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DCUK pushes smart into M-B showrooms

DaimlerChrysler UK is looking to incorporate Smart as its small car division after holding the company at arms' length for much of its two-year existence.

Smart will increasingly share back office functions with DCUK, taking cost out of the business, and Mercedes-Benz retailers will be encouraged to take on the franchise at their hub showrooms in a bid to treble sales over the next three years.

Jeremy Simpson, the new head at Smart, is confident of pushing sales up from around 8-9000 units this year to 30,000 by 2005, but admits customers need to be educated over their perception of the marque.

“The problem is that we currently have one product, the city coupe, that people refer to as the Smart car,” he says. “We need to overcome that perception by defining the core Smart values and broadening the appeal.”

That objective will become easier when the Smart Roadster is launched in September 2003, followed a year later by a four-seater car, likely to become the most popular variant.

The Roadster - rivals: MGTF, Mini, MX-5 and StreetKa - is intended to act as a wake-up call to customers over the type of products offered by Smart, while the four-seater will move the marque into the supermini sector.

And developments won't stop there, as the company has “one or two” other plans in the pipeline. Simpson, promoted in June from head of sales at Chrysler Jeep, believes there is massive pent-up demand for Smart from customers whose lifestyles make the current two-seat model unviable.

“The four-seater will appeal to families, where the look of the car is as important as its performance and practicality,” he says. “Ten years ago the most popular second vehicle for a Mercedes-Benz owner was a VW Golf. The company now has the A-class and we offer another option.”

The delayed launch of Smart in the UK cost DCUK several hundred sales as customers imported left-hand drive models from mainland Europe. This is no longer an issue, says Simpson.

“Some importers are now buying cars from UK Smart centres because they are such good value, which indicates we have a lot of demand in areas where we don't currently have representation,” he adds.

The dealer network stands at 41, including the six DCUK owned centres, and Simpson is looking to add another 20 by June 2003. The new outlets will be owned by dealers appointed to a Mercedes-Benz MAC and many will share the hub showroom. Retailers are expected to expand into metropolitan areas once the new models are launched to increase the brand's exposure.

“Once we have launched the other two models we will review how many more sales outlets we need,” says Simpson.

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