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A wide world of wheels from Paris

For a world automotive exposé held in the City of Lights, this year's Paris Motor Show was surprisingly short on glam.
Thousands of visitors look at cars on display at the Paris Mondial de l Automobile
The Paris Auto show opened its doors to the public Sept. 25.Charles Platiau / Reuters
/ Source: BusinessWeek Online

For a world automotive exposé held in the City of Lights, this year's Paris Motor Show was surprisingly short on glam. Sure, it featured the usual gorgeous models in bizarre outfits. Ferrari spiced things up with an F430 that goes for $175,000. Alfa Romeo tried to sex up the show with a hot two-seater called the 8C Competizione, powered by a 4.2-liter V-8. But at this point it's just some Italian designer's dream.

Aside from that, flashy offerings were hard to come by. The most significant may have been BMW's 1-series, the new entry-level Bimmer that will start selling as a hatchback in Europe this fall and will hit the States later on.

Carmakers instead rolled out a well-stocked cornucopia of utilitarian vehicles. In a race to find the Next Big Thing, or at least crack a niche no other rival has found, the auto companies are cranking out all kinds of "crossover" vehicles. Some blend SUV space with a car's ride. Not too innovative.

Give 'em room
But some companies are dropping a minivan shape on a compact car to give Europe's many small-car buyers a little more headroom and passenger space. Peugeot's 1007 compact -- which has lots of minivan in its blood -- is original. Not to be outdone, French rival Renault has its own tall compact, called the Modus, which could best be described as a micro-minivan. The Modus has a door within the big rear door, in case you need to just toss in a small item and don't want to open the whole rear hatch.

Talk about a turn of the screw. Still, these vehicles, which are Europe's twist on the SUV, show that the Old World's consumers want more room, too.

America's auto makers showed off a few vehicles to prove that they're serious about getting back in the game in Europe. Ford and General Motors' Opel unit both are in various stages of fixing some long-standing woes. Ford showed off its all-new Focus compact, which plays in Europe's biggest market segment. It's not much more stylish than the proletarian car it replaces. But Ford did show a sleek convertible Focus with a retractable hard top, which has become a hot segment in Europe.

GM brought out a sporty version of its Astra, but it made bigger waves by showing off the new Cadillac STS performance sedan and the Chevrolet S3X crossover SUV. The S3X is a great sport-ute for Europe and hits the market in 2006. Those cars are both good and could help GM win new buyers for a couple of brands that have mainly sold in the U.S. for most of their history. Here's a sampling of our picks of the show's highlights:

Welch is a correspondent in BusinessWeek's Paris bureau, and Edmondson is a senior correspondent in the Frankfurt bureau.