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Daimler Shakes Up Smart Car Top Management in Brand Overhaul

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【Summary】One of the biggest changes to the Smart brand is the stepping down of company CEO Annette Winkler.

Michael Cheng    Jun 08, 2018 5:49 PM PT
Daimler Shakes Up Smart Car Top Management in Brand Overhaul
author: Michael Cheng   

Many businesses in the automotive sector are making big moves to cater to an all-electric future. Some groups are doubling down on battery contracts and investing in research projects for new materials. Others are taking a much more aggressive route by shaking up their management teams.

Daimler has chosen the second path, as it makes changes to top positions and roles within its Smart brand. One of the biggest changes to the Smart brand is the stepping down of company CEO Annette Winkler.

Passing the Torch

Winkler has been leading the business for eight years; and Daimler for more than 23 years. A replacement has not been announced by the automaker. Winkler will officially vacate her position later this year. She will be assigned to the supervisory board of Mercedes-Benz South Africa in 2019.

Smart's track record has suffered greatly under her watch, racking up roughly $4.6 billion in losses. Currently, Daimler is in the process of bringing together its subsidiaries for new mobility projects. It seems that Smart is the wildcard from the group of highly successful automotive brands under Daimler.

Additionally, sales performance of Smart vehicles has been mixed. The compact units do well in locations with residents fond of cars with space-saving features. On the other hand, there are areas wherein the Smart brand has failed to capture due to the personal preferences of residents, including the US.

"One of the key responsibilities of every executive is to pass on leading positions to the next generation at the right time," said Winkler, head of the Smart product area at Daimler AG.

"And that time has now come – with the clear focus of smart as a fully electric urban-mobility brand and with the decision to develop the Hambach facility into a plant for fully electric vehicles within the Mercedes-Benz production network."

All-Electric Future

As mentioned earlier, Daimler will pursue new, all-electric objectives with the Smart brand. The automaker plans to phase-out combustion engines, starting 2020. Furthermore, the business will introduce new models to its lineup for individuals looking for the Smart car experience in larger vehicles.

This isn't the company's first attempt at revamping its two-seater vehicles. In 2003, Smart was working on adding a roadster, which led to numerous challenges. Over a decade later, in 2014, the car manufacturer teamed up with Renault on the ForFour. Capable of seating four passengers, the vehicle suffered the same fate as its predecessors.

According to data from Bloomberg, deliveries for the ForFour were weak, decreasing to 136,000 units in 2017.

"You can take more risk if the name on the car is Smart rather than Mercedes," said Daniel Schwarz, an analyst for Credit Suisse in Frankfurt.

On a positive note, continuing to support the Smart brand has benefited Daimler in many ways. Serving as a channel for ‘experimental' features and services, the automaker can test unique projects, such as fleet-based deliveries in cities and car-sharing trials, without affecting its other, well-established brands, including Mercedes-Benz, Western Star (trucks) and Thomas Built Buses.

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