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Mercedes-Benz  Smart thinking: DaimlerChrysler's micro-sized Smart is set to be a common sight on Melbourne and Sydney roads.

Smart thinking: DaimlerChrysler's micro-sized Smart is set to be a common sight on Melbourne and Sydney roads.

DaimlerChrysler announces plans to launch facelifted Smart City coupe and cabrio

MOVE over Paris: Australia's own Melbourne and Sydney will become the latest cities to play host to DaimlerChrysler's chic Smart micro car - coupe and cabrio versions of which will hit Australian roads next year as part of a new Smart family.

Friday's announcement that both the facelifted Smart City-coupe and cabrio will be sold here from the second quarter of 2003 follows months of work to establish a business case for the Smart brand Down Under.

The DaimlerChrysler Australia/Pacific business case includes the expanded Smart range which - by the time a radical new roadster joins the range later in 2003 and a four-seater co-developed with Mitsubishi arrives in 2004 - is projected to total about 1000 sales per year in the mid-term.

For the moment, a highly specified 45kW "Smart & Pulse" version of both the Smart coupe, which is expected to sell at below $25,000, and the coupe-based Smart cabrio, which should undercut $30,000, will initially be offered via selected retail outlets in Melbourne and Sydney from mid-2003. Both models are expected to attract about 200 customers in their first year on sale.

Announcing the decision, managing director for Mercedes-Benz passenger cars, Maybach and Smart, Matthias Lührs, said: "Since 1998 Smart has been a sales hit with thousands of customers in markets all over Europe and from mid next year Australians, too, will be able to get Smart.

"Our initial market research has identified that awareness of the Smart brand in Australia is already at an astonishingly high rate of 51 per cent, with the overall customer response very positive, particularly with regard to the avant-garde styling and practicality," he said.

"Measuring just 2.5 metres in length, Smart is the perfect fit for urban individualists who value their lifestyle as well as the time it takes them to find a parking space in our increasingly congested cities.

"The Smart makes city driving fun thanks to its compact dimensions, revolutionary safety concept and avant-garde interior. With interchangeable body panels in colours such as jack black, lite white, phat red, stream green and scratch black, it is clear that Smart will establish a new market segment in Australia, just as it has in many other countries.

"We expect the Smart to address a broad target group centred on singles and so called dinkies, or double income no kids.

"Families will also consider the Smart as a second or third vehicle and it will appeal to older citizens who are still young at heart."

Chosen instead of the 30-40kW entry level "Smart & Pure" model variant, the Australia-bound "Smart & Pulse" version of both Smart models will feature a three-cylinder Suprex turbocharged engine with 45kW and a sequential six-speed transmission.

Local models will feature much of the luxury-spec "Smart & Passion" version's standard equipment list, including a glass roof, traction control, ABS, front airbags, leather steering wheel, power windows, CD player, air-conditioning, remote central locking and 15-inch alloy wheels. Of course, all vehicles get Smart's sandwich platform construction and Tridion safety cell technology.

DaimlerChrysler spokesman Toni Andreevski said for the initial launch phase Smart cars would be sold on a shop-in-shop basis, with exclusive Smart showrooms and sales staff operating from existing Mercedes-Benz dealerships.

Longer term, he said, stand-alone Smart sales and service outlets would be established both within and outside the two major metropolitan centres according to projected sales growth.

Micro Compact Car Smart GmbH, a subsidiary of the DaimlerChrysler Group, produces the Smart City-coupe and cabrio at Smartville, the Smart production plant in Hambach, France.

Also to be produced in Smartville, the new Smart roadster due in late 2003 will be a rival for Mazda's MX-5, Toyota's MR2, Peugeot's 206CC and the MG-TF. Also priced around $40,000, the two-seater convertible has totally new, low-slung sports styling and will boast "significantly more power" than other Smart models.

Due to debut worldwide in 2004, the four-seater Smart developed in conjunction with Mitsubishi is a certainty for Australian sale, regardless of whether Mitsubishi chooses to offer its version of the micro hatch here.

Last year DaimlerChrysler sold 116,162 Smart cars in 14 countries including Germany (46,705), Italy (30,031), France (8738) and Switzerland (6131). Double-digit growth rates were achieved in Holland (16.9 per cent), Italy (16.1 per cent), Austria (14.6 per cent) and Spain (13.8 per cent).

Last year's sales figures also included the first right-hand drive Smart City-coupes for the Japanese and British markets, while 2002 will see Croatia, Hungary and Taiwan added to the list of Smart countries, which also includes Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Portugal and Sweden.






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