Mercedes-Benz has admitted at the 2015 Geneva motor show that the future of its diminutive Smart sub-brand in Australia remains uncertain.
The news comes despite the current model lineup that is more versatile – and clever – than ever, and despite a desire from the Mercedes-Benz to have the vehicle available in Australia,
The new 2015 Smart Forfour is especially relevant to Australia. It’s a stretched version of the Fortwo platform as opposed to the old Forfour, that was more like an attempt at a coupe body style, and was based on the Mitsubishi Colt. The current Smart models have been developed in tandem with the Renault Twingo.
“We want it, both four-door and two,” said Mercedes-Benz Australia senior Mmanager of corporate communications, David McCarthy. “The stumbling block at this stage really is price.”
McCarthy explained that Australia is a market that would embrace both versions of the Smart, with one specification grade the most likely outcome.
“We’d like the new Smart Fortwo to be priced lower than the current model, which costs around $19,000,” McCarthy said before going on to explain that whatever price Mercedes-Benz Australia could ideally secure for the Fortwo would then lead to a price premium for the four-door Forfour of up to $2500.
“The current challenge is that the market offers a few cars around that $13,000 mark,” McCarthy said. “If you factor in that those vehicles seat four people comfortably, that works out around $3000 per seat. A Smart is currently hovering around $9000 per seat, which is a big difference.”
Price aside, McCarthy is adamant that the new revitalised Smart range would work well in Australia.
“We’re absolutely negotiating with head office,” he said. “We haven’t reached the point though where we say yes or no. Smart is a car people come to us to buy, it’s not a car we go to the market to sell, so it’s a very specific product.”
McCarthy explained that historically, Smart buyers know the vehicle and know what they want, but that market is limited, so the vehicle won’t ever sell in huge volumes in Australia.
“A lot of current Fortwo owners would like to upsize to the four-door model,” he said. “There are also potentially buyers new to the brand who might want to downsize to the Fortwo from a larger vehicle, especially if they have downsized in general and live in the urban area.”
There’s no doubt that with an expanded model range and smarter – no pun intended – build quality that previous models, Mercedes-Benz Australia is keen to have the Smart available locally.
“We’d absolutely love to have them, especially with the new four-door model in the range,” McCarthy said. “In fact, the Forfour might be an easier car to sell than the Fortwo.”
McCarthy reminded CarAdvice that Mercedes-Benz has previously ruled out a vehicle smaller than the A-Class.
“The Forfour could fill that gap,” he said. “Ours is the only car company in the world that offers everything from a Smart to a Maybach and all points in between.”