Smart readies ForFour launch, ponders USA, China entry

Boeblingen. Germany The DaimlerChrysler subsidiary Smart has ambitious plans to expand its products and markets. Managing director Andreas Renschler was optimistic about reaching the break-even point in an interview with Automobilwoche: "With the new models and after entering new markets the opportunities for growth are great."

Renschler sticks to his target to break-even in the 2004 business year -- six years after production start-up. Despite the slow economy he still aims to increase sales significantly in 2003 in comparison to the 122,300 vehicles sold in 2002: "We will manage that."

For many target groups the image of the brand is a major reason for buying a Smart car and the first four-seater, the Forfour is a "big step" toward expanding the business. What makes this car unique is the "inter-linking of emotionality and functionality," said Renschler.

The Forfour is being built in a joint venture with Mitsubishi at Born in the Netherlands and will launch in April 2004 with three petrol engines (75hp to 109hp) and two diesel engines (68hp and 95hp). A minimum of 80,000 units of the four-seater are hoped to be sold per year. Renschler: "That is our first target."

Smart also hopes to expand by entering new markets. In the current year the brand will be sold in a further six countries, making a total of 30.

Renschler is also preparing for a USA launch and is eyeing the Chinese market. Regarding China, Smart is still in the "consideration phase" and a market analysis will be ready in the autumn. A Smart assembly plant in China could be a possibility.

The market launch in the USA is set for the start he beginning of 2006 -- with a SUV four-seater which will be manufactured at the Juiz de Fora plant in Brazil. According to Renschler "a great variety of cars can be built" on the Smart platforms, "from convertible to minivan."

The Smart boss is also proud to have reduced costs with the "Fit for Future" scheme. "Together with our suppliers we have saved 15 percent of material costs and 35 percent of general costs with the City Coupe/Convertible."

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