STUTTGART -- Europe's hard-pressed Smart dealers are drifting between hope and fear.
A possible alliance between Smart parent Daimler AG and Renault could result in a Smart four-seat car developed from the Renault Twingo.
But dealers will have to overcome a long dry spell before the model reaches the market in 2014.
"The dealer network in Europe won't last four more years in its current form on its own," said Ulrich Fromme, spokesman for the German and European Smart dealers associations.
He said the brand urgently needs a successor to the two-seat ForTwo two-seat minicar. "That will have to be a new model from the ground up," Fromme said.
The current ForTwo has had a number of face-lifts since it was launched in 1998.
Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche canceled the four-seat Smart ForFour subcompact in March 2006 because the car was selling slowly.
Last year, Smart sold about 96,000 vehicles in Europe, which is not enough volume to support an independent distribution network, both from the manufacturer's and the dealers' standpoints.
The new ForTwo won't be out before 2014, Automobilwoche has learned.
A wide-ranging alliance between Daimler and Renault that is likely to be announced in early April.
"As dealers see it, Smart's cooperation with Renault is welcome," Fromme said. "Most of all, we are hoping for competitive vehicle prices from the economies of scale."
It's still unclear how Daimler sees the future of its Smart sales network, especially since preparations for the planned electric version, due to launch in 2012, require major investment.
One option is to integrate Europe's Smart dealer network into Mercedes-Benz operations. That has already been done on the wholesale level.