DAIMLER’S Smart city cars are back on the agenda for Australia, with the head of Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific revealing that there is now “a need to reconsider” the brand’s reintroduction as electric vehicles and new mobility services take hold.
In an interview with GoAuto this week, Mercedes-Benz Aust/Pac managing director and CEO Horst von Sanden said a final decision on Smart was yet to be made, but that the company “would be stupid not to look at it” as the German luxury car market leader ramped up its presence in the EV market in Australia.
This will begin late next year with the launch here of the all-new full-electric EQC crossover, which makes its public debut next week at the Paris motor show and is part of a €10 billion ($A16b) program that will yield 10 EVs under the EQ sub-brand by 2025.
The EQC is the first Mercedes EV but Daimler is leading the charge with the Smart brand, bringing the EQ Fortwo and Forfour models to market in Europe in June, following their unveiling at the Geneva motor show in March.
It also revealed a new all-electric open-top concept, the Forease, this week ahead of its world premiere at the Paris show, and recently committed to transforming its entire range to zero-emissions powertrains by 2020 across all markets after making the move in North America and Norway last year.
While Mercedes-Benz Aust/Pac discontinued the Smart brand in 2015, electing not to introduce the third-generation premium compact models due to low demand and high importation costs, Mr von Sanden said the changing landscape with EVs and ride-share services warranted a reconsideration.
“We haven’t made a decision on that but I would say, given that Smart has changed into an electric-only brand, and if there is the expected acceptance of electric vehicles in this marketplace down the track, we would be stupid not to look at it,” he said.
Mr von Sanden agreed that the move towards car sharing and other new urban mobility services could work in the Smart brand’s favour.
“Honestly, I can’t say, ‘Yes, there is a firm plan’ but there is certainly a need to reconsider,” he said.
In terms of timing, he added: “It really depends how the acceptance and the development of electric vehicles will move on, and how new ride-share concepts and things like that will develop.
“So I couldn’t tell you if it’s five years, it’s three years, it’s 10 years, I don’t know.”
As GoAuto reported exclusively in June, Daimler’s Car2Go car-sharing service is planning an Australian introduction next year, allowing drivers to take vehicles on one-way journeys and opening up new opportunities for Mercedes cars – and potentially Smart models – to be sold in key markets.
Car2Go Europe chief executive Thomas Beermann revealed that the car-sharing service was expected to launch in Melbourne and Sydney as early as mid-2019, with Brisbane also “very likely”.
Asked how the program was progressing, Mr von Sanden said: “We are obviously involved in the discussions. I can’t confirm the timing, I think they’re still communicating ‘next year somehow’ but I wouldn’t at this stage guarantee that.
“There is so much in negotiations to be held with the city councils and so much infrastructure to be established. But we certainly are actively looking into it.”
The EQ Fortwo and Forfour models use a ‘separately excited’ three-phase synchronous electric motor that produces a maximum 60kW of power (41kW continuously) and 160Nm of torque. A 17.6kWh lithium-ion battery is on-board, along with a 4.6kW charger.
Recharging (from 10 to 80 per cent) at a wallbox takes around 3.5 hours, or six hours at a domestic power socket, while the times can be reduced to less than 40 minutes with an optional 22kW fast-charger.
In 1085kg Fortwo hatch guise, the EV can reach 100km/h in 11.6 seconds on its way to a maximum speed of 130km/h. Combined power consumption is listed at 12.9-18.6kWh/100km, depending on where and how it is charged. A driving range of up to 160km is specified.
Celebrating the Smart brand’s 20th anniversary, the new Forease concept is based on the EQ Fortwo Cabrio and is a minimalist concept, emerging without a roof and a shortened windscreen that offers little wind resistance.
Daimler describes it as an extroverted and uncomplicated solution for urban mobility.
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