GENEVA — It may have been subtle, but something extraordinary happened at last month's Geneva auto show.

Two of the world's best-known automakers essentially switched strategies, debuting new vehicles not normally found in their range of products.

Jaguar Cars, the prestigious British automaker owned by Ford Motor Co., made its first step toward mass production with the launch of the X-Type, while volume producer Renault SA amended its market approach via the Vel Satis — a niche vehicle for the nonconformist.

Jaguar's new all-wheel-drive sedan is expected to more than double Jaguar production and account for 50% of the marque's sales, projected at 200,000 units by 2003-2004.

“With the X-Type, we have probably the most important car in our history,” Managing Director Jonathan Browning says at the car's unveiling.

The vehicle goes on sale at the end of May in Western Europe and hits the U.S. late in the third quarter. The X-Type features all-wheel-drive and a 2.5L, 194-hp V-6 as standard. A 231-hp 3L V-6 is optional. Prices will start at less than $30,000 in the U.S. and around $32,000 in Europe.

While Jaguar turned to a volume vehicle, Renault SA turned decidedly more niche. The French automaker's strategy to rebuild its brand worldwide with a move upscale gained credence with the presentation of the Vel Satis, a tall station wagon with a wraparound rear windshield.

The 4-door, 5-passenger car will appeal to non-conformists, says Renault Chairman Louis Schweitzer, but it will also appeal to some traditional buyers of German luxury marques.

Mr. Schweitzer says the Vel Satis will match the quality of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, but would offer something different, with a “French touch.”

“I respect Mercedes-Benz and BMW,” says Mr. Schweitzer. “They have created their own high-end universe. Renault should create its own high-end universe.”

Renault-controlled Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. will provide a 235-hp 6-cyl. gas engine and Isuzu Motors will be the source of a 180-hp 6-cyl. diesel for the engines at launch. A Renault 4-cyl. engine will be added, but a V-8 won't fit.

Other news from Geneva included:

  • Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd. will launch its new Terracan compact sport/utility vehicle (SUV) in Europe by April, says Bert Kreber, vice president, marketing and product management at Hyundai Motor Europe. At launch, the Terracan will be equipped with part-time 4-wheel-drive and a 2.5L TCI diesel engine. In July, a 3.5L V-6 gasoline unit will be added, and in August 2002 a new common-rail 2.9L diesel engine will join the lineup. The vehicle is available in Korea, as well. A company spokesman says there also are plans to bring Terracan to the U.S., but no date has been set.

  • Ford Motor Co. used the show to announce that it will build its StreetKa concept vehicle first shown last year. Industrie Pininfarina SpA will build the convertible at its plant in Italy starting in 2003. The automaker expects each of its 3,000 dealers to get four or five of the limited-volume vehicles annually.

  • Suzuki Motor Co. Ltd. opened “the door to a new age of motoring satisfaction” with the “Life In A New Age” (aka Liana) small car. The C-segment vehicle is practical and user friendly, says Suzuki. The vehicle will be available with a 1.3L or 1.6L gasoline engine mated to a manual or automatic transmission. Optional is permanent 4-wheel-drive for the 1.6L model.

  • BMW AG chose Geneva as the setting for the introduction of its second-generation 3-series Compact. The vehicle's body is 21-cm (8.3 ins.) shorter than the sedan and has a special sport suspension. At launch this summer, the car is offered with two engine options, including a 115-hp 4-cyl. (316ti) and a 193-hp I-6 (325ti). Further engine variants, along with a diesel powerplant, will be available later this year.