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Next-gen Smart EV shapes up for Australia

Sign of the times: The current-generation Smart ForTwo EV likely won't make it Down Under after all, but its successor due overseas in 2014 probably will.

Still not a lock, but 2014 new-gen Smart firms up as Mercedes Australia’s first EV

Smart logo9 Oct 2013

By MIKE COSTELLO

MERCEDES-BENZ remains serious about introducing an electrified version of the Smart ForTwo to Australia as its first local EV, with a potential arrival on the cards for 2015.

The company has also proposed a method of government intervention that could cut the sticker price of EVs by around 12 per cent – making them exempt from duties paid by importers, as well as GST.

Benz first publicised its intention to dip a toe into the EV waters with an electric Smart as early as 2011. Mercedes has considered bringing around a dozen current-generation versions here initially as a test, but technical impediments with the European software acted as a stumbling block.

In the end, the proposed pilot launch of the circa-$30k Smart green machines never eventuated, meaning the focus is now understood to have shifted to the new-generation ForTwo due overseas next year.

That car, expected to debut in Europe (firstly in internal combustion guise) around mid-2014, is being co-developed with Renault as part of a widespread strategic alliance between the two companies.

Renault is a global EV leader, and will spin its next Twingo off the same rear-drive platform.

It is expected that shortly after this time, EV versions of both cars will emerge using batteries from Daimler and electric motors from Renault-Nissan.

It is this version that we understand is firmly on the radar for Australia. There likely remains some scope for Benz-badged EVs such as the B-Class Electric Drive revealed last year to come here at a later date, though Mercedes Australia has been less effusive about that car’s launch potential.

While the local EV market remains tiny, with the Nissan Leaf and the plug-in Holden Volt the only vehicles currently on offer, Benz’s chief German rivals BMW and Audi both have plans to introduce alternate fuel cars of their own to the local market in the near future.

BMW will commence sales of the i3 pure EV and range-extender from the first half of 2014, while Audi will launch the plug-in A3 e-tron petrol-electric car here from 2015. Such a move from these two brands could well act as another stimulus for Mercedes.

Speaking with GoAuto this week, Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific managing director (car group) Horst von Sanden said specific launch details for the Smart EV were undecided, but re-affirmed the brand’s interest in the car.

“We’re certainly talking about the electric smart at some point in time,” he said. “The new-generation, (though we) haven’t finalised timing.

“It’s on our to do list, and we’ll look into it in detail, and at what time we could get it.” Mr von Sanden said both green-oriented fleets – business and public – would be on the radar for the car, as well as early private adopters.

However, while the case for EV is firming up, Mr von Sanden said it was important for the company to continue with a multi-pronged approach to powertrains.

“I think our company is really looking at all different technologies, and I think sometimes people see it a little to simplistically,” he said. “Believing only one or the other is the solution to everything, I think must be broader.

“We’re talking about diesel technology, hybrid solutions, electric cars, hydrogen fuel cell. I think each of those technologies might have some future in some applications, but there’s not the one answer.” One global Mercedes technology not on the radar for Australia is hydrogen power – at least, not until local filling infrastructure appears. Benz has previously trialled a fuel-cell B-Class. A global tour of the cars – named F-Cell – even included Australia in March 2011.

However, Mr McCarthy said there was no plan on the horizon to launch a hydrogen car here any time soon, even on a pilot or trial basis.

Referring to the mooted Smart EV launch, Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific senior manager corporate communications David McCarthy floated an idea to cut the cost of such vehicles in showrooms that moves past the direct subsidies offered in Europe and California.

Mr McCarthy proposed the government make EVs exempt from duties paid by importers, as well as GST, which he says would cut around 12 per cent from the sticker price straight away.

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