STUTTGART - German taxi drivers say they may stop buying Mercedes-Benz models to protest a plan to set up cheap and easy rental of Smart cars at airports and train stations. They have written a letter of protest to Daimler-Benz Chairman Juergen Schrempp.
Taxi owners say the innovative marketing concept threatens them.
The drivers may have leverage. German taxi companies buy mostly from Daimler-Benz, which owns 51 percent of the Smart car company, Micro Compact Car AG.
Seventy-seven percent of Germany's 55,000 registered taxis are Mercedes. Annual sales of C and E class models to taxi owners are estimated at DM300-DM400 million ($185-$250 million).
'We can serve our customers without having a star on the front of our car,' said Peter Kristan, head of Verband der Taxifahrer, Germany's taxi union.
Micro Compact Car plans exclusive rental counters in high-traffic areas at airports and rail stations.
Travelers in Germany and other European countries would reserve a Smart when they purchase rail or plane tickets, collecting it from dedicated pickup points, then returning it on departure.
Micro Compact Car has been negotiating with the German railways and Lufthansa for over two years. It plans to reveal details of the program before the Frankfurt auto show in September.
Insiders say a Smart could be rented for as little as DM30 per day. The German taxi drivers say that will undermine their businesses.
A Daimler-Benz spokesman said the company stands behind Micro Compact Car.