GENEVA – Automobiles Citroen introduces the shape of the Citroen C4 that will replace the Xsara at the end of 2004 under the guise of its rally version at the annual auto show here.

The C4 Citroen Sport concept, with its rear wheels at the end of the body and short front overhang, accurately forecasts the coming C4 production cars, even if the racing seats, brakes, wheels, engine and roll bars do not.

The Citroen Xsara WRC was the world rally champion in 2003, and the C4 will replace the Xsara in the lower-medium segment.

C4 Citroen Sport concept

The C4 Citroen Sport concept is 168 ins. (426 cm) long, 71 ins. (179 cm) wide, 55 ins. (140 cm) high, on a 102-in. (260-cm) wheelbase. The Xsara that it will replace is 165 ins. (419 cm) long, 67 ins. (171 cm) wide and 56 ins. (141 cm) high on a 100-in. (254-cm) wheelbase.

Citroen sales rose 4.6% last year, while sister brand Peugeot struggled. This year, Automobiles Peugeot will regain some lost ground when the 407 arrives and Citroen dealers wait it out until 2005 for all-new products, although they will get a beefy version of the C3 this year. (See related story: Peugeot Predicts New 407 to Recapture D-Segment Sales)

Called the C3 XTR, the vehicle has roof rails, extra ground clearance and Sensodrive, the PSA Peugeot Citroen automated manual transmission.

Citroen's strategy for growth is based on expanding its range of vehicles, says General Manager Claude Satinay. Next year, the Citroen C6 will arrive, based on the C-Airlounge concept car presented at Frankfurt last fall and making a return at this year’s Geneva show. (See related story: Citroen Concept Features Accent Lighting)

"It will be a big, expensive car," says Satinay. Are Citroen dealers prepared to sell such a car? "First, we have to give them the car," he says, "and then we will see if they can sell it."

Also due in late 2005 is the new C1, the city car that was developed by the Peugeot-Toyota Motor Corp. joint venture in Eastern Europe. Citroen aims at 100,000 units annually.

The Citroen Xsara Picasso minivan is at the heart of the brand’s 70% sales growth since 1996, and the replacement based on the C4 likely will not go to market until 2006, seven years after Picasso's introduction.