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Frankfurt show: Smart teases autonomous EV concept

Going places: A single image of the new Smart autonomous EV concept has surfaced on social media, showing a digital grille emblazoned with the phrase ‘On my way’.

Electric, self-driving Smart concept teased on Instagram ahead of Frankfurt debut

Smart logo28 Aug 2017

By ROBBIE WALLIS

SMART has released a single teaser image of its new electric self-driving concept on social media platform Instagram, ahead of its full reveal at the Frankfurt motor show next month.

The teaser image reveals the car’s front bumper, which is dominated by an LED grille similar to that of sister company Mercedes-Benz’s Vision Van concept revealed in September last year, and contains the phrase ‘On my way’.

It also shows a darkened headlight cluster and signature short overhangs, while the caption accompanying the image calls the concept “the Smart vision of urban mobility for tomorrow”.

Developed by Mercedes’ electric sub-brand, EQ, the concept is the fruit of a fully autonomous driving study based on the brand’s CASE (Connectivity, Autonomous driving, car Sharing, and Electrification) corporate strategy.

Despite its likely small dimensions, the Smart concept is being pitched as a ride-sharing vehicle, however its diminutive stature makes sense for a vehicle that will spend the majority of its time in urban areas.

Mercedes says the concept car “makes the vision of individualised, highly flexible urban public transport a reality”, however there are currently no plans to bring such a vehicle to Australia.

Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific (MBAP) senior manager public relations, product and corporate communications David McCarthy said the company was not looking to resurrect the Smart brand Down Under, however an eventual return was not out of the question.

“We don’t have any plans (to bring Smart back to Australia), we do reassess for each year, (but there’s) nothing current,” he said.

He said the company regularly looks at the potential for introducing a ride-sharing, autonomous electric vehicle to market in Australia, however the business case would have to stack up.

The Smart brand was put on hold in Australia in late 2015, with MBAP revealing that cost concerns in the competitive light-car segment, as well as continued low sales for tiny city cars, were the final nail in the coffin.

Sales of the ForTwo were halted Down Under a little more than a year after the reveal of the third-generation runabout that was jointly developed with Renault and shared its underpinnings with the Twingo.

Since launching in 2003, Smart sold a total of 4452 vehicles across three different model lines, with its best sales year coming in 2005 – its second full year of sales – when it shifted 799 units.

Its best-selling model was easily the ForTwo two-seater for which the brand became known, with 3571 sales between 2003 and 2015.

Smart’s two other offerings, the ForFour and Roadster, sold 585 and 296 units over their respective life cycles, neither of which were as long as the ForTwo.

The lack of government subsidies for electric vehicles were seen as one of the factors preventing a viable business case for an Australian debut, according to Mr McCarthy.

“If there was a subsidy for electric vehicles, that would certainly make the case a lot easier, and at the end of the day you’ve got to sell sufficient volume to justify doing it,” he said.

Mercedes-Benz is also planning to introduce a new fully electric small car from the EQ brand, which may be seen as a direct competitor for BMW’s i3.

The EQ brand was first launched at last year’s Paris motor show, with the reveal of the Generation EQ concept SUV which featured scalable battery technology that could adjust the output of the dual-motor system up to 300kW.

Another green vehicle, a fuel cell-hybrid version of the GLC mid-size SUV, will be on show at Frankfurt.

More details on the Smart concept will be made available in the lead up to the Frankfurt motor show, which begins on September 12.

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