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Benz committed to Smart in Oz

That Smarts: Despite apparently slow sales, Mercedes-Benz Australia is happy with volumes of its tiny Smart ForTwo city car.

Promising future products, growing acceptance key to Smart’s Australian survival

7 May 2012

MERCEDES-BENZ Australia remains committed to the Smart micro-car brand, even though it has registered just 44 sales this year – down 40.5 per centThe company says Smart’s time in Australia is “fast approaching” due to increased city congestion and greater public acceptance of smaller cars – and is talking with its German head office about an all-electric version for Australian sale.

Speaking at this week’s M-class SUV launch, Mercedes-Benz Australia senior manager of corporate communications David McCarthy admitted the brand’s sole offering in this market, the ForTwo, had struggled against the Australian preference for larger cars, as well as a relatively high price (from $19,990 plus on-road costs).

He also cited the limitations of its two-seater configuration, ride quality issues and theoretical parking advantages that seldom apply in real-world scenarios as reasons why it did not sell in higher numbers.

Mr McCarthy added that because of Smart’s distinctive nature, public awareness was already high, so increasing the local marketing spend was unlikely to provide worthwhile return on investment.

As well, requests to the factory for more production slots would require long-term planning.

However, he did not accept the argument that decent sales of sub-light cars such as the Suzuki Alto and Holden Barina Spark suggested Australians were turning on to the city car idea, suggesting customer decisions to buy those cars were more about price.

37 center imageFrom top: Smart Forvision and Electric Drive.

He said the Smart’s premium pricing reflected its status as a thoroughly-engineered product, and while reducing its standard specification could potentially cut about $2500 from the entry price, “that is not what we are about”.

“We are satisfied with current Smart volume,” he said, adding that the upcoming products were not limited to a replacement for the ForTwo.

As GoAuto reported last August, the third-generation Smart Electric Drive, which provides greater performance and battery range than its limited-run predecessors, will be produced in greater numbers and offered to right-hand-drive markets, opening up the possibility of introduction to Australia.

Mercedes-Benz Australia officials said talks are ongoing about bringing it here, where it would join a growing number of EVs available including the Tesla Roadster, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Nissan Leaf and upcoming Renault Fluence ZE.

A facelifted version of the second-generation ForTwo is due to arrive in Australian showrooms by the end of this year, with few planned changes to the existing local line-up that comprises coupe and soft-top cabrio body styles available with a choice of naturally-aspirated and turbocharged petrol engines.

Various clues of what to expect from the next ForTwo – built on underpinnings shared with Daimler’s technology partner Renault and expected to emerge next year – have been hinted with a series of typically quirky motor show concepts and the technology-packed Forvision shown at Frankfurt last year provided possibly the most accurate preview yet.

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