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Smart Roadster - End of the Road

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Posted 05 December 2005 - 01:33 PM


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The Sunday Times - Business

The Sunday Times November 20, 2005

Smart move by company doctor
Ray Hutton

A CONSORTIUM led by company doctor David James is in talks with the German
car giant Daimler Chrysler about buying the rights to sporty versions of
the Smart car.
Project Kimber, which is chaired by James, earlier this year made an
unsuccessful bid for MG Rover, the defunct Birmingham-based car group.
Kimber executives had planned to revive the MG Midget name, and now plan
to do something similar using the Smart car.

They are negotiating with Daimler Chrysler, Smart’s parent company, about
acquiring the rights to the Smart Roadster and Roadster Coupe. Neither car
has a future with Daimler — in April the German group announced that
production of the baby sports cars, which use the mechanical units and
700cc turbocharged engine of the more familiar Smart ForTwo, would stop
this summer. Daimler said it couldn’t sell enough of these cars to make a

The Smart Roadster was seen as the spiritual successor to the 1970s MG
Midget and Austin-Healey Sprite, and Britain has been its biggest market.
When its demise was announced, Smart UK persuaded the factory in Hambach,
France, to make a last batch of 400 Roadsters to sell here through next

Project Kimber could restart production in 2007. If it is successful in
its bid — and Daimler Chrysler’s decision is expected early in the new
year — it will transfer assembly to one of three locations that qualify
for EU grants: greenfield sites at Bridgend in South Wales, Erfurt in
eastern Germany and the former Daewoo factory in Poland.

The £13,000 two-seater cannot be called a Smart or, indeed, an MG. It will
have new bodywork, styled by Keith Helfet, designer of the 1980s Jaguar
XJ220, and be sold under the marque AC, Britain's oldest existing car

Project Kimber has linked with AC Cars, owned by South African
entrepreneur Alan Lubinsky, and will present the latter-day Smart as a
modern AC, while the original firm continues producing its “heritage” cars
based round the famous AC Cobra in Malta and the United States. A new
dealer network will be established to sell the AC “Midget”.

The Kimber team, which consists of some 30 motor-industry managers with
experience in all aspects of car production and marketing, stayed together
after the MG Rover debacle. A leading light is Barrie Wills, a start-up
specialist who was formerly at Jaguar, Reliant and DeLorean.

They aim to establish a “virtual” car company in which design, development
and some elements of manufacturing are devolved to external suppliers.
This would enable the business to expand beyond the new AC to contract-
build for larger carmakers, in the way that Magna Steyr in Austria and
Valmet of Finland are operating.