A market that soon will be run by six giants on four wheels

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In a decade's time there will be no more than six big car makers left in the world, if the predictions of the motor industry pundits prove correct. The drastic surgery being carried out at Nissan by its new French masters is designed to ensure they are one of them.

In a decade's time there will be no more than six big car makers left in the world, if the predictions of the motor industry pundits prove correct. The drastic surgery being carried out at Nissan by its new French masters is designed to ensure they are one of them.

If the forecasters are correct - and they include some eminent industry figures such as Sir Alex Trotman, the former chairman of Ford - then early in the next millennium the car market will be carved up between two American, two European and two Asian producers.

The process of consolidation is gathering speed. Most of the minnows of the automotive world have already been absorbed into larger, more financially robust, companies. Jaguar, Aston Martin and Volvo are now part of Ford while General Motors owns Saab, and Volkswagen of Germany owns Audi, Seat, Skoda and Bentley. BMW, meanwhile, owns Rover, and in three years' time will take control of the Rolls-Royce marque. Fiat owns Lancia and Alfa Romeo.

But it is not only the smaller players that have been scooped up. Eighteen months ago, Daimler-Benz of Germany and Chrysler of the US stunned the motor industry by unveiling a $40bn (£25bn) merger.

That deal, creating the world's fourth biggest car maker behind General Motors, Ford and Toyota, confounded conventional wisdom in that it was a European car maker buying a competitor in another continent. The Renault-Nissan deal is in the same mould.

The motor industry is now waiting to see who will merge next. The world car industry has the capacity to produce 40 per cent more cars than it sells each year while each new model can cost up to £600m to develop. The cost savings that a successful merger can bring are therefore enormous.

But so are the political headaches because any combination of two volume car makers in Europe or Asia would spell tens of thousands of job losses. Although there are frequent suggestions that Renault and Citroën will ultimately merge, the most likely pairing in Europe may turn out to be a merger between Fiat and BMW. Unlike the two French car makers, their contrasting model ranges and geographic markets would probably mean limited job and plant closures - perhaps none at all.

The real prize comes in reducing the cost of future model production by building a series of vehicles on what is known as a single platform -- engine, gearbox, transmission, axle and floorpan.

In the case of Nissan, Renault intends to reduce the number of different platforms from 24 to 15. In the future, Renault cars might by built on Nissan platforms and vice versa in Sunderland.

Even on a smaller scale the cost savings are significant. The new baby Jaguar, which will emerge from Ford's Halewood plant in two years, will be constructed around the platform of the Mondeo.

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