Mercedes, Renault discuss new model for Smart
The new Smart, due out in 2013, is planned to sit on a lightly modified version of the Renault Twingo's underpinnings.
A highly placed Mercedes-Benz official told Automotive News Europe sister publication AutoWeek: "It's a key component in plans to grow the Smart brand. We're looking to diverge into other potentially lucrative market segments, and not only in Europe but on a worldwide basis, including North America."
Smart had a four-door model called the ForFour but it was killed in 2006 after only two years because of low sales. A roadster model was also stopped to rein in Smart's losses.
The only Smart now is the tiny ForTwo, a two-seater.
3 Smarts planned
AutoWeek sources suggest that Mercedes-Benz boss Dieter Zetsche will announce the collaboration with Renault at the upcoming Frankfurt auto show, where he also is expected to reveal further details about the future of the Smart brand, which is planned to grow its lineup to at least three new models by the middle of the next decade, including a radical three-seater sports car.
Zetsche said last month that Daimler AG would consider a partnership with another automaker as a way to revive the four-seat Smart ForFour car.
"It certainly would not hurt," Zetsche said during the company's second-quarter financial results conference call last month. But Zetsche said he would not comment on "potential steps in this direction."
The last ForFour was based on the Mitsubishi Colt and produced at Mitsubishi's NedCar plant in Born, Netherlands.
Zetsche said the only way Daimler would expand the Smart range with a new ForFour is if "we could do things different than others" and offer a premium subcompact.
Said Zetsche: "It might make sense to go forward, but only under that condition -- that is very clear."
At this early stage, it is not known whether the deal between Mercedes-Benz and Renault will extend to engines and gearboxes, although German media reports suggest that the two are looking at deep integration between the new ForFour and the Twingo in a move aimed at extracting the sort of economies of scale achieved by rival carmakers PSA/Peugeot-Citroen and Toyota with their similarly sized C1, 106 and Aygo.
This would suggest further collaboration on small-capacity gasoline and diesel units, including possibly a new generation of highly efficient three-cylinder engines already under development at Mercedes-Benz.
At the heart of plans for the new ForFour also is a plug-in electric version.
Nothing's official just yet, but it could include technology being developed by Renault partner Nissan, which is introducing its own plug-in electric model, the Leaf.
You can reach Greg Kable at firstname.lastname@example.org.