HAMBACH, France -- The new Smart ForFour will share a rear-wheel-drive platform with Renault's future Twingo, executives at Smart told Automotive News Europe.
It is part of the deepening alliance between Smart's parent, Daimler, and Renault-Nissan. The automakers are seeking ways to cut costs by jointly developing and producing their upcoming minicar models
Smart Managing Director Annette Winkler and the brand's France boss, Joachim Betker, confirmed the platform-sharing plan to Automotive News Europe.
Under the terms of the nearly 3-year-old alliance between Daimler and Renault-Nissan, the French automaker will produce gasoline- and battery-powered versions of the four-door Smart ForFour in Novo Mesto, Slovenia, alongside the new Twingo.
Winkler said Smart and Renault are scheduled to launch the new Smart ForFour and Twingo in 2014, which is a year later than previously communicated by the companies. Neither automaker would elaborate on the reason for the delay.
Ian Fletcher, an analyst for IHS Automotive said that switching the Twingo from front-wheel drive to rwd is part of a package of upscale features that Renault will add to the minicar.
"The rear-wheel drive adds to the model's credibility factor and will help the Twingo to become something different in the marketplace," Fletcher said. "This is important since the current Twingo has been a disappointment."
European sales of the Twingo fell 31 percent last year to 92,569, dropping the car to fourth in the minicar segment behind the No. 1 Fiat Panda, the second-ranked Fiat 500 and the Volkswagen Up, according to data from market researcher JATO Dynamics.
Competition in the segment will be tougher this year with the arrival of the new Opel Adam. Late last month the General Motors subsidiary said it had received more than 20,000 orders for the Adam since October.
Fletcher said that with the new Twingo Renault will seek to win over customers who might otherwise purchase a 500 or the turbocharged version of the Adam.
Smart killed the first-generation ForFour subcompact after only two years because of weak sales. The ForFour was based on the Mitsubishi Colt and produced at Mitsubishi's NedCar plant in Born, Netherlands. Production of the Smart Roadster also was stopped to reduce losses at the company, which currently only offers the two-seat ForTwo.
Fletcher said Renault will serve as a better partner than Mitsubishi because the French automaker can offer a wider range of production services and technology input.
"Daimler hopes to leverage its relationship with Renault in a way that it could not do with its previous alliance attempt for the ForFour," Fletcher said.
Smart will seek to win new customers to the brand with the ForFour, which will be target premium and near-premium models such as BMW's Mini, the Audi A1 and the Citroen DS3.
Until the ForFour arrives, Smart will have to rely on special editions of the ForTwo as well as the recently launched ForTwo Electric Drive. Winkler declined to disclose sales expectations for the battery-powered ForTwo.
"Demand is strong but I don't have a crystal ball for 2013," Winkler said at an event at Smart's factory in Hambach, France. "We will certainly see very good four-digit volume sales."
A Smart spokesman said the ForTwo EV is expected to account for roughly 10 percent of the brand's total sales this year. Last year, Smart's global sales rose 2 percent to 103,738 vehicles.
Since its launch last summer, Smart has begun deliveries of the ForTwo EV in Germany, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Italy, and Portugal and plans to debut the minicar in 30 other markets, including the United States and China.