Auto blogFri, 23 May 2014
Mercedes-Benz has been profiting mightily from compact cars recently. Its Kecskemét, Hungary, factory added a third shift to keep up with demand, and company's US arm called the CLA-Class, its "best launch in 20 years." However, Daimler boss Dieter Zetsche says the Mercedes brand won't be getting any smaller, subcompact models; they will be reserved for the Smart brand.
Last year, Mercedes was rumored to be working on a X-Class subcompact model to sit between Smart's vehicles and the A-Class. The new vehicles would have been positioned against cars like the Audi A1. However, Zetsche told Automotive News Europe that those plans were seriously debated but finally nixed. The segment was decided to be too difficult to reach profitability in, and the competition too tight.
Instead, he said to ANE: "There is a possibility that Smart could expand into the subcompact segment, but we have not decided that yet." The brand launches the new Fortwo and Forfour later this year, but they don't quite carry the premium cachet that a Mercedes product does.
Smart is just about ready to launch the all-new generations of the Fortwo and Forfour. It might be hard to get excited for a car with such a mixed reputation, but the company has high expectations for the updated models. In a new video, Smart teases some nearly final prototypes during arctic testing in Sweden.
Both new vehicles share a rear-engine, rear-wheel drive platform with the new Renault Twingo in Europe. The models in the video look quite tiny, and that isn't an optical illusion. Both cars are reportedly smaller than their predecessors. Even the already minuscule Fortwo is supposedly about six inches shorter than the original.
Both of them are rumored to go on sale sometime later this year, and even the Smart chief engineer in the video says, "The car is ready to be launched." Unfortunately, we probably won't get both models stateside. While the new Fortwo will come to the US, the Forfour likely won't make it here. Scroll down to get an early look at the next generation versions sliding around in the snow and ice.
He's not actually a Smart ForTwo owner - he's a guy who built a custom chassis with a Chevrolet big block at the front that can fit a ForTwo body. And yes, there's almost nothing under that diminutive skin except a tube frame, an engine and a seat - the driver's helmet can't be more than a few hairs away from the back glass.
YouTube user Keith Pufahl shot video of white lightning at No Limit Raceway in Morocco, Indiana. In the video comments Pufahl says the builder is still dialing it in so he didn't set any records, but neverminding the run, did we mention there's a Smart ForTwo with a Chevy big block in the video below?
Among the ten commandments of the car guy, near the top is "Thou shalt not mess with thy neighbor's vehicle, regardless of how awful it may be." That said, we can't help but giggle every time we look at the image above.
Apparently, some delinquents in San Francisco, bereft of bovines to tip, have taken to tipping Smart ForTwos, like some absurd, real-life version of the tractor-tipping scene from Cars. Witnesses told KRON-4 in San Francisco that eight people, wearing hoods, were responsible for tipping three Smarts. While the vehicle above was tipped on its rear hatch, the other two were tipped on their side and roof, respectively.
"All of a sudden I just see eight hooded figures walk up to the car," witness Brandon Michael told KRON. "I thought it looked like they were up to no good. And then sure enough they walk up to this smart car right here, all huddle around it, and then lift it up and set it on its hind legs."
Consumer Reports has announced its annual list of worst vehicles, a cringe-inducing contrast to its list of top vehicles. Ignominiously leading the way in 2014 is Chrysler, which has a staggering seven models listed.
Jeep nearly sweeps the small SUV segment by itself, with its Compass, Patriot and 2.4-liter version of the new Cherokee, while the only midsize sedans listed by CR were the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger. The new Dodge Dart and the Dodge Journey round out CR's condemnation of Chrysler.
Ford is taking heat as well, with the Taurus, Edge and their counterparts from Lincoln all listed as the worst vehicles in their respective segments. Toyota doesn't fare much better, with its Lexus IS, Scion iQ and tC also making the list.
Smart, the Daimler-owned brand that has done nothing but struggle in the US market, probably won't be getting a larger model. A new four-seater called the ForFour is slated to go on sale in Europe later this year.
A final decision hasn't been made on US sales of the ForFour, but according to the head of Smart, Annette Winkler, there are concerns that the cost of homologating the car for the North America wouldn't be made back quickly. "There are other regulations to comply with, and to achieve what is needed here costs extra money," Winkler told Automotive News Europe.
Smart's sales were down seven percent, to below 10,000 units, last year. That doesn't mean the brand isn't important, though. According to Mercedes-Benz USA's CEO, Steve Cannon, the brand is a solid niche unit, and should prove effective at padding MB's average fuel economy in the coming years as more stringent CAFE standards come into effect, according to ANE. There's also the fact that killing Smart would mean paying off nearly 100 Mercedes dealers that sell the microcar...
Fans of super-minis, take note - here's your first look at the all-new Smart Fortwo. The teensy, tiny city car skipped out in full camouflage, but lacking any shape-hiding body cladding. Immediately noticeable is just how tiny it is. It looks even smaller than the Smart Fortwo that's on the road now, but that's merely an optical illusion - it's not as long, but has a larger footprint overall.
The rear overhang is virtually non-existent, while the new Smart looks to be sporting a snub-nose look, with both designs going a long way towards highlighting the reduction in length. Riding on a miniaturized version of the architecture that will underpin the Smart Forfour and Renault Twingo, our spies are reporting that this car will have its engine mounted in the back and that it will drive the rear wheels.
Gas, diesel and a next-generation of the Fortwo ElectricDrive should all be expected when the third-gen Smart hits the Geneva Motor Show stage in March.
Judging by the numerous concept vehicles from Smart lately, we can pretty much already tell what the future has in store for the brand's growing lineup. Still, these new spy shots give us our first look at the next Fortwo being tested with what looks to be a production-ready nose.
Although this mule still uses cobbled together pieces from a Renault Twingo that we've seen in previous spy shots, the camouflaged front end shows a likeness to recent concepts like the Fourjoy and Forstars. This includes the short, flat nose, an enlarged grille and the headlight shape, but one noticeable difference is the addition of marker lights positioned just below the main beams. From what we hear, the next-gen Fortwo will be unveiled early next year at the Geneva Motor Show, and it will be slightly bigger than the current model.
We've been waiting... and waiting... and waiting... for something new from Smart. Not another special edition of the Fortwo - even one with wings - can slake the brand's need for some fresh iron. Spy shots tell us that a couple of new models are on the way, but for now, we have this Smart Fourjoy concept, a buggy-like showcar that's said to preview the next-generation Forfour. Of course, unlike this concept, the production four-seater will come with full bodywork, but you're probably looking at a thinly veiled take on the the 2015 model's face and general proportions.
And while the production Forfour figures to come to market with gas and perhaps diesel offerings overseas, the Fourjoy borrows its motivation from the Fortwo Electric Drive - meaning a 55-kW electric motor backed by a 17.6-kWh lithium ion battery pack. We wouldn't be surprised if the next Forfour eventually gets a production EV model, but we wouldn't look for that at launch.
We're fine with all of this production-minded stuff, of course, but there's still something intriguing about the concept seen here. The Fourjoy sparks a latent curiosity within us that longs to see a fun-minded open-air beachmobile offered by a major automaker - something like a Fiat 500 Jolly or a Volkswagen Thing. Indeed, VW has been making noise about producing its Up! Buggy, but even if it doesn't, perhaps the company bold enough to produce the Smart ForJeremy will take a chance on getting some sand between its toes - provided it can negotiate crash testing.
Smart has revealed its newest concept car, the jovial, four-seater Forjoy. The "joy" part of that sobriquet is rather obvious - with the doorless, roofless, rear-glass-free concept looking like a beach-wagon full of fun - but it's the four seats that might prove most prescient as far as Smart's future plans are concerned.
The German small-car maker goes as far as to call the Forjoy "the forerunner of a new smart generation" in its press release, saying that the concept car's proportions portend a lot about the appearance of a four-seat production car. That upcoming Forfour (most likely) should get an official launch at the end of 2014.
Of course, while there might be some production-car cues hiding in this wispy, white and pearlescent concept buggy, the detailing of it can be safely categorized as "concept car only." Polished bits of milled aluminum brightwork are shiny flights of fancy, as is the modern minimalist furniture that ornaments the airy cabin.