A new report from Germany's Handelsblatt says Daimler will decide the fate of its money-losing Smart microcar brand by year's end.
Dieter Zetsche and his signature white mustache will retire in May, taking his support for the brand with him, and designated successor Ola Källenius was steeped in Mercedes-Benz's AMG world of performance cars. Meanwhile, Kartrin Adt, a former Daimler Human Resources VP who took over as head of Smart last September, has yet to formulate a strategy to steer the brand to profitability and has reportedly focused on energizing the brand and looking for a partner in China, including with Volvo owner Geely.
"Ola has no history with the Smart," Handelsblatt quotes an unnamed insider as saying, and no scruples about burying the brand.
It's not the first time the brand's future has been cast into doubt. Last fall, rumors circulated that Renault was likely to pull the plug on its partnership that created the Smart ForTwo and Renault Twingo, which share a platform.
The publication said the brand hit an all-time global sales high of more than 150,000 in 2004, and it's been mostly downhill since then, having never turned a profit since its introduction two decades ago. According to CarSalesBase.com, sales of the ForTwo have dropped from a high of 24,622 in its first year in the U.S. in 2008 to just 1,276 last year. In Europe, Smart sold 62,361 FourTwo models last year, and 97,346 vehicles in total.
Smart's latest plan is to convert to an all-electric urban mobility brand, though that might be too costly, and hence the shopping for a partner in China. At the Geneva Motor Show earlier this month, Smart showed what it called the Forease+, a curious two-seater concept and update on the Forease shown last year in Paris. It features a hard fabric shell roof with a soft fabric cover with no side or rear windows and no climate control.