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Micro: Current Smart Fortwo will be replaced in late 2007.

DaimlerChrysler confirms next-gen Fortwo - and Smart's long-term Oz future

Smart logo22 Sep 2006

DAIMLERCHRYSLER Australia remains committed to the Smart brand, confirming that it will launch the next-generation Smart Fortwo here late next year.

It has also confirmed that it will, for the first time, it will offer a turbo-diesel model in the line-up to complement the turbocharged three-cylinder petrol version.

The next-generation Fortwo features new headlights and taillights, grille and flush-fitted door handles, as well as more aerodynamic door mirrors.

The car is said to have grown 200mm in length to improve interior space and crash safety.

According to DaimlerChrysler insiders the revamped diesel engine is said to offer 3.0L/100km fuel economy.

Mitsubishi will supply Smart with the new Fortwo engines, which also appear in the Mitsubishi "i".

The "i" is powered by a 600cc turbocharged three-cylinder MIVEC engine that produces 49kW/94Nm and delivers fuel consumption of 5.4L/100km combined. A normally aspirated 1.0-litre version is also available.

DaimlerChrysler Australia remains bullish about the fledgling Smart brand, despite losing two of its three-model variants over the past year, the 1.3-litre and 1.5-litre Forfour and Roadster.

The brand’s remaining vehicles are the Smart Fortwo coupe and cabrio, which cost $19,900 and $22,900.

Mercedes-Benz Group managing director, Horst von Sanden, said the increasing volatility of petrol prices had helped secure a place locally for the frugal two-seater.

He said increased back-room synergies between Mercedes-Benz and the Smart operations had helped maintain its viability locally.

The original business plan for the brand was predicated on low-volumes.

"When we first launched it a lot of people told us it was a risky strategy to do so, but from then the times have changed," Mr von Sanden said.

"There is more consciousness out there about fuel efficiency about how big a car do I need.

"I still see huge potential for very young drivers and Smart.

"We haven’t even explored that."

37 center imageLeft: Mitsubishi 'i'.

Mr von Sanden said Smarts were popular with Mercedes-Benz buyers, who often bought one for their families.

Smart sales operations are now fully integrated into the Mercedes-Benz.

"We use to have when we started a team of three people looking after Smart and in the future there will be just one Smart brand manager," he said.

DaimlerChrysler Australia has about 200 Forfour models left and Mr von Sanden said he was confident of finding buyers, given the dealer incentives being offered for the cars.

The $23,900 1.3 and $25,900 1.5 Forfour, which shared much with the Mitsubishi Colt, had struggled locally as they competed in one of the most competitive market segments against well-equipped Korean and Japanese rivals.

Mr von Sanden said that apart from price, he believed part of the issue for buyers of the Forfour, which was introduced in October 2004, was that "it was not unique like the Fortwo".

"I think it’s the right decision to go back to where Smart started and actual realise its core values," he said.

"It would be good to rely on that uniqueness. I don’t think Smart should become another small car brand that offers exactly the same as everyone else does." He is confident the brand can maintain itself with around 700 sales a year.

Last year it Smart sold 799 vehicles and so far this year it has sold 478 cars.

The brand is still in its infancy, having only been available here for the past three years with DaimlerChrysler maintaining that it was a niche model.

But the brand globally has been plagued by mounting losses and the axing of model lines like the Roadster, Forfour and its Formore mini-SUV, to concentrate on the brand’s core two-seater.

Since its restructuring early this year, the outlook for Smart looks brighter.

DaimlerChrysler confirmed in June that the Smart Fortwo would kick off a product onslaught in the United States in 2008.

The Fortwo was launched in Canada last year and sold 4000 vehicles, more than twice the forecast.

Smart has refocused its sights on the next-generation Fortwo, which is being developed as part of a $1.7 billion investment in the brand by DaimlerChrysler.

DaimlerChrysler Australia originally introduced the Fortwo here in June 2003.

In its first full year on sale it sold 479 vehicles.

The Roadster then arrived in October 2003 but its price - $37,990 – and turbo three-cylinder engine made it uncompetitive against some of its keener-sought rivals like the Mazda MX5.

Earlier this year DC imported a limited number of Brabus-tuned ForFours with a turbocharged 130kW230Nm four cylinder, giving the four-seater a zero to 100km/h time of 6.9 seconds and top speed of 221km/h.

Smart is sold at 12 metropolitan dealers nationally.

Last year the brand sold 143,000 vehicles globally.

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