TOKYO - DaimlerChrysler AG may build a derivative of the Smart city car at a Mitsubishi Motors Corp. plant in Japan. One aim would be to make the car narrower to qualify for the substantial tax breaks given Japan's minivehicles.
'We've formed an intensive cooperation with Mitsubishi, and we will jointly develop derivatives of Smart,' Rainer Jahn, president of DaimlerChrysler Japan Co., said at the December launch of the Smart City Coupe in Tokyo.
He added: 'There's quite a strong possibility that such vehicles would be manufactured in Japan' at a Mitsubishi plant.
Japan's mini segment comprises cars and trucks with engines under 660cc that also meet several other size regulations. The Smart car has a 598cc three-cylinder engine. However, at 1,515mm wide, the Smart is about 150mm too wide to qualify as a mini car.
'We will extend our range into the segment. But we will continue the current line as well,' Jahn said.
A right-hand-drive version of the Smart will join the current left-drive models by the end of 2001.
The Smart is priced at 1.3 million yen, or about $11,820 at current exchange rates. DaimlerChrysler Japan aims to sell 7,000 by the end of 2001, with deliveries to start in 2001. That compares to targeted sales of 100,000 in Europe in 2000.
Smart sales in Europe through November total 94,000 cars, said Andreas Renschler, president of the Smart unit, Micro Compact Car GmbH. The unit has been a consistent money-loser for Daimler-Chrysler, and does not expect to reach breakeven until 2004.
The Smart will be sold at 130 outlets across Japan, including 68 Mercedes-Benz stores, 25 Chrysler-Jeep stores and 37 Mitsubishi stores. The three-pronged sales approach mimics that of Mercedes-Benz cars, which are sold at DaimlerChrysler's Stern stores, Yanase & Co. outlets and some Mitsubishi outlets.
For the Japanese market, the Smart has several modest modifications. Because Japan is overwhelmingly an automatic- transmission market, the Smart's transmission begins in automatic mode in Japan.