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Struggling Smart to Get Nissan-Derived 5-Door – Updated

New model to be assembled at Nissan plant in U.S.

by on Oct.06, 2010

Smart will begin selling a Nissan-derived 5-door in late 2011.

Desperately struggling to reverse crashing sales, Smart USA has inked a memo of understanding with Japan’s Nissan to provide a new 5-door model to the Smart microcar line-up.

The first clear product to emerge from a new partnership between Daimler and the Euro-Asian Renault-Nissan Alliance, the B-segment hatchback will reach the U.S. market by the fourth quarter of 2011, the partners say.

While specifics remain to be released, inside sources tell the Smart hatchback will be based on a next-generation platform and not the current B-segment Nissan, the Versa.

In an unusual move, this particular memorandum of understanding specifically links Smart USA and Nissan, though insiders report a version of the new product will very likely show up in other Smart dealerships around the world at some point.

Significantly, those sources tell, the two-row, 5-seat Smart will be produced in the United States, rather than in France, where the maker’s current fortwo model is produced. While they won’t discuss specific production details it appears to point to Nissan’s Smyrna plant, since the Japanese maker’s other American facility focuses largely on trucks and larger models.

“The new vehicle will expand smart USA’s product lineup, offering five-seat capacity while maintaining the core principles of efficiency and conservation,” said Jill Lajdziak, president of Smart USA.

Smart needs to expand, and fast.

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After achieving a surprisingly strong launch in 2008 – which was timed serendipitously to coincide with the record run-up in U.S. fuel prices – things have taken a severe turn for the worse.  In September 2010, the maker’s American distributor reported selling only 422 of the little fortwo 2-seaters, down 48% from year-earlier results – which were already sharply down.  For the first nine months of 2010 Smart has sold just 4,770 cars, a 61.5% decline despite offering massive incentives.