Smart move for watch that turned into a car

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The most radical car to be sold in Europe in decades - and the most environmentally friendly - has just been unveiled by its makers. The new Smart, a joint venture between Mercedes-Benz and the Swiss company SMH, makers of the Swatch watch, will go on sale in mainland Europe next spring.

Just 2.5m - or a touch over 8ft - long, the Smart is an odd-looking two-seater city car. According to Nicolas Hayek, head of SMH and vice- chairman of Smart, more than 80 per cent of cars used in urban areas are occupied by the driver alone. "The Smart therefore makes sense in today's motoring environment," he says.

Mr Hayek also expects the growing number of solo households - young people, singles, older people without children - to be natural Smart buyers.

Power comes from a turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine, claimed to give 70mpg. A 90mpg diesel follows in 1999. Performance is reasonable: 0-35mph in six seconds and a top speed of 80mph. The Smart comes with anti-lock brakes and airbags as standard.

The car will be built at a new factory in Hambach, in the Lorraine in France. Sales initially will be restricted to eight mainland European countries, priced between DM16,000 and DM20,000 depending on local taxes (pounds 5,800-pounds 7,300).

There are no firm plans for UK sales, but if the car proves a hit on the Continent, there's little doubt that it will come here, probably in the year 2000.