Peugeot will launch three new models in the mini and small car segment, starting with an innovative 'sliding door' model that will be shown at next year's Paris motor show, Automotive News Europe said.

Despite being based on the PSA small car platform, the 'sliding door' model will be positioned as a premium model.

"We see it as our alternative to the Mini," a Peugeot source said.

The model was first seen as a concept study named 'Sesame' at last year's Paris motor show.

"The public liked the model very much, including its innovative sliding door concept," the source said. "But they did not recognize it so much as a Peugeot."

Sliding doors are widely used on minivans but the Sesame concept would be the first volume-produced car ever to feature sliding doors. Pininfarina, Peugeot's design consultant for nearly half a century, are the designers.

The sliding doors will have a motor-driven opening mechanism giving easy access to front and rear seats. It is expected that the car will appeal to frequent city-driving owners. The Sesame production model will be followed sometime during 2005 by an entry level Peugeot model called the 107.

This will be built in the joint PSA-Toyota plant in Kolin in the Czech Republic.

The successor to Europe's best selling car, the Peugeot 206, is also due for replacement, in 2006. The planned production volume of all three models of the joint venture is 300,000 a year.

The positioning the three new models is crucial for their future success.

The 2006 207 will remain the core model of Peugeot's small-car range.

Rival car makers are doubtful about the idea of manufacturing small cars with sliding doors.

"We considered such a concept," said Louis Schweitzer, Renault's CEO.

"But having studied pros and cons, we decided not to carry on with it."