But Smart is under no illusion that it is set to dominate the company car parc - while its low emissions and eyecatching styling will appeal to some corporate drivers, others will be put off by the two-seater's lack of space.
Smart general manager for the UK Walter Scherg said: 'We expect to achieve fleet sales with smaller companies - these will generally be image-conscious firms run by entrepreneurs whose staff either want to drive the cars or want to use them for advertising purposes. We anticipate deals of between 10 and 20 vehicles with these companies.'
Scherg added the Smart offers fleet drivers the perfect opportunity of downsizing without their neighbours or peers 'assuming they are earning a smaller salary'. This is particularly relevant in the UK, he added, because of company car tax changes being introduced from next April.
'These cars are so unique that some people will be happy to downsize into one. It could be they buy a bigger car themselves and have a Smart as a company car because tax is cheap, they are also well equipped and they are trendy.'
Scherg said the company does plan to work with daily rental companies but had not yet finalised its goal for the rental market.
'It is something we are talking about now but I don't expect we will place any more than 300 to 500 cars with daily rental companies,' he said.
'We are not yet sure how far we want to go - it could depend on negotiations with daily rental companies.'
Latest sales figures issued by the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association show that Smart has increased European sales this year by almost 2.5%. Figures for January to September show Smart sold 76,150 vehicles across Europe, compared to 74,400 vehicles during the same period last year.
In Germany, the manufacturer sold 32,020 cars and in Italy 23,044. The markets with the biggest increases were France, up 26.6% from 5,400 to 6,839 units, Spain, up 16.9% from 3,618 to 4,231 units and Austria, up 15% from 1,141 to 1,313 cars. In the UK, Smart expects to sell 5,000 cars this year and double that next year. Germany and Italy are Smart's biggest markets and sales started to grow earlier this year with the launch of the diesel-engined Smart. Fleet potential for the suburbs FLEET News Europe contributor Professor Peter Cooke recently explored the potential of Smart for pan-European fleets seeking to develop a personal mobility strategy.
In the July issue of this magazine, Cooke said the vehicle had 'huge versatility' and could be 'parked in extremely small spaces'.
He was examining whether fleet operators were making the best use of daily rental opportunities - and came to the conclusion that they were not.
'Employees seeking mobility in an urban, or even suburban situation when a taxi might be an expensive option, must surely offer a huge market for the Smart,' he said. 'The marketing concept of putting such vehicles in towers, almost dispensers, could equally be transferred to the daily rental industry.'
As a result, a city centre railway station where land may be at a premium could have its 'rental car dispenser' and office on a tiny space, with the cars being returned to the stack as soon as they have been checked,' Cooke added.
Cooke said that to support such a set-up, the rental companies would be able to offer their remote services normally seen at airports to their clients on a 'well promoted urban network'.
'It is only a matter of time before it happens,' he said, 'and the pressure for change can come from the fleet manager.' (November 2001)