FRANKFURT - The Smart range will get a significant boost at September's Frankfurt show with the unveiling of this radical roadster. And insiders say Micro Compact Car is in talks with PSA/Peugeot-Citroen about sharing its future Citroen Saxo/Peugeot 107 small-car platform and co-developing engines.
MCC aims to put the roadster into production in spring 2001. The first product created by new Smart design chief Michael Mauer and his team is based on the platform of the Smart City Coupe, but has a longer wheelbase. It combines significant design elements of both the Smart and the Mercedes-Benz SLK roadster- also designed by Mauer.
The news marks a remarkable few months for DaimlerChrysler's Smart division after poor sales and bad reviews threatened the entire business earlier in the year. After taking just 6,500 orders in the first quarter, the company is confident of reaching 80,000 sales by the year end.
The Smart Roadster will be produced in the Smart factory in Hambach, France. The Hambach plant will also produce a future four-seat Smart, although no launch date has been set.
'Our main problem is engineering capacity,' one source said. 'If you build a car on an existing platform, which is what we are planning to do, you need around two years to get it finished. But given the shortage in development capacity that we suffer like everybody in the industry, it might well be 2002 until we are ready to launch the four-seater.'
If the talks with PSA are successful, the four-seater car will use the front-wheel-drive Peugeot/Citroen platform. It could be powered by Smart engines, or jointly-developed small high-tech engines used by all three brands. Again, news on this deal could be announced at the Frankfurt show.
The rear-wheel-drive Smart Roadster will be around 650mm longer than the Coupe at 3150mm, 1600mm wide and just 1200mm high, company insiders say. It has not yet been decided whether Smart will buy in or use its own engine. 'If an engine is bought in, it is very likely that this would be an existing motorbike engine,' the source said.
The car is aimed to rival the Lotus Elise, 'with handling like a go-kart', said a Smart manager. AMG, the D/C-owned tuner, may develop special versions of the roadster.