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Smart to boost sales through wholly-owned dealer network

Smart expects to double UK sales with its forthcoming Forfour supermini. The car goes on sale next September, by which time the company expects to have 76 UK dealers, all of them wholly-owned by DaimlerChrysler UK.

The company is presently selling 7,000 City-Coupes and Cabriolets, plus about 1000 of the Roadster and Roadster-Coupe sports cars. The first full year's volume for the Forfour, in 2005, is expected to be 8,000.

Head of Smart UK Jeremy Simpson says he expects to launch a basic Pulse version at under £10,000. This will have a 1.1-litre 74bhp three-cylinder petrol engine.

Dealers will have huge scope for upselling. The range also includes 1.3 95bhp and 1.5-litre 107bhp four-cylinders, plus a 1.5 turbodiesels.

Because this is the first Smart built around a Mercedes electronic loom, there will be a huge number of high-margin options available, including navigation and telematics. Brabus accessories will also be available, and a year or so later a full Brabus version, so dealers can expect to double the base price.

The original Smart was expected to generate accessory sales through new pop-on skin panel sets and the Forfour shares this feature. In fact, owners simply swap sets via the internet and bypass the dealers.

The Forfour shares a platform, plus engines and manual transmissions, with the upcoming Mitsubishi Colt, both to be made in Born, in the Netherlands. The Smart will be available only as a five-door, while Mitsubishi will add a three-door at the end of 2004. Smart's stated sales ambitions are comparatively modest for a new supermini – just 120,000 across Europe in 2005. Philipp Schiemer, vice-president of marketing and sales, says: “We are still a young brand and we have our own network, which is smaller than Mini's. If we put Smarts in Mercedes showrooms, it wouldn't work. A Smart customer expects something different. Anyway, we can make money because we share components with Mitsubishi.”

According to Schiemer, the Forfour has been perceived as a real Smart in clinics, even though apart from its styling it is actually pretty conventional. “We couldn't have launched the brand with this car – it's not different enough. We needed the City-Coupe for that,” he admits. People at nationwide clinics were asked to rate a number of cars on an 'emotional Celsius' scale. The Mini scored 70 degrees, the Polo 20 degrees, the Peugeot 206 45 degrees. The Forfour achieved 65 degrees.

n Smart is renaming is two-seater City-Coupe and City Cabriolet models Fortwo, in line with the Fourfour seater. The new name will be applied to cars built from January. Roadsters keep their names.

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