DaimlerChrysler AG's Smart cars will cross the Atlantic Ocean, with production slated to launch in Brazil while the automaker eyes potential sales in the United States.
The company announced Nov. 4 it will build a four-seat version of the Smart at its Juiz de Fora, Brazil, assembly plant.
``This variant underscores the great potential of the Smart brand,'' Jurgen Hubbert, a member of the DaimlerChrysler management board responsible for the Smart division, said in a news release. ``At the same time, it marks a major step toward Smart's entry into the U.S. market in coming years.''
The German-American automaker - with headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, and Auburn Hills, Mich. — is releasing few details on the vehicle. It noted the vehicle made in Brazil will ``build on Smart's unmistakable flair [with] design and interior elements typical of the brand and will be closely aligned to customer preferences in the U.S. market.''
The two-seat, subcompact Smart launched in 1998 with an exterior featuring interchangeable, injection molded body panels. The panels were produced from an advanced assembly plant and supplier park in Hambach, France.
Last year the company listed sales of 116,000 vehicles in Europe and Japan. Smart GmbH, the wholly owned subsidiary overseeing the vehicle for DaimlerChrysler, just spent 100 million euros ($100.1 million) upgrading the Hambach plant to add a roadster and roadster coupe version of the Smart in January.
The company has discussed the possibility of selling the Smart in North America in the past, but industry watchers predicted it would find few takers in the United States where gas is cheap, roads are wide and parking is plentiful.
The Brazilian-made vehicle, though, will be a larger, four-seat version, now under development in Europe jointly with Mitsubishi Motors Corp., a Tokyo-based automaker controlled by DaimlerChrysler. That vehicle is slated to launch in 2004, giving Smart a greater product range.
``Our goal is to establish the Smart as a multiproduct brand worldwide,'' said Andreas Renschler, chief executive officer of Smart GmbH.
The Juiz de Fora plant already produces Mercedes-Benz A class vehicles for the Brazilian market and C Class Mercedes for North America. It offers the ``best framework conditions'' for the new vehicle, officials said.