Mitsubishi is to help DaimlerChrysler increase Smart car production by 200,000 units a year from 2004, Bloomberg News reports. The two companies will build new four-seat versions at the NedCar plant in the Netherlands which is currently owned by Ford and Mitsubishi. Ford, which currently builds the Volvo S and V40 series models at NedCar, will sell its share of the plant to DaimlerChrysler before production begins.

Last June, DaimlerChrysler bought a 10 per cent stake in Hyundai for $US423 million and, in October, paid $US1.9 billion for a one-third stake in Mitsubishi. As a result, the new four-seat Smart car will use parts supplied by Hyundai and will also be sold in Asian markets badged as a Mitsubishi.

According to Micro Compact Car GmbH chairman Andreas Renschler, sales of the current two-seater Smart models will reach 100,000 this year, up from 80,000 in 1999 and about 4,000 above forecast thanks to a rise in demand from France and Italy.

Renschler estimates that MCC will break even in 2004. As well as expanding the line-up with the new four-seaters, the company also plans to build the "Roadster" sports model unveiled at last year's Frankfurt motor show. The project will cost around 100 million euros and require 300 more staff at the French factory.