GENEVA — Micro Compact Car smart GmbH (MCC) will run a nine-country ad campaign from April through June to revive sales of the two-passenger city car.

In addition, DM500 (US$294) worth of equipment has been added to the basic car and prices have been cut by about US$900 in Italy and France, where sales are running well behind projections. The slow sales will force MCC, a subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler, to idle production for two weeks in April.

“Switzerland is doing better than expected and Germany is doing well,” says Hans-Juerg Schaer, the executive vice-president for marketing and sales at MCC, “but we have to really improve in Italy and France.”

He says competitors in both those markets have been cutting prices, and Smart is forced to respond.

Sales in January and February ran behind the pace of last autumn, when Smart sold 20,000 cars in its nine European markets. Production for this year has been trimmed from 140,000 to 100,000. Schaer says sales have not been affected by the decision at Avis Rent-A-Car to temporarily halt Smart rentals in Germany after several accidents on icy roads.

“That was only in Germany and only in February,” says Schaer. “We agreed to put snow tires on the cars, and during the transition, Avis would not allow rentals. It was three days to three weeks, depending on the location.”

Rentals continued in the other eight countries. Smart, however, has reprogrammed its engine control module software to deal with the problem of wheel spin on icy roads in the future.

“We hear our customers and think a lot about modifications,” says Horst Nonner, a development engineer at MCC. The new program reduces power to the engine when it determines wheels are spinning. The cars were already equipped with anti-lock brakes and a stability program that prevents accidental toppling in a quick lane change.

Smart customers match the profile Smart anticipated, Schaer says. Smart is the second or third car for most, and the buyers are in their lower 40s.

Although their income is high, Schaer says, they have advised Smart to improve fuel consumption and offer more for the money. In France and Germany, drivers also complain about the hard suspension, which is a result of earlier changes to prevent roll-overs. In Italy, Schaer says, the ride is much less of a problem.

At the Geneva auto show, Smart introduced a new small diesel with fuel consumption of more than 4.7L/100 km (50 mpg).