After two years of trying (with BMW/Mini and also with Peugeot/Citroën), Daimler chairman Dieter Zetsche and his engineering chief Thomas Weber have finally struck a deal with Renault-Nissan to develop the next generation of Smart microcars by late 2014. The partners will market distinctly different derivatives under the Renault-Nissan and Smart nameplates.
What complicated this task was Daimler’s requirement to retain the current rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout. Since Smart did well with its mix of a steel substructure with hang-on composite body panels, this engineering concept is likely to be retained, with the shape and colors of the PVC body panels acting as key distinguishing features for the three brands. According to a source from within the French carmaker, Renault will play the leading role in engineering, purchasing, and production. Electric propulsion is to play a major role from the outset. In this context, Renault is willing to pool its considerable know-how, which includes its upcoming line of Z.E. (zero emissions) vehicles, with the experience that Smart will gain by marketing an electric version of its current car starting this year. Of course, gasoline power is also part of the mix, and the partners have agreed to develop a new 1.0-liter, direct-injection, turbocharged three-cylinder and, in due course, a pair of related 1.3- and 1.5-liter four-cylinders.
The plan includes as many as four models: the next two-seat ForTwo city coupe and cabriolet (approximate length 114 inches), the all-new four-seat ForFour (about 134 inches long), and the still tentative ForMore microvan (approximately 142 inches) derived from it. The ForMore would feature an even higher roofline and sliding doors and would come with side windows or as a panel van. Of these, only the ForTwo is currently slated for the U.S. market.