BUCHAREST, Romania - It’s the most unusual site among all motor shows with top status in Eastern Europe. The Bucharest Motor Show is held at the Baneasa domestic airport here in the Romaero buildings, which at one time were used for production of aircraft.

The Romanian car market itself is unusual. Despite declining sales of locally made cars and increasing imports, domestic carmaker Automobile Dacia S.A. dominates the market. The company, majority owned by Renault S.A., sold 27,495 cars during the year’s first eight months, representing 58.3% market share.

The total market share of domestic cars, including Daewoo Automobile Romania S.A. and Aro S.A. vehicles, was 68.4%. Dacia's market share is high, but it used to be even higher. In 1999, it was 70.6%. Due to the region’s current economic slump and subsequent sales decline, Dacia employees work only three weeks per month.

Since Renault's takeover in 1999, its managers have been working to implement Western manufacturing and marketing cultures at the Mioveni-based car plant. There has been a significant quality improvement thanks to the French introduction of sales techniques, such as the use of special model editions.

Dacia Nova, for instance, received Renault engines and transmissions in fall 2000 and now is called SupeRNova. Most of SupeRNova buyers choose the more expensive Clima equipment level.

Dacia also showed its classic models here based on the old Renault 12. This model range includes the Dacia Berlina (sedan), Break (station wagon) and some pickup trucks. There still are customers for the older model cars - 8,881 Berlinas and 3,623 Breaks sold between January and August.

Daewoo unveiled a trio of models - including the Lanos, Tacuma and Magnus, which are new for Romania. There is no word on when sales will begin. Lanos is not a new model on the international market, but it has not been available in Romania until now because of fear it would compete with the older locally made Daewoo Cielo.

The Tacuma minivan could be assembled in Romania next year, says Sung Yang Cho, president of Daewoo Automobile Romania. The Magnus luxury sedan, which normally is not sold in Europe, also was on display.

"Taking part in the Bucharest Motor Show means that Daewoo Automobile Romania has not given up the domestic and international market," says Sung Yang Cho.

But the situation is complicated. The poor economic situation in Romania and Daewoo's financial problems in Korea are taking a toll on sales here. Only 4,471 Daewoo cars were sold in the domestic market during the first eight months. Daewoo aging Tico, the locally assembled small car and Daewoo's cheapest model, counts for 54% of the company's total sales in the country.

In an attempt to heat up sales, Daewoo recently launched a Western-type "buy-back" sales system here. Owners of Daewoo cars bought in Romania from the company's dealer network can use their older car as a partial down payment on a new car.

Aro, Romania's No.3 automaker, its powerful new sport/utility vehicles will catch on. The company unveiled several new versions, including the Aro 10.4 powered by a 1.9L Renault diesel engine; Aro 264, with a 2.0L Toyota turbo diesel; and Aro 266, powered by Aro's own 2.7L turbo diesel.

But the company is struggling. Privatization has not been successful, with the government still the majority shareholder. Eleven years after the defeat of communism in Romania, the company has its seventh general manager since 1989.

Aro’s sales this year are dismal. Only 301 passenger cars were sold in the first eight months. There were some pickup truck sales, which are counted as light commercial vehicles (LCVs). Additionally, about 190 stretched and modified vehicles were sold to the Ministry of Education for use as a kind of school bus. Exports are minimal.

The new management hopes to produce 2,600 vehicles. Of those, 600 units are earmarked for export in 2002. But this plan seems too optimistic. "We build cars, but we have no clients for those vehicles,” says an Aro manager. “We don't have money to buy foreign engines and gearboxes."

There was one concept car at the show that surprised nearly every showgoer. Gerula, an SUV concept, is based on the Aro 10 SUV. The designers - Costel Fetcu and his son, Mihai, hope to be able to produce the Gerula in small numbers. They are looking for investors.