Smart needs to do something to revive slumping sales in the U.S. Smart USA just announced plans to team up with Nissan to deliver a B-segment car for the U.S. starting in late 2011. The new, five-seat, four-door hatchback Smart, likely to be called the Forfour, will take on the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris (just as the Scion iQ prepares to take on the Fortwo) and the next Chevrolet Aveo.
The new Smart will not take on the Nissan Versa. And it’s not based on the Nissan Versa, as some news outlets have indicated. While priced against the Yaris and Aveo, the Versa is a c-segment car, more related to Nissan’s own Sentra.
The new Smart will use Nissan’s next-generation Micra/March platform, which also is related to the next-generation Renault Twingo (Motor Trend, July 2010). The new Micra launched in Thailand last March, with other Asian nations following. The new March is set to go on sale in Europe in November. It employs Nissan’s V-Platform, which its “godfather,” Noritaka Tsuru, called a “breakthrough project” when revealed to journalists late last year at the 2009 Tokyo Motor Show.
Smart says its new model will be built in a Nissan plant in the U.S. It’s likely to be built in Europe for those markets, as well. Roger Penske manages and markets Daimler’s Smart brand in North America, and the Nissan factory connection has long been in the works. You’ll remember that Penske was trying to line up Nissan production of Saturns in early 2009, when he was in negotiations to buy that brand from General Motors. Last spring, Smart owner Daimler announced a strategic alliance with Nissan/Renault.
Nissan’s V-, or “versatile” Platform is designed for 150 to 160 world markets, with two wheelbases. Various models including the Smart Forfour will share 82 percent of their parts while upper bodies are just 40-percent common. V-Platform can handle nothing larger than a five-seater and is designed for 1.0- to 1.3-liter three-cylinder gas engines and a 1.5-liter turbodiesel.
The Smart Forfour will get a three-cylinder gas engine for North America, probably the 1.3-liter variant. This new engine family features an offset crank and friction-reducing parts. Nissan said that by making the car lighter, the three-cylinder runs smoother thanks to the lower demands of the platform’s light weight.
Its continuously variable transmission from Nissan’s Jatco has smaller pulleys for compact design and better response at lower speeds.
With this new platform, Nissan cut 110 to 150 pounds from its previous March/Micra. In Europe, the new base March will weigh just 2,200 pounds. Nissan cut the number of parts necessary to build the March/Micra by 18 percent, for cost, simplicity and weight.