Mercedes-Benz is set to join forces with Renault in a deal that would provide its Smart division with a contemporary front-engined, front-wheel-drive platform as the basis for a frugal new Forfour model.
The new Smart, due out in 2013, is planned to sit on a lightly modified version of the Renault Twingo’s underpinnings, complete with a 2370mm wheelbase.
Speaking about the new car over the weekend, a highly placed Mercedes-Benz official told Autocar, “It’s a key component in plans to grow the Smart brand. We looking to diverge into other potentially lucrative market segments, not only in Europe but also on a worldwide basis.”
In keeping with its name, the new Forfour has been conceived to offer seating for up to four adults in a unitary steel body that is expected to stretch to no more than 3600mm in length, 1700 in width and 1500mm in height.
As with the first-generation Forfour, developed in co-operation with Mitsubishi and launched in 2004, the second model will also have a five-door hatchback design.
At this early stage, it is not known whether the deal between Mercedes-Benz and Renault will extend to engines and gearboxes, although German media reports suggest the two are looking at deep integration in a move aimed at extracting the sort of economies of scale achieved by rival car makers PSA (Citroen-Peugeot) and Toyota with their similarly sized C1, 106 and Aygo.
This would suggest further collaboration on small-capacity petrol and diesel units, including possibly a new generation of highly efficient three-cylinder engines already under development at Mercedes-Benz.
At the heart of plans for the new Forfour is also a plug in electric version. Nothing’s official just yet, but it could include technology being developed by Renault’s owned Nissan, which is close to introducing its own plug in electric model, the Leaf. Mercedes-Benz boss Dieter Zetsche is planning to announce the collaboration with Renault at the upcoming Frankfurt motor show, where he is also expected to reveal further details about the future of the Smart brand. It is expected to grow its line-up to encompass at least three new models by the middle of the next decade.