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Posts Tagged ‘smart news’

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.

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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!”

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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 TheDetroitBureau.com 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.

 

Smart to Preview New Battery Car in Frankfurt

Maker will also unveil new battery-powered bicycle.

by on Aug.16, 2011

Smart adds range and boosts performance with the third-generation Fortwo Electric Drive.

Daimler’s troubled Smart car brand hopes to charge up consumers when it rolls out an all-new version of the Fortwo Electric Drive at the upcoming Frankfurt Motor Show.

Smart claims the third-generation battery drive system will deliver both better range and improved acceleration, trimming by 1.5 second the time needed to reach 60 kmh.  The newest version of the Fortwo Electric Drive is expected to go on sale in 30 markets – including North America – during the second quarter of 2012.  And Smart parent Daimler AG anticipates the improvements will yield a five-fold increase in sales compared to the outgoing battery car.

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Meanwhile, Smart has also announced it will move ahead with plans to diversify its line-up with the launch of a new “eBike.”

Smart initially launched a limited production version of the Fortwo ED last year.  But it received complaints about sluggish performance and limited range.  To overcome those concerns, the maker has shifted to a new version of the vehicle’s lithium-ion battery and revised the motor drive system, as well.

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Daimler Targeting Profitable Growth

Results “more positive than expected,” claims CEO Zetsche.

by on Apr.13, 2011

Big goals from Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche.

As he did during the company’s last shareholders meeting, Daimler AG chief executive Dieter Zetsche emphasized the German giant was well on its way to profitable growth now and in the future.

“Our company is operating successfully,” he told more than 5,000 investors gathered in Berlin. Sales of Mercedes-Benz cars were up 12% during the first quarter, noted Zetsche, while sales of Daimler Trucks increased by 27%.

“We announced that we would emerge from the crisis with a lot of torque. We have kept our word: Actual developments were even more positive than expected,” Zetsche said.

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Meanwhile, the product offensive started by Mercedes-Benz Cars in 2010 is beginning to peak. The launch of the new-generation C-Class and the new SLK in early 2011 will be followed in autumn by a new M-Class crossover and a completely new version of the small B-Class people-mover, the first of four new models in the compact segment.

“We want to make our (125th) anniversary year a record year as well,” Zetsche said.

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First Look: Smart ForSpeed

Two-seater emphasizes green performance.

by on Feb.25, 2011

Who says you can't have fun driving a battery car? Smart ForSpeed puts a premium on performance.

Daimler’s Smart brand is clearly plugging into battery power.  The maker’s new ED – short for Electric Drive – has just gone on sale here in the U.S.  And at the Geneva Motor Show, next week, Smart will offer a hint of where it might plan to take the technology going forward.

The intriguing news is that the Smart ForSpeed puts as much of a premium on performance as it does on energy efficiency.  The lithium-ion-powered two-seater reportedly can launch from 0 to 60 (kilometers an hour, that is) in just 5.5 seconds.  Getting to 60 mph takes just under 9 seconds.

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The concept relies on a compact 41-horsepower electric motor.  That might not seem like much but it helps to realize that electric propulsion generates maximum torque the moment the motor starts spinning.  But there’s also a “boost” switch on the center console that unleashes an extra 7 horsepower when you’re really hoping to burn rubber.

Smart anticipates a top speed of 75 mph for the ForSpeed and, if you’re a bit less aggressive with the throttle, range of about 85 miles.  A quick charger, it claims, can yield an 80% recharge in as little as 45 minutes.

The ultra-thin seats come with four-point belts to keep you firmly in place when you’re challenging that old-style muscle car in the next lane, by the way.

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Why Daimler Dumped Penske Over Smart

But after years of dithering, can the Germans do better at selling microcars to Americans?

by on Feb.18, 2011

Roger Penske and his team - including Smart boss Jill Lajdziak - appear to have been blindsided by Daimler's announcement about the brand's future.

After dithering for years over the future of Smart, Daimler AG is about to take a make-it-or-break it gamble on the long-struggling brand.

In a surprise move, the German maker – which also builds the high-line Mercedes-Benz brand, announced it would pull Smart’s U.S. distribution operations away from the Detroit-based Penske Auto Group and operate the American franchise on its own.  Penske had been given the distributorship, in 2008, after years of delay by Daimler, which wasn’t sure how to sell small cars in a market that normally equates bigger with better.

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Roger Penske, chairman of the eponymous Penske Auto Group and one of the most respected figures in the U.S auto industry, says the German automaker’s decision to cancel its distribution agreement with PAG was shaped by a desire to integrate Smart more closely into the Mercedes-Benz marketing organization.

“Going forward, Smart is seen as an integral part of the Mercedes-Benz network,” Penske said, adding Mercedes-Benz also needs the efficiency credits generated by Smart to meet future fuel-economy standards in both Europe and North America.

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Mercedes-Benz Pulls Smart Franchise from Penske

Move likely to scuttle plan for a Nissan-made Smart four-seater.

by on Feb.15, 2011

Roger Penske's auto group will lose the Smart USA franchise by mid-2011 to Mercedes-Benz.

Days after officials from the Penske Automotive Group expressed their commitment to stand by the struggling Smart brand, they’ve been given their walking paper by Daimler AG, which produces the minicars.

Operation of the franchise, which has seen its sales in the U.S. collapse since a briefly successful 2008 launch, will be taken over by Mercedes-Benz USA by the middle of the year.  MBUSA said it has already begun negotiations to end Penske Automotive Group’s management, sales and marketing activities of the Smart car in the United States.

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The announcement also appears to spell the end of Penske’s efforts to rebuild the Smart brand in the U.S. by turning to Nissan, which was expected to begin providing a new four-seat model that was to be introduced wearing a Smart badge, later this year.

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Can Smart Reinvent Itself?

U.S. distributor may teach the Germans what’s needed to save smart brand.

by on Jan.14, 2011

With the brand's sales off another 60%, last year, Smart USA boss Jill Lajdziak can only hope and wait for the distributor's planned 4-seat model.

It was the hit of 2008, its U.S. launch inadvertently timed to take advantage of the record run-up in fuel prices.  But since then, things haven’t gone nearly so well for the little Smart USA brand, which reported a nearly 60% drop in sales, last year alone, even as most makers reported double-digit gains.

In a bid to stave off disaster, the U.S. distributor, which is operated by Detroit entrepreneur Roger Penske, plans to introduce an all-new model later this year that will be built for it by Nissan, rather than Daimler, the German parent of the Smart brand.

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Might even more products be added to the U.S. line-up that aren’t available to Smart buyers in other parts of the world? That’s not out of the question, according to various company officials who are betting that Smart can rebound from its disastrous tumble.

“We’ve got a business to run,” and that means that Smart USA may have to make some critical moves that aren’t necessarily what the folks at Daimler AG headquarters, in Stuttgart would like,” acknowledges Jill Lajdziak, the U.S. distributor’s boss.

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Hertz To Rent Smart Electric Cars

Rental company planning a fleet of battery cars.

by on Dec.06, 2010

A Smart Electric Drive cruises New York.

Want to see if you can live with an electric vehicle? Your first step may be to check the fleet at your local Hertz rental office.  The nation’s largest daily rental company is charging into the emerging battery car market, and plans to add the new Smart Electric Drive model to its fleet, starting next week.

Hertz has already signed deals with a variety of other battery car makers, ranging from the start-up Coda to more established manufacturers that include Nissan, General Motors and Toyota.

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Industry experts are divided over the potential market for battery-electric vehicles, especially in the U.S., where so-called “range anxiety” is a factor for buyers used to being able to drive long distances whenever they want.  So, placing products in a rental fleet, like Hertz, can provide a way for potential buyers to try before they buy.

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