I think the A340-300 was still the right call at that moment in time. However the 200 wasn't (even though it was very cheap). Instead they should've pulled the A330-200 four years forward.
That goes to show how bad the effects of dogmatic thinking can be.
Let's have a look at the Airbus widebody line-up back in 1992:
1) The A300-600R (280pax, 4000nm)
2) The A310-300 (240pax, 5200nm)
3) The A330-300 (330pax, 4500nm) -> this applies to the initial version with 218t MTOW
4) The A340-200 (280pax, 6600nm) -> this applies to the initial version with 259t MTOW
5) The A340-300 (330pax, 6000nm) -> this applies to the initial version with 259t MTOW
As you can see, the ranges offered by all Airbus widebodies except the A340-200 were rather on the low side. May airlines required 6500+nm ranges for their trans-pacific, EU to South America or EU to SE Asia networks. Also remember that the markets outside the US accounted for the majority of the Airbus customer base. In this context, the A340-200 was seen as an absolute necessity!
Now, Airbus has a track record of pushing the ranges of their airliners way up during their active life, so they also did with the A340 in 1995. The result was a MTOW increase to 275t or 276,5t (called "HGW" or "X") on both variants, enabling the A340-300 for 7150nm missions and pushing the -200 into the ULR niche (8100nm). As a result, only 28 units of the A340-200 were built, since the A340-300 could perform most missions, and at a better CASM than the -200.
Now let me please come to your implicit question, why Airbus did not immediately go for the 330-200?
As you can see from my list above, the market spot of a [email protected]
, which is roughly the performance of the initial 234t A330-200, was already occupied by the A340 (in-between both versions). Therefore Airbus simlpy did'nt see a need to develop the A330-200, in particular a A330-200 with the same 218t MTOW was (rightfully) seen as a non-starter.
Things would then change in the mid-1990's for the following reasons:
- Customers were unhappy with the economics of the A340-200
- The A340-300 was too large for some missions, the A310-300 too small and offered too little range
- The A330-300 offered too little range
- There was a simple, fast and cheap MTOW upgrade path for the A330, thanks to the fact that it shared the same wing with the A340, capable to lift 275t.
It still took Airbus a number of years (EIS 1998) to deliver the first A330-200, but it gained a great popularity in the market (662 units built, vs. 787
units of the A330-300).
To conclude, let me state that I would not accuse Airbus of "dogmatic thinking" about the A330 program and the first generation A340. These aircraft were "the right things to do" at the time each of them was in development, given the market requirements and technical possibilities.