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Mercedes says time is right for Swatchmobile

Known for cars of size and luxury, Mercedes-Benz will offer two smaller models in 1997 if plans for the "Swatchmobile" go ahead as announced Friday.

"We have to go away from cities adapting to car traffic toward cars adapting to city traffic," Mercedes president Helmut Werner said at a news conference showing models of snub-nosed micro-compacts that could be the basis of the Swatchmobile.

Last year Mercedes announced it will build a four-seat compact called the A-Class starting in 1997. Werner said the two-seat Swatchmobile could hit the market "in very general terms" in the same year.

Mercedes said recently it was heading toward agreement with the Swiss originator of the Swatch _ the moderately priced watches with arty faces _ to build a small city car. Volkswagen tested the idea but passed on it.

Werner said negotiations hadn't yet brought a final agreement, but Mercedes would hold 51 percent of the joint venture and 49 percent would be held by SMH, the Swiss Corporation for Microelectronics and Watchmaking Industries Ltd.

SMH president Nicolas Hayek said he already has 35,000 "blind orders" for a Swatchmobile even though it's only an idea.

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