Little Smart Benefits Big Time from Daimler-Renault AllianceBy Michelle Krebs April 7, 2010
The ailing Smart brand will be one of the biggest and earliest beneficiaries of the sweeping alliance announced Wednesday between its parent Daimler and Renault-Nissan.
Under the arrangement, Renault and Daimler will jointly develop the next generation of Smart Fortwo models and the Renault Twingo. The two model lines will share architecture and parts and begin launching in 2013.
The Smart product range will be expanded beyond the current two-seater ForTwo to include four-seaters and electric versions.
In a conference call with American media, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said one of the reasons the automaker pursued an alliance with Renault was due to Smart.
"We found it was not economicaly feasible on our own to develop the next-generation Smart family," Zetsche said in response to an AutoObserver question.
He said the four-seater Smart is likely to be sold in the U.S. but it has not been decided for sure.
Two-seaters will be built at Smart's plant in Hombach, France. Four-seaters will be built at Renault's plant in Novo Mesto, Slovenia. The models will be available in electric versions from their launch.
Daimler, Renault and Nissan will also jointly develop gasoline and diesel engines for the Smart and Twingo. The same engine will be modified for a new generation of premium compact cars for Daimler's Mercedes-Benz luxury marque.
In the U.S., Smart cars, which only include the ForTwo and will eventually add an electric version, are licensed for distribution by the Penske Automotive Group. Sales of Smart cars have been desperately poor of late.
In March, Smart sold a thin 677 vehicles, a 61 percent decline from the 1,746 sold in March 2009. In fact, according to AutoObserver's analysis, Smart sold fewer cars -- 1,397 units -- in the first quarter of 2010 than it did for the month of March a year ago. -- Michelle Krebs, Senior Analyst and Editor at Large