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The Smart car challenge


It's clever and quirky, but the Smart car concept is largely lost on many Australians. The diminutive 2.7m-long Smart Fortwo may have taken Europe by storm, but it has struggled to find its footing in Australia. Despite the Smart Forfour and Roadster now discontinued, DaimlerChrysler president and CEO Wolfgang Schrempp says the one-make brand still has a future here.

DaimlerChrysler acknowledges it may have been too clever for its own good and not addressed key marketing issues with the car.

As fuel prices skyrocket and commuters turn to motorcycles for their second vehicles, Schrempp is convinced there is enormous scope for the new Smart Fortwo.

“I am convinced ... we can do 2000 to 3000. Seven hundred units for Smart is ... just not enough,” Schrempp says.

Last year DaimlerChrysler sold 773 Smarts in Australia, a 20percent lift on 2005 sales figures.

The Fortwo, with 533 sales, was the dominant model sold. Schrempp acknowledges the Fortwo's pricing has been a key sticking point.

At $19,900 for the coupe and $22,900 for the cabrio, the Fortwo must compete in the small-hatch segment. Some four-door cars with bigger engines and more room are positioned right in the Fortwo's price range.

“Yes, that is a problem,” Schrempp says.

He is aware that Australia's wide open spaces and clearly marked public parking spaces diminishes the argument for an ultra-mini like the Fortwo. But his message is clear; get ready for some smart marketing for the Smart.

The new Fortwo is expected to go on sale next year. It is slightly bigger than the current car and Australia will probably get a more powerful 45kW three-cylinder petrol engine, and possibly the new ultra-frugal 62kW turbodiesel.