TOKYO - DaimlerChrysler AG may build a derivative of the Smart city car at a Mitsubishi Motors Corp. plant in Japan, making it narrower in order to qualify for substantial tax breaks given Japan's minivehicles.
'We've formed an intensive cooperation with Mitsubishi, and we will jointly develop derivatives of Smart,' Rainer Jahn, president of DaimlerChrysler Japan Co., said at the launch of the Smart coupe in Tokyo.
'There's quite a strong possibility that such vehicles would be manufactured in Japan' at a Mitsubishi plant. DaimlerChrysler owns a 34.8 percent stake in the Japanese carmaker.
Japan's mini segment includes cars and trucks with engines under 660cc that also meet several other size regulations.
The Smart car has a 598cc three-cylinder engine. However, at about 60 inches wide, the Smart is about 6 inches too wide to qualify as a mini.
'We will extend our range into the segment. But we will continue the current line as well,' Jahn said.
A right-hand-drive version of the Smart will join the current left-drive models by the end of 2001.
The Smart coupe is priced at 1.3 million, or about $11,820 at current exchange rates.
DaimlerChrysler Japan aims to sell 7,000 in 2001, compared with a 2000 target for Europe of 100,000.
Smart sales in Europe through November totaled 94,000 cars, said Andreas Renschler, president of the Smart unit. The unit has been a consistent money-loser for DaimlerChrysler, and does not expect to break even until 2004.
The Smart coupe will be sold at 130 outlets across Japan, including 68 Mercedes-Benz stores, 25 Chrysler-Jeep stores and 37 Mitsubishi stores. The three-pronged sales approach mimics that of Mercedes-Benz cars, which are sold at DaimlerChrysler's Stern stores, Yanase & Co. outlets and some Mitsubishi outlets.
For the Japanese market, the Smart has several modest modifications.
Because Japan is overwhelmingly an automatic-transmission market, the Smart's clutchless manual transmission begins in automatic mode in Japan. In Europe, it begins in manual mode but can be switched to automatic.
In addition, the FM radio has been replaced with an AM/FM tuner. Tokyo has fewer than a dozen FM radio stations.
The central locking system also has been replaced with an infrared remote control system to conform to Japanese radio-frequency rules.
The power window control on the passenger side has been moved to the center console for greater ease of operation.