Smart launch delayed by safety fears

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FRANKFURT -- Daimler-Benz, the German car manufacturer that has spent the past six weeks trying to combat safety concerns over its new Mercedes-Benz A-Class car, is now facing fresh disaster. Smart, the car developed with Swiss watch- maker SMH, has failed the same road test as the A-Class and will now have its launch delayed by six months.

The Smart urban car, whose launch ad campaign has already been running for two months through Weber Hodel Schmid, Zurich, will not hit the road until fall 1998. No-one at Micro Com- pact Car, the joint venture between Daimler and SMH, was able to say if the car's ad campaign would be halted.

Daimler-Benz Chairman Juergen Schrempp watched the Smart roll over during the "elk test" - de- signed to test high speed maneuvers - just after seeing the revised A-Class finally pass the trial at the Idiada test track in Spain in early December, according to reports.

He has now had to announce the Smart's delay and has reassigned its chief developer, Johann Tomforde, 51, to other unspecified duties within Daimler-Benz. Insiders say Mr. Tomforde was slow to reveal the extent of the car's problems. Christoph Baubin, re- sponsible for finances, has also left the company. No decision has been made on their replacements.

Harry Roegner, spokesman for MCC, says the track on the two seater's undercarriage will now be widened to make the car more stable.

The MCC board met December 18 and approved Mr. Schrempp's changes. The carmaker says the delay will cost $170 million, the same as for the A-class. Smart dealers in France also met December 18 to discuss the crisis.

MCC says there were unspecified prob- lems with the efficiency of the produc- tion system of the Hambach plant.

Copyright December 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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