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Geneva
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GENEVA – Smart’s battery-powered concept car Forspeed unveiled at the auto show here is a demonstration that electric vehicles can be built for speed, but really it is a hint of technologies the next real electric Smart will use and probably a look at the form of a wider, longer next-gen Fortwo.

The car, with a lightweight carbon-fiber body like the BMW i3, is said to accelerate 0-37 mph (60 km/h) in 5.5 seconds. The concept has a tiny windscreen, no roof and looks like a something a budding designer might draw in high school, or the Smart Crossblade concept of a few years ago.

But powering the Forspeed is a 30-kW (41-hp) electric motor with permanent magnets used in the 1,500 electric Smarts on the road in test fleets now, and a 16.5-kWh lithium-ion battery that comes from Daimler subsidiary, Daimler Autoelectronic, using Evonik cell technology.

The batteries will show up in Daimler’s EVs starting next year, as well as in some Renaults, says Pitt Moss, product manager for the current Smart electric car.

Renault will provide electric motors it manufactures in France to Daimler, and Daimler will supply EV batteries to some Renaults.

Renault also will be a big consumer of its own batteries from the Renault-Nissan Alliance. It has said before it would not limit itself to a single battery supplier, and vehicles such as the scooter-like Twizy coming to the market late this year will require much smaller batteries than Renault’s fullsize electric vehicles.

The Forspeed is electronically limited to a top speed of 75 mph (120 km/h), but it has an innovative boost function that adds 5 kW (7 hp) briefly to the power available on acceleration, helping to pass safely and to get thrown back into the seat when traffic lights turn green.

Smart already is well advanced in the electric world. The 1,500 electric Smarts Moss is overseeing are the brand’s second generation, after a first test fleet of 100 units.

In the first group of the 100 Smarts put into fleets in London, testers found the cars fun to drive, Moss says, noting fun is something that can be marketed. From the 1,500 current Smarts being evaluated, Moss says he also learned the global electrical infrastructure is a mess.

“At first I thought it might just be a matter of a few different plugs,” he says. “But we have to provide seven different cables and four different controls for amperage during recharging.”

The current electric Smarts use Li-ion batteries supplied by Tesla, the California auto maker.

“At the time, there was a lot of talk about Li-ion, but they were the only ones with a battery,” Moss says. “From next year, we will use batteries from Daimler.”

Steffen Kohl, head of advanced design for Smart, told the Car Design News website design themes from the Forspeed will appear in both the next Fortwo and the revived Forfour that will share platforms with the next Renault Twingo in 2014.

"Smart will still be short, spacey, agile, and with wheels at the corners of the car,” Kohl says, “but with an added sporty and emotional design and without losing all the brand’s iconic elements.”