in Technology
COLOGNE (dpa) - They came from nothing and forged a new car trend. While many drivers still dream of a nifty roadster or a luxury saloon, more and more people are opting for a class of car which boasts no glamour but at least as far as young families are concerned, is "chic" through and through.
They are cars of the mould of a Renault Kangoo or a Citroen Berlingo, cars which somehow fall between a truck, minivan and compact saloon.
Yet they offer almost as much space as the more expensive vans, they are as variable and provide scarcely less creature comforts than a car of the Golf class - they are quite simply the new people's car.
The trend began in 1996 when Citroen introduced the first of the bunch with the Berlingo. Even before that the French had a sort of family transporter on its agenda, but its origins were clear: it was a panel-sided van with the appropriate addition which even a few extra seats failed to disguise.
Although the Berlingo is also available in a commercial version, its appearance gives the impression of a chunky estate (station wagon) rather than a delivery van.
In time, the customers showed their appreciation. For Citroen's Cologne office, Thomas Albrecht reports that the Berlingo's car version sold just 4,000 times in 1998; in 1998, it was double that; and for 2000, around 15,000 sales are expected. The commercial version is now overshadowed by its brother.
"More than 80 per cent of Berlingos sold in Germany were the car version," says Albrecht. Altogether, the market has thus within a short time reached an unanticipated scale.
The estates come at prices starting at 23,710 marks (12,000 dollars). But although the clientele is not generally a high-earning group, few buyers settle for the basic model.
According to Citroen, the best sellers were the most expensive variants, the Multispace and Chrono - available for prices between 25,370 and 30,000 marks.
On board are mostly comfort extras like remote central-locking, the handy sliding doors for rear passengers, a metallic finish for better optics and not least the large, much-loved folding sunroof.
The trend towards luxury on a small scale was also recognised by Peugeot in Saarbrucken, from where it distributes the almost identical sister model to the Berlingo with its partner.
At this point, a so-called multi-function roof comes onto the picture. Peugeot's Juergen Lauer says it consists of two glass roof panels with overhead storage space, and - just like in an aircraft - there's an adjustable air nozzle and light for the rear seats.
By far the most successful entry into the new vehicle category was scored by Renault. The car version of its Kangoo attracted a healthy 12,110 buyers in 1998, rising the next year to 23,689. The model's commercial version is far behind, the carmaker in Cologne says it makes up 32 per cent of all Kangoo sales.
In the meantime Renault has also discovered what sort of people buy these box-like family carriages. Research shows that the Kangoo is the most popular in its class among female car-buyers at 38 per cent, behind the compacts Twingo and Clio.
The majority of Kangoo drivers, at 45 per cent, are drivers aged between 30 and 39 years, and in 60 per cent of cases, they are families with children.
Looking at the successes achieved, it is natural that the range of products in this group will be enlarged. But whether Mercedes' transporter-estate hybrid Vaneo, will offer a price-competitive rival is doubtful.
Fiat's Doblo meanwhile is finding its mark in the established market.
At 4.16 metres long, with five seats, a sliding door and a price tag between 24,000 and 29,500 marks, the car version of the Doblo is exactly fashioned to the level of the Gallic competition. Fiat, in Frankfurt, is somewhat reserved on its target sales. In 2001, they plan to shift 6,300 cars, and 5,000 more of the commericial version, the Cargo.
Experts are at one that newcomers will be plentiful in the sector. "And the more on offer the better the guarantee of further growth," says Citroen's Thomas Albrecht.
More about Citroe, Family car, Vans, Minivans, Cars
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