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Green race a Smart move

Smart ForTwo electric car, undergoing trials in UK it is a possibility for release early 2010.

A plug-in Smart car will race a baby Mitsubishi to become the first all-electric showroom contender in Australia.

The battery-powered Smart ForTwo is already undergoing trials in Britain and the worldwide head of Daimler, Dieter Zetsche, says there is a very good chance it willcome to Australia.

The timing could be in the back end of 2009 or early in 2010, which means the ForTwo will be fighting for first with the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, which Mitsubishi Motors Australia chief Rob McEniry is fast-tracking for Australia — and the worse-case scenario for its delivery is some time in 2012.

Mercedes-Benz is making a strong electric push with the Smart, which will be followed by battery-powered A-Class and B-Class compacts.

“This idea is not totally out of the possibilities. We have not made final decisions,” is the non-committal response from Zetsche on the electric Smart during a one-day visit to Australia.

“We won't go to all countries. It is a reasonable possibility it could come to Australia.”

But the plug-in Smart is more than just a possibility, as Mercedes-Benz pushes hard on electric cars. It is already leasing a trial fleet and is preparing for full-scale production.

Zetsche says Benz will abandon the twin-floor chassis design it pioneered as a safety move on the original A-Class when the car is renewed in 2010, but left the way open for a similar approach for electric operation.

He says there will be four different body styles, not just A and B hatches, but refuses to give any detail on the potential for a coupe, sedan or wagon.

Zetsche is bullish about Smart, which has come back from a near-death expansion plan to a successful model built around the tiny ForTwo.

“It is the CO2 champion. So I'm very glad with where we are today. In the US we don't know how to deal with the demand,” Zetsche says. “It's always a question of perspective. For now it is all and before it was nothing. We just built more andmore problems.

“Today we are making money with Smart.”

The electric trial will step up in the UK with theproduction of 1000 customer cars and these could open the door for a battery-powered ForTwo in Australia.

“Towards the end of next year we will see another 1000. The earliest possibility [forAustralia] would be one of that 1000,” Zetsche says.

“If that is not the outcome, thelatest would be two or three years later whenwe see high production.”