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By Daniel Flynn
MADRID, Nov 17 (Reuters) -Chairman Louis Schweitzer said on Monday he expected the company's share of the West European car market to end 2003 slightly down at around 10.6 percent, but the overall market would grow next year.
"I'm not sure if we will reach 10.5 or 10.6 percent, but the target is roughly 10.6 percent," Schweitzer told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of a car safety conference in Madrid.
Last year Europe's fourth-largest car marker secured a market share of 10.7 percent.
had said it was aiming to match or beat its share of the Western European car market this year, but has hinted more recently it might fall just short of this goal.
Schweitzer was a little more optimistic about the prospects for a recovery in the market next year.
"We believe there will be a slight increase in the European market and the French market next year, but not a very major move," he said.
"In Europe it may be one or maybe two percent. Certainly we are not talking about five or 10 percent," he added. "In France next year maybe we will see three percent growth, if we are lucky."
Schweitzer stuck by forecasts that Renault would post an operating margin of 3.5 percent to four percent in 2003, and maintained that figure would rise to above four percent in 2004.
At 1613 GMT shares in Renault were down 3.9 percent at 55.55 euros, underperforming a 3.0 percent fall in the DJ Stoxx European auto index .
Renault has managed to keep its profits rising mainly thanks to hefty contributions from its Japanese partnerMotor Corp. , in which it holds a 44.4 percent stake.
The Renault chairman, however, was upbeat about its 51-percent owned joint venture with an Iranian consortium to build and sell its cut-price X90 car in the fast-growing market.
The venture was due to be launched in early 2004 and production would start in 2006, with an initial capacity of 200,000 cars.
"This is a market of 700,000 new cars a year, with very little competition...If all goes well, we think we can take 50 percent of the market," Schweitzer said. "Iran could become one of Renault's major markets."
He said the next major announcement concerning Renault's expansion plans would come next spring, when the company would unveil its plans to enter the booming Chinese car market.