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Smart could return if price is right

Tiny Tot: The Smart ForTwo was sold in Australia from 2003 to 2014.

Door remains open for Smart in Oz but a bunch of circumstances must be right first

22 Jan 2016

MERCEDES-BENZ is keen to resurrect the Smart brand in Australia, but only if the ex-factory price is considerably less than before and there is scope for profit in the business case.

While no discussions are currently underway, it’s been revealed that the door is open for models such as the latest-generation ForFour to eventually find their way to Australia.

Speaking to GoAuto at the launch of the facelifted A-Class hatch, Mercedes-Benz Australia senior communications and public relations manager, David McCarthy, admitted that there is a strong desire in some quarters of the upper-management team to see both the latest ForTwo (two-seater) and ForFour (four-seater) in Australia.

However, prices must start well under the $18,000 and $20,000 mark for each respectively in order for them to have any chance of being competitive – an unlikely scenario right now with the weak Australian currency.

“If we can bring it in at a price that we can sell, and still be able to make a profit – albeit a small one – we would consider it,” Mr McCarthy said. “Those circumstances currently do not exist, but who knows what Smart might produce in two or three years time.”

Mercedes-Benz Australia even considered paring the profit back to almost nothing in order to keep the brand alive in this country, but gave up when it became clear that its price objective could not be met with the latest-generation models.

When the last ForTwo was discontinued in December 2014, it retailed for $17,710 before on-road costs for the A451 Coupe and $19,690 for the C451 Cabriolet.

“I think the ForFour would have done really well, but we couldn’t have landed it here for under $20,000,” Mr McCarthy said. “And the problem with the ForTwo is that you can buy a new car in Australia from $3000 a seat, while we were trying to sell something that cost $9000 a seat. We couldn’t make the business case work properly.

“We were almost prepared to sell the car at no margin for us, to keep it there.

(Mercedes-Benz Australia chief executive officer) Horst von Sanden and I love the product. We understand that not everybody shares that view, but it is a car people bought and not one we sold people knew about it and wanted it… but the price we were being offered from the factory (killed it). But that’s not to rule it out in the future.”

It is believed that at least 500 sales of each model annually would be the bare minimum required to make the brand fly again in Australia, though Mr McCarthy believes that, positioned and priced properly, there is enough appeal in the vehicles to see that figure double per body style.

“There’s a lot of affection for the brand,” he said. “So if the situation changes – and it’s not likely in the current environment – and a whole lot of circumstances were different, we would reconsider it. Never say never, but it’s not an active consideration.” Smart sold just 76 of the leftover ForTwos last year, 108 in 2014, 126 in 2013, and 142 the year before that. In 2009 382 were registered, while in 2005 (the best year, and boosted by the presence of the original ForFour – a short-lived B-segment supermini venture with Mitsubishi based on the contemporary Colt – and Roadster convertible) some 799 found homes.

The latest Smart ForTwo (W453) and ForFour (W454) are a co-development with Renault, with the latter forming the basis for the third-generation Twingo sub-B city car. All are rear-engine and rear-wheel drive, with two engines on offer – a naturally aspirated 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine or a 0.9-litre turbo triple. Both are mated to a conventional five-speed manual gearbox.

Suspension is by struts up front and a De Dion tube out back.

Smart entered Australia in 2003 with the original 450-series ForTwo when it was known as the City Coupe.

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