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‘Smart’ thinking by Daimler, Renault for future city cars

Partners: Renault and Mercedes-Benz are reportedly set to join forces for co-development of pocket-sized cars, the Renault Twizy and Smart ForTwo.

Daimler and Renault could be on the verge of a Smart-based city car alliance

27 Nov 2009

DAIMLER AG is understood to be well advanced in negotiations with Renault over an alliance deal that would see the platform underpinning the next-generation Smart micros used as the basis for the French manufacturer’s forthcoming ultra-compact cars.

As BMW forges ahead with its Megacity vehicle program, which will include extensive use of lightweight carbon-fibre and a full-electric powertrain, Daimler is looking to amortise the costs associated with Smart with an alliance that is also expected to include a powertrain-sharing and vehicle production arrangement.

While engineering of the third-generation Smart ForTwo is well down the track – Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific this week has confirmed the model is due for international release in 2012, with an Australian launch likely in 2013 – the continuing rear-engined, rear-wheel drive chassis would be suitable for Renault’s new breed of urban vehicles, such as the Twizy.

It could also be applied to vehicles from Renault alliance partner Nissan, such as the production version of the LandGlider concept.

As GoAuto reported earlier this month, Renault has confirmed that the electric ZE (Zero Emissions) version of the Twizy will enter production in Spain from 2011, with a new internal combustion engine coming on line from 2012 and a new fossil-fuelled model introduced at the plant in 2013.

35 center imageFrom top: Renault Zoe ZE, Nissan LandGlider.

A new sub-light EV based on the Zoe concept will also be built in France from 2012.

Reports out of Europe this week have Daimler and Renault representatives declining to comment on the potential alliance, following an article in the respected German publication Manager Magazin that said discussions about sharing the Smart platform and three-cylinder engines had been occurring for several months.

Renault Australia has declined to comment on the developments, and while Mercedes-Benz A/P senior manager of corporate communications David McCarthy was unable to confirm whether negotiations were taking place, he did say the German manufacturer was continually exploring opportunities with other manufacturers to share components and amortise development costs.

“We haven’t been told anything officially,” he said. “Smart, being currently one model, always makes it a challenge. We haven’t been told that they (Daimler) are looking for a partner, but I’ve seen the reports.

“It (an alliance with Nissan-Renault) is possible, yeah. The majority of the cars they make are small cars, and they’ve got a lot of expertise in that area.”

The electric version of the current-generation Smart ForTwo – which in built in France – is still on the agenda for Australia, but a date is yet to be locked in. “We’ve still got our bid in,” Mr McCarthy said. “Production ramp-up is pretty slow because (Daimler) want to get it right.

“It is possible (it will come in 2010), but there are other markets that just as desperately would like it, and the volume that we have with it is pretty small – you’re probably only talking a couple of hundred a year, which is probably all we could get anyway – so a market that can take many, many more than that is obviously going to get precedence.”

Although the Twizy ZE concept is smaller than the current Smart ForTwo, a modular platform could accommodate a shorter-wheelbase package and the rear-drive electric powertrain packaging indicates that it would be compatible with Daimler’s rear-engine/RWD architecture.

Presented as an open-bodied two-seater concept at the Frankfurt motor show, and since confirmed for production, the Twizy ZE rests on a 1695mm wheelbase and measures 2303mm long, 1132mm wide and 1476mm high. The current ForTwo has a 1867mm wheelbase, and is 2695mm long, 1559mm wide and 1542mm high.

The compact four-seater Zoe could also be built from a Smart-based modular platform. Although a new-generation ForFour is still to be announced, a Daimler/Renault agreement could make all the difference. Current betting has an all-new ForFour arriving in 2014, if the alliance is formed.

The Zoe ZE concept shown in Frankfurt, which has also been confirmed for production, is perched on a 2605mm wheelbase and is 4100mm long, 1840mm wide and 1516mm high.

While Renault stands to benefit from Daimler’s small three-cylinder engines designed for the Smart’s rear-drive package, Mercedes-Benz is understood to be interested – for its front-drive A- and B-class and other new compact models in development – in Renault’s forthcoming modular TCe turbo-petrol engine family.

Replacing naturally aspirated engines ranging from 1.2 to 1.6 litres, TCe will be available in three-cylinder (0.9-litre) and four-cylinder (1.2-litre) versions from 2012.

Equipped with a low-inertia turbocharger, these engines have power ratings that range from 65kW to 85kW, with more powerful versions to follow at a later stage. CO2 emissions are claimed to be 30g or 40g lower than existing engines with ratings on some models below 100g/km.

Renault expects TCe to account for 85 per cent of its petrol engine sales by 2015.

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