Mercedes-Benz and Renault are to co-operate on a new modular small car platform and two separate engine ranges that will form the basis of a new range of Smart models and a new line of Renault city cars.
The platform is a rear-engined, rear-drive chassis already under development by Mercedes. It will be used in the next Fortwo, due in 2013, and for a replacement for the Forfour that’s scheduled to arrive in 2014.
In lightly modified form - the wheelbase and track widths are variable - the platform will also be used by Renault for a new range of entry-level models, including the Twizy electric car and a four-door based on the Zoe concept.
It is unclear whether Renault-owned Nissan, Dacia and Samsung will have access to the new platform. Nissan has been considering a new entry-level model positioned beneath the Micra, possibly to be produced at its Sunderland plant in the UK. However, its future now looks uncertain.
Mercedes and Renault are also planning to share new engines. Initially Mercedes will provide Renault with three-cylinder petrol and diesels, both with stop-start systems.
The new engines, which are said to be different to Smart’s current powerplants, have been designed specifically for the rear-drive platform. They will be fitted to a six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed double-clutch transmission.
Later, the two firms will work on a range of new sub-1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines. These will be used in higher-end versions of the Forfour, as well as the next A and B-classes and future generations of the Twingo, Clio, Modus, Mégane and Scenic.
Owing to the similarity in mechanical layout, it’s likely that the new Forfour will be built by Renault alongside its new four-door model, at one of its existing plants. The Fortwo will be manufactured at Smart’s plant in Hambach, France, and it could be joined there by Renault’s city car.
As part of their deal, Mercedes and Renault are also planning mild hybrid and electric versions of their new models, although at this stage it remains unclear just which company is set to head the development.