RENNINGEN, Germany - New diesel and convertible versions of the Smart are taking a bigger than expected share of the minicar's overall sales volume.
Almost 32,000 Smart orders were received during the first quarter of 2000, compared to 6,500 in the same period last year.
'The cdi diesel and the cabrio versions in particular are boosting sales,' said an executive from DaimlerChrysler's Smart marketing division who asked not to be named.
Even though it has only been on sale for a few weeks, the cabrio already makes up 21 percent of Smart orders. Diesel demand is 20 percent.
Each version was expected to account for just 14 percent of sales, according to internal forecasts.
To keep up Smart's sales momentum, DCX plans to offer more fuel-efficient engine choices with larger displacement and higher torque. They will be introduced next spring. At the same time, a new interior design and more equipment will be offered.
Meanwhile, a decision will be made next month about series production of the Smart roadster shown at the Frankfurt auto show last September. DCX Chairman Jürgen Schrempp sounded reassuring about the roadster at a press conference last month announcing the alliance with Mitsubishi.
The roadster is in its final development stage. The design is scheduled to be frozen soon, according to sources.
Official Smart sales begin in the UK in July, Taiwan in September and Japan in December. The Smart is currently offered in just eight countries, but is sold through unofficial sales channels in 34 countries.
'This is another confirmation of the car's concept by customers worldwide, but we are not too happy about this,' said the Smart executive. 'In countries without a Smart service organization we are unable to guarantee the high service standards and the benefit package which are part of the whole product concept.'