DaimlerChrysler’s ‘smart’ car brand and its products certainly have their critics, but nobody can deny that there is real innovation at work in the smart. The products themselves remain head-turners and many have watched the Hambach plant’s operation – which takes supplier integration to new levels – with great interest. The division is still not profitable but DC is building a brand for the long term.  How will it get there? We put some questions to the people at smart’s Micro Compact Cars (McC) HQ.

How many smarts do you expect to have sold in 2002?
First of all: smart gmbh sells more than just one “smart car”. At the moment we sell smart city-coupé, smart cabrio and smart crossblade. 116,162 cars were sold in 2001, a sales increase of almost 14 percent (13.8%) compared with the previous year. smart gmbh is working on the assumption that the sales figures of the previous year will be reached in 2002.

How does that split by city-coupe and roadster? How many roadsters – both variants – do you expect to make next year?
Market launch of smart roadster and smart roadster-coupé is in April 2003. We don’t comment on sales expectations, because for this totally new project profitability is of prime importance. The profitability threshold will be at around 8,000 to 10,000 cars (both cars together).

Which countries are most profitable for smart?
The two largest markets are Germany (unit sales 2001: 46,705) and Italy (2001: 30,031), followed by France (2001: 8,738) and Switzerland (2001: 6,131). Market share in Europe in the minicar segment was 8.58% in 2001 (previous year: 8.46%). The share of smart cabrios of the total unit sales is 22%; diesel is approx. 25%.

What percentage of city-coupe sales are to fleet operators?
The sales and distribution of the cars we produce is organised through regional sales organisations. In Germany, for example, it is the DaimlerChrysler Vertriebsorganisation Deutschland (DaimlerChrysler Sales and Distribution Organisation Germany). Therefore we – as manufacturer – can’t comment on this question.

Can you give some indication of the profile of the typical (private retail) smart city-coupe buyer in Europe? Have views about smart’s natural customer base changed since launch?
Drivers of smart vehicles see the world with their eyes wide open. They are unprejudiced and open to new experiences. The customers of smart city-coupé and cabrio are predominantly male and somewhat younger than the buyers of other cars in the minicar segment – average age: 39. The smart city-coupé is mainly bought by families with a high net household income (more than 3,000 euro/month) who live in cities. smart customers have a higher than average level of education for buyers in the minicar segment. smart drivers mainly use their car in the city and have at least one other car.

Can you give an estimate of the financial position of Micro Compact Cars (MCC) in 2002? It is rumoured that the division loses around $300 million per annum.
As a company in the DaimlerChrysler Group we don’t comment on any financial results of smart gmbh.

When will MCC be in profit?
In the year 2004.

Where do you see MCC volume output heading in the medium term with the addition of the roadster and four-seater (from 2004)?
Our goal is working profitably as a company.

Are you happy with the handling characteristics of the smart city-coupe? Are any engineering changes planned – to the suspension for example?From our point of view the standard (safety) equipment of smart city-coupé and smart cabrio is above-average in comparison to other cars in our segment. For example the cars offer a stability control called TRUST PLUS and the brake control ABS as serial equipment.

We will announce any new developments or changes for the smart city-coupé or smart cabrio in good time.

The new smart four-seater is being developed with Mitsubishi on the small ‘z-car’ platform and will be built at the NedCar plant in the Nettherlands. How is the development work proceeding and can you give us an update on when the car will be launched in Europe?

We passed all milestones in the development work in time and the launch of the car will be in the first half of 2004.

Is the four-seater’s design influenced by the increasing trend towards MPV-like small cars such as the Yaris Verso and Opel Minerva?

From our point of view the design of our four-seater is unique and self-contained, like all vehicles created by smart designers. This car demonstrates that the smart brand also has room for a vehicle which is more than 2.50 m long and has space for more than two people, i.e. that such a vehicle can also have all the features typical to smart.

What sort of customer will the car be aimed at?
It’s too early to comment on the positioning of the car.

What do you see as the smart brand’s core values and how does this fit into the DaimlerChrysler family?
smart consistently implements the key brand values in all its activities: all products and services are characterised by joie de vivre, functionality and innovation.

The first clear sign of smart brand identity is the TRIDION safety cell, with a safety concept which is unique in this vehicle segment. Secondly, the two material and two colour concept in connection with this, which is characterised by the visible, striking TRIDION safety cell in black or silver and the use of coloured bodypanels. Thirdly, the modular construction which not only offers clear advantages in the production, but also benefits customers with regard to ease of maintenance. Fourthly, the innovative design which offers an ergonomic interior with a feeling of spaciousness in a vehicle with compact dimensions. And fifthly, the unmistakable driving pleasure and joie de vivre that are not only conveyed by the smart city-coupé, smart cabrio and smart crossblade, but also even more intensively by the smart roadster and smart roadster-coupé which are designed for a different environment.

smart is the small-vehicle division of the DaimlerChrysler group. We are focussing on innovation and technical excellence like all brands of DaimlerChrysler.

How long does it take to build a smart car at Hambach and how happy are the suppliers with the plant’s volume?
The final assembly of smart city-coupé and cabrio in Hambach takes 4.5 hours. The relationship to our suppliers and the whole concept of the production plant works very well. The concept is based on locating all suppliers on the site or in the immediate vicinity. This guarantees a very fast, efficient and environmentally friendly production process. When operating the current two-shift system, the plant’s total annual capacity stands at 120,000 smart city-coupés and smart cabrios.

Can you give an indication of when smarts will be offered for sale in North America and which territories would be likely to get them? Are certain cities, like Los Angeles, being targeted?
A decision has not yet been made about this. smart has noted interest in smart products in the USA, especially in the population centres on the west and east coasts. In particular, the company is currently examining the modifications that would be necessary for approval for the US market and a possible distribution network.

What do you say to critics who argue that Americans are not Europeans and will not be attracted to fuel-efficient cars as small as the smart city coupe?
smart has noted interest in smart products in the USA, especially in the population centres on the west and east coasts.

There has been speculation that the US price tag on the smart city coupe could be as high as $15,000 with sales targeted at 8,000 units per annum. Can you comment on that?
No, it’s too early to comment on this with concrete figures.

How do you see sales of the smart ‘k’ developing in Japan?

Are there particular challenges associated with the Japanese marketplace?
The particular need was to offer a smart k – and we did.

A four-wheel-drive version of the smart four-seater is said to be planned for manufacture in Brazil from 2005. Can you indicate planned volumes?

These are only speculations. And we don’t comment on any speculation.

What percentage do you expect to be sold in South America and what percentage exported to North America and Western Europe?
No comment.

How are sales of the smart crossblade going and can you give us an idea of the typical crossblade customer profiles?
MCC smart has no reason to doubt that the entire limited edition of 2,000 cars will be sold. The sales figures are showing a pleasing development.

The smart crossblade targets an exclusive clientele who attach great importance to personal freedom and independence. The cars will be given a consecutive numbering in order to emphasize their exclusiveness.

We are assuming that the buyers of this vehicle are people with a fun-orientated, individual lifestyle, spontaneous consumer habits and financial independence – regardless of their age.

Beyond the upcoming four-seater smart being developed with Mitsubishi and an SUV version, what other possibilities are there for other smart brand cars in the future?
Plans for a SUV version of the four-seater are pure speculation so far. It’s too early to answer the rest of the question.

Where do you see the smart brand in ten years’ time? Originally, the idea for the smart brand developed with the maker of ‘swatch’ wristwatches. Do you see the brand growing outside of the automotive field in the long-term?
smart GmbH offers today and in the future innovative cars and mobility solutions for “open-minded” people.

Smart facts

  • Micro Compact Car smart GmbH concluded 2001 with the best results since the launch of the smart in October 1998 but is still losing money. Break-even is planned for 2004.
  • The first right-hand drive smarts for the British and Japanese markets were made in 2001. The smart k, which was presented in Tokyo in October 2001, offers customers in the local market high tax advantages due to its dimensions.
  • Around a fifth of sales are accounted for by the cabriolet version. Almost 25 percent of smart models have common-rail direct injection.
  • In Hambach, France (Lorraine region), a new manufacturing concept was realised for producing the Smart. The system partners have settled around the core manufacturing area for the Smart which covers a plus-shape in the centre of the factory compound, and are integrated in the processes. The smartville industrial estate was officially opened on 27.10.1997.