Battery battle looms
A plug-in Smart is coming, writes PAUL GOVER
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.