MUNICH -- A year after Daimler and Zhejiang Geely Holding Group received regulatory approval to build Smart electric cars together in China, the brand has disclosed that its first new model will be an SUV.
The model, due next year, will be built on Geely's Sustainable Experience Architecture that will also underpin vehicles for Geely brands, Smart's boss, Daniel Lescow, told Automobilwoche, a German language sister publication of Automotive News Europe.
It will be used for at least one more Smart model, also likely to be an SUV, Lescow said.
Geely's scalable architecture, which runs from compact size upward, spells the likely end to the small city car image for which Smart is famous and the brand's repositioning to be more upmarket.
"Vehicle length alone is no longer a decisive factor for us ... we have redefined the requirements for Smart," Lescow said. "We want to radiate even more premium and not appear quite so playful," he said.
New features for the brand will also include new standards in connectivity, for example with online updates from the cloud and partially automated driving features.
Despite the move upmarket and inevitable price rise, Lescow says the new models will not cannibalize sales from Daimler's Mercedes-Benz compact range that includes the A-Class and GLA.
"We remain an accessible brand for our customers," he said, stressing the advantage of lower production costs in China on pricing.
Lescow said Smart would not be returning to the U.S. any time soon, a year after quitting the market there. Instead, Smart will concentrate on developing a digital sales system in Europe and China with existing partners.
In a post on LinkedIn, Lescow said Smart's focus will remain on urban mobility.
"The potential is vast, not only in Europe but also in China. SUVs are becoming the most popular of all passenger vehicles in China. But don’t worry, our new SUV won’t just be for China – we’ll be bringing it to European markets," Lescow wrote.