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Daimler Betting Small Can Be Big

Maker looking for more downsized Mercedes, Smart models.

by on Jan.22, 2013

Perhaps nothing symbolizes the Mercedes-Benz brand like its classic S-Class model. But while the big sedan is set for a remake next year, expect Mercedes and the sibling Smart brand to put an increasing emphasis on downsized products that reflect the ongoing shift in the global luxury market.

Nonetheless, downsized doesn’t have to mean down-market, emphasized Dieter Zetsche, CEO of parent company Daimler AG.

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While Zetsche stresses it is “very important to maintain and strengthen our role in traditional segments,” he is quick to add that, “If we want to grow and don’t want to lose our customers, we have to downsize.”

Mercedes offered a hint of what’s to come during a sneak preview at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit earlier this month, providing reporters a brief look at the all-new 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA.


Smart to Offer Market’s Lowest-Priced EV

Compact size, compact price.

by on Oct.05, 2012

Smart adds a bigger battery to boost range and performance with the 2013 fortwo ED.

Why aren’t consumers getting charged up about battery cars? That’s the question a lot of folks have been asking as sales lag well behind earlier expectations.

Range is clearly a concern, motorists worrying about being able to go – with most models – less than 100 miles per charge. But the big issue appears to be price. Electric vehicles simply carry too steep a premium for many potential buyers.

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That’s something little Smart hopes to address when it introduces what it is billing as the lowest-priced battery vehicle coming to the U.S. market from a major manufacturer. The 2013 Smart fortwo ED – short for Electric Drive – will carry a base price of just $25,780. (Not including a $750 delivery charge.)


New Smart Concept Shoots For the Stars

Smart Forstars to debut in Paris next week.

by on Sep.17, 2012

The Smart ForStars Concept could signal plans for a micro sport-ute coupe.

You can’t blame Smart for shooting for the stars.  Considering its poor performance in recent years, it has nowhere to go but up.

And the Daimler microcar subsidiary is hoping to signal where it will be going when an all-new line-up of products comes out soon with the debut of the Smart ForStars concept vehicle.  It will make its appearance 10 days from now at the 2012 Paris Motor Show.

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Smart has already offered a hint of what the next-generation Fortwo 2-seater will look like with the earlier ForVision show car.  The ForStars appears to be a preview of something a big larger; think the Smart take on the Mini Countryman, perhaps, as it dubs the new concept a “Sports-Utility Coupe.”


Smart Launches World’s First Twitter Ad

Small cars, short ads.

by on Apr.16, 2012

Smart's Argentine subsidiary has launched what it bills as the world's first Twitter ad.

It had to happen.  And how could it be more appropriate: the maker of one of the world’s smallest automobiles turning to one of the shortest forms of social media to get the message out.

Daimler’s Smart car brand has just launched the first ads on Twitter, the short-form messaging system favored by everyone from celebrities to precocious tweens.  While that might seem difficult to accomplish in 140 characters, the maker’s Argentine subsidiary did it by creating a high-tech version of the old flipbook concept.

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As a video reveals, by flipping through 455 individual tweets you’re greeted with an animation showing a Smart fortwo cruising down an Argentine street.  And, in keeping with the Tweet limits, the ad ends with a 140-character tagline that translates, from the Spanish original, into: “It fits in any space. Why not in 140 characters? Smart Fortwo…a big idea for the city.”


Global Auto Growth Will Force Shift to Battery Power, Warns Zetsche

German maker's new charging system cuts time to as little as 1 hour.

by on Apr.06, 2012

Daimler CEO Zetsche wants to expand the maker's investment in battery technology.

Daimler AG is doubling down on electric propulsion – and backing its expanding investment in battery technology with the launch of a new charging system that can recharge the batteries for an electric Smart car in as little as one hour, Daimler chief executive officer Dieter Zetsche told the company’s shareholders as he addressed the company annual meeting.

The maker is looking at opportunities to grow electric car sales in not only key Western markets, but also in emerging markets such as China, where Zetsche told investors the technology has become “a big issue.” With worldwide car sales likely to increase by 50% before decade’s end, he stressed, automakers like Daimler have no alternative to turn to battery power.

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In the days leading up to the annual meeting, Daimler locked down a new joint venture with Chinese partner BYD – generally considered the leader in that market’s battery car technology – to launch the all-new Denza brand.  It will focus on launching a line of  affordable electric vehicles.


Opel, Smart See Big Opportunities with eBikes

Millions being added each year.

by on Mar.09, 2012

The Opel RADe electric bike is one of several battery eBikes introduced by major automakers.

Opel is returning to its roots.  The German brothers that gave the General Motors subsidiary its name started out making sewing machines but soon expanded into a more lucrative business building bicycles.  In fact, founding brother Adam Opel didn’t even live long enough to see the company add automobiles to its product portfolio.

Cars have long been the heart of Opel’s business, but the maker plans to add the new RADe to its line-up, hoping to take advantage of booming demand for electric bikes.  The new model, which went on display this week at the Geneva Motor Show can yield up to 90 miles range per charge at speeds up to 25 mph, Opel officials noted.


While cars still dominate the annual Geneva event, Opel wasn’t the only automaker showing off a battery-based bike.  Daimler AG’s Smart brand rolled out a black-and-green model developed by the European tuner house Brabus – better known for the high-performance versions of Mercedes-Benz products it has developed over the years.


Smart Powers Up with Brabus Battery Car and Bike

Brabus adds a little bunch to Smart's battery line-up.

by on Mar.06, 2012

A "heart of green" for the Smart Brabus battery car.

We’re still a good two years away from finally seeing an all-new Smart car – with the Daimler microcar division planning to partner with the Renault/Daimler Alliance for its replacement.  But the fruit of another partnership is making its debut at the Geneva Motor Show today.

European tuner Brabus, best known for some high-performance takes on Mercedes-Benz products, is weighing in with an earth-friendly green version of the Smart ED.

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For those who aren’t convinced that a battery car really can deliver a sporty ride the Smart Brabus electric drive will even feature a special external audio system to give it a sports car-like sound.

The modified ED makes 60 kilowatts — or 80 horsepower — and 100 lb-ft of torque from its lithium-ion battery pack and single electric motor.  And Brabus has shod the green-and black 2-seater with 17-inch alloy wheels to make sure that power gets to the pavement.


Nissan, Daimler to Jointly Build Engines in U.S.

"We share the office, not the bed."

by on Jan.09, 2012

Daimler Chief Dieter Zetsche (l), with Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn.

The rapidly expanding partnership between Germany’s Daimler AG and the Euro-Asian Renault-Nissan Alliance will take another step forward when the partners begin production of a new line of 4-cylinder engines in the U.S. in 2014.

Nissan’s current powertrain plant, in Decherd, Tennessee will eventually be capable of producing as many as 250,000 engines annually for use in both Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti models.  That factory, opened in 1997, already produces a mix of 4-, 6- and 8-cylinder engines for both the flagship Nissan and high-line Infiniti brands.

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The decision to jointly produce engines in Decherd is the latest expansion of the Daimler/Nissan/Renault partnership initiated almost two years ago, and suggests that there may be further projects to come. When asked whether that might lead to a full-scale merger, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said no, insisting the step-by-step strategy makes more sense for the three makers.

“We share the office and not the bed, and that works perfectly well,” Zetsche explained during a preview of the Detroit Auto Show.


Smart Conceives World’s Smallest Pickup

Smart For-Us concept coming to Detroit Auto Show.

by on Dec.07, 2011

Smart will reveal the For-Us pickup at the Detroit Auto Show next month.

If Mini can come up with a crossover-utility vehicle why not a pickup truck for Smart?

That’s precisely what the Daimler division is planning to bring to the Detroit Auto Show next month.  This admittedly tongue-in-cheek concept, dubbed the Smart For-Us, “translates the practical loading concept of a pickup to the reality of 21st century urban traffic for the first time,” the maker says.

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Measuring just 11.6 feet, nose-to-tail, or not much longer than the extended bed on a conventional, heavy-duty pickup, the folks behind the Smart For-Us show car were intent on breaking all the rules, even opting for an electric driveline.

“We at Smart love pick-ups – if they are small on the outside, large on the inside, very safe and extremely comfortable,” proclaims CEO Annette Winkler. “With the Smart For-Us a petrol station is no longer required!”


Smart Forvision Envisions a Better Microcar

Maker’s new 2-seater will be based on Renault technology.

by on Sep.19, 2011

The battery-powered Smart Forvision concept provides a hint of the next-generation Smart Fortwo.

Struggling Smart is offering up a vision of what could be the future of its two-seat Fortwo microcar.

The new Smart Forvision concept vehicle on display at the Frankfurt Motor Show is a long-delayed and much-needed replacement for a vehicle that has become increasingly outdated even as the competition floods the market with an assortment of hipper, more technically sophisticated alternatives.

The Forvision follows the unveiling of the earlier Fospeed cabriolet concept which was introduced at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year.

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“We’ve used all the tricks in the book,” said Thomas Weber, a senior executive with Smart parent Daimler AG, during the prototype’s preview in Frankfurt.

That notably includes finding a partner to help develop the microcar.  In the decade since Smart launched Daimler has struggled to come up with a working business strategy for its smallest brand.  It has lost billions on Smart and abandoned all earlier models but the Fortwo.

The Smart Forvision concept makes extensive use of carbon-fiber-based composites.

Going forward, the new business case will call for partnering with the Euro-Asian Renault/Nissan alliance.  The partners have agreed to a variety of joint ventures, as reported last week.  (Click Here for more.) Among other things, the new Mercedes AMF platform used for the maker’s next-generation B-Class will serve as the foundation of a new Infiniti model based on the Etherea concept.  Meanwhile, Renault’s latest microcar “architecture,” developed for its little Twingo model , will be shared with future Smart models – including the Fortwo replacement.

In concept form, the Forvision introduces a variety of intriguing technologies for the microcar segment – many of them developed with the assistance of yet another partner, German chemical giant BASF.

Those include plastic wheels that weigh about 7.5 pounds less than even aluminum wheels.  A carbon-fiber epoxy resin was used for the passenger compartment and doors, meanwhile, reducing weight by 50% compared to steel and 30% versus aluminum.  But the composite material is even stronger than conventional materials and would improve passenger safety if put into production, Daimler officials suggested.

The Forvision was shown in battery car form, underscoring the brand’s interest in electric technology.  Some of the technologies shown in Frankfurt would prove particularly useful in the next-generation Smart Electric Drive, or ED.

For one thing, special insulation was used to reduce the power consumption of the Smart Forvision climate control system.  Using a heater in the winter can reduce range of battery-electric vehicles, like the current Smart ED or Nissan Leaf, by as much as half.

How much of the Forvision concept will carry over into production remains to be seen.  The lightweight resin materials will be a challenge considering their costs – which normally limit the use of composites to ultra-luxury vehicles – but manufacturers are pressing hard to drive down costs and improve manufacturability.  BMW is betting on that as it prepares to launch its own battery-based sub-brand with models like the i3 and i8.

The all-new Smart is expected to reach showrooms sometime next year.

That’s none too soon for the little brand.  Sales have been in a sharp slump, especially in the key U.S. market, despite rising fuel prices.  Since its American introduction in 2008, sales are off by more than two-thirds and analysts remain skeptical whether even an updated version of the Smart Fortwo will reverse that decline.