More than twelve months ago, Mercedes-Benz and Renault-Nissan agreed on a joint program to develop the next-generation Smart. But despite several attempts, a more widespread, all-encompassing global cooperation agreement has yet to be signed. The deal, which would change the face of this industry, likely includes a swap of shares, a near-total component integration of all five brands involved, and a close cooperation in numerous vehicle segments including vans and light trucks. Rumors suggest that Renault/Nissan's Carlos Ghosn and Mercedes' Dieter Zetsche may announce further details in May.
Meanwhile, the Smart-Renault program is proceeding according to plan. It involves two models, the ForTwo replacement and a new ForFour derived from it. The current rear-engine layout will be retained, albeit with major improvements to drivetrain, chassis, and body structure. Most of the r&d work is handled by the German side. The next smart will be nearly 5 inches wider and a little longer; it looks a bit like a shortened two-door version of the original Mercedes-Benz A-class.
The four-door model is 2 feet longer than the ForTwo. It sports space-saving so-called pantograph doors in the back, retains conventional B-pillars to comply with U.S. side-impact regulations, and it gets a sandwich floor to accommodate all those batteries the electric version must carry.
Surprisingly enough, the electric motor, the energy cells, and the related software will be supplied by Mercedes, not Renault. Renault/Nissan will however provide the three available direct-injection 1.2-liter three-cylinder gasoline engines rated at 61, 69, and 88 hp. Diesels are no longer an option.
Although Dieter Zetsche said in Geneva that he will not allow the Mercedes brand to be diluted by teaming up with a non-premium player, this statement apparently applies only to vehicle lines, not to individual components. That's why all three brands in question are currently evaluating a new aluminum four-cylinder engine range that promises huge scale effects. Another cost-saving opportunity may come in the shape of the outgoing Mercedes rear-wheel drive platforms, which starting in 2012 will be replaced by a brand-new modular matrix known as MRA. Following the pattern set by Chrysler, which adopted a defunct E-class platform for the 300C/Charger/Challenger way back when, Nissan/Infiniti may want to tweak the current Mercedes rear-wheel-drive architecture for future Infiniti EX/FX/M/G and Nissan Fuga/Skyline/Pathfinder/Murano models, sources say.