Bat­tery bat­tle looms

A plug-in Smart is com­ing, writes PAUL GOVER

Herald Sun - Motoring - - News -

APLUG-IN Smart car will com­pete with a baby Mit­subishi to be­come the first all-elec­tric show­room con­tender in Aus­tralia.

The bat­tery-pow­ered Smart ForTwo is al­ready be­ing tested in Bri­tain. And Daim­ler boss Di­eter Zetsche says there is a good chance it will come to Aus­tralia.

That could be late next year or early in 2010, which means the ForTwo will be com­pete for first with the Mit­subishi i-MIEV. Mit­subishi Mo­tor Aus­tralia chief Rob McEniry is fast-track­ing the i-MIEV for Aus­tralia, and the worse-case sce­nario is 2012.

Mercedes-Benz is mak­ing a strong elec­tric push with the Smart, which will be fol­lowed by bat­tery-pow­ered A-Class and B-Class com­pacts.

‘‘This idea is not to­tally out of the pos­si­bil­i­ties. We have made no fi­nal de­ci­sions,’’ is the non­com­mit­tal re­sponse from Zetsche on the elec­tric Smart dur­ing a one-day visit for Mercedes-Benz Aus­tralia’s 50th birth­day party.

‘‘We won’t go to all coun­tries. It is a rea­son­able pos­si­bil­ity it could come to Aus­tralia.’’

But the plug-in Smart is more than just a pos­si­bil­ity, as Mercedes-Benz pushes hard on elec­tric cars. It is al­ready leas­ing a trial fleet and is pre­par­ing for full-scale pro­duc­tion.

Zetsche says when the car is re­newed in 2010, Benz will aban­don the twin-floor chas­sis de­sign it pi­o­neered as a safety move on the orig­i­nal A-Class. But it is leav­ing the way open for a sim­i­lar approach for elec­tric op­er­a­tion.

‘‘We would like to of­fer dif­fer­ent kinds of cars in this seg­ment, par­tic­u­larly to ad­dress a younger cus­tomer base,’’ he says.

Zetsche says there will be four body styles, not just to­day’s A and B hatches. But he would not com­ment on the po­ten­tial for a coupe, sedan or wagon.

How­ever, he is bullish about the Smart, which has come back from a near-death ex­pan­sion plan to a suc­cess­ful model built around the tiny ForTwo.

‘‘It is the CO2 cham­pion. So I’m very glad with where we are to­day. In the US, we don’t know how to deal with the de­mand.

‘‘It’s al­ways a ques­tion of per­spec­tive. For now it is all, and be­fore it was noth­ing. We just built more and more prob­lems. To­day we are mak­ing money with Smart,’’ Zetsche says.

The elec­tric trial will step up in the UK with pro­duc­tion of 1000 cus­tomer cars, and th­ese could open the door for a bat­tery­pow­ered ForTwo in Aus­tralia.

‘‘To­wards the end of next year we will see an­other 1000. The ear­li­est pos­si­bil­ity (for Aus­tralia) would be one of that 1000. If that is not the out­come, the latest would be three years later,’’ he says.

Smart de­ci­sion: Daim­ler’s elec­tric trial will step up in the UK with pro­duc­tion of 1000 cus­tomer cars.

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