Smart dealers are euphoric over the expansion of the model range

Stuttgart/Rome. Smart boss Andreas Renschler has high expectations for 2004.

Smart sales should rise to between 170,000 to 180,000 units from about 125,000 vehicles in 2003.

The Mercedes subsidiary also expects to increase its turnover this year. Last year turnover was approximately 1.4 million euros.

"Smart has grown up now -- and will continue to grow," Renschler said in an interview with Automobilwoche.

The new four-seater ForFour will be the primary growth factor.

It will be available from 24 April with three gasoline engines to begin with (75 to 109hp) and prices starting at 12,990 euros.

In 2004 Renschler hopes to sell approximately 50,000 ForFours. The model was engineered with the Mitsubishi Colt and is being manufactured in Holland. The sales target for 2005 is approximately 80,000 ForFours.

By then two diesel engines (from fall 2004) and a "hot" Brabus version will also be available.

"With the ForFour we will gain new customer potential," said Renschler.

Smart collected approximately 150,000 addresses of potential buyers after signing up singing star Robbie Williams as a publicity partner -- 90 percent of those potential buyers drive cars made by other brands.

In 2003 Smart sold 43,633 vehicles in Germany, 30 percent of which were bought by corporate customers.

Renschler hopes to sell as many ForTwos this year as in 2003 (37,100 vehicles). His hopes for the roadster -- 6,700 units were sold in Germany in 2003 -- are higher.

Juergen Fahr from the DaimlerChrysler sales organization DCVD, expects that only 12,000 ForFours will be sold in Germany in 2004 but Smart dealers are much more optimistic.

Smart dealers association spokesman Ulrich Fromme, from Duesseldorf, is almost euphoric.

He estimates that around 22,000 ForFours will be sold and that the total Smart sales in Germany will be 49,500.

"The dealers have never before been as satisfied and motivated as they are now," said Fromme. He said he believes that by the end of 2005 Smart will have doubled its sales in Germany.

Extending Smart's sales and servicing network will also be an important growth factor.

Currently Smart has 132 locations in Germany. Fahr hopes to increase the number of dealers to more than 200 by the end of 2004. The number of service outlets should grow to 80.

Smart also will expand internationally. Currently the brand has around 700 sales locations in 31 markets.

Smart boss Renschler plans to enter at least four new markets by the end of 2004 -- Canada, Denmark, Norway and Romania.

"We are also looking at entering a few more South American countries such as Brazil and Chile, and states within the former Soviet Union, such as the Ukraine," he said.

Renschler also sees potential in Asia. So far Smart is only represented in Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

"We even received an enquiry from Iran," Renschler said.

From 2006 Smart will try to win over the U.S. customers with the ForMore sports utility vehicle.

Smart also hopes that in 2006 it will make a profit for the first time -- two years later than originally planned.

"Had we not made investments in our fourth model series, we would have managed the turnaround this year," Renschler explained.

The ForMore will be manufactured in Brazil -- 60,000 units per annum.

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