Those who have been to Europe, Mexico, Central and South America and Asia are familiar with DaimlerChrysler Corporation's Smart. You might have even driven one of the zippy little sporty cars. Designed in conjunction with Swatch Watch in Switzerland, the small car has been available in two-seat coupe and two-seat sports car styles and four-seat four-door versions.
Smart was working on an all-new, larger SUV-ish car specifically for the North American market, to be built in Brazil, equipped with a BMW engine, when the project's development cash was pulled by DCX last year.
DCX announced a few weeks ago that they needed a partner to market, sell and service Smart if they were really going to sell it in the USA. Now Smart has announced that partner and the car which Smart will initially market in America. Both are a bit of a surprise. Here's the (edited) story from, Automotive News:
DaimlerChrysler will bring the two-seat Smart ForTwo minicar to the United States in the first quarter of 2008, and has partnered with legendary automotive marketing sales genius and race team owner, Roger Penske, to sell and service the vehicles (Smart 'ForTwo' pictured above and to the right).
Penske is CEO of retail chain UnitedAuto Group, currently operating 173 new-car stores in the USA. UnitedAuto ranks No. 2 on the Automotive News list of the top 100 dealership groups in the United States, reporting sales of 178,157 new vehicles in 2005.
Penske says he plans to appoint 30 to 50 dealers initially. He said he will consider all dealer candidates, not just dealers within his UnitedAuto chain.
Penske says he is optimistic about Smart’s U.S. sales prospects because the brand has done well in Canada. He noted that Smart’s first-year sales target in Canada was 1,500 units, but sales totaled 4,000 units.
Smart already is sold in 36 countries. Italy is Smart's biggest market, with annual sales of 40,000 units.
SWATCH has been linked in friendship with the United Nations for years. In 1992, Nicolas G. Hayek, President and Delegate of the Board of Directors of the Swatch Group, was one of the first people outside the world of politics to address the public on environmental issues in the General Assembly in New York.
At the same time, SWATCH launched its “environmental protection” watch for the environmental summit in Rio. In 1995, SWATCH dedicated a watch model entitled Unlimited to the 50th birthday of the United Nations, as an acknowledgement of the UN’s past and future work. A portion of the proceeds from the sales of these two watches have gone to a UN foundation for environmental, educational and communications projects for youth around the world.
DaimlerChrysler expects to sell 20,000 Smart ForTwo models annually in the United States, with an emphasis on big cities on the west and east coasts. Smart's US sales target is about half that of BMW's Mini brand.
The automaker originally planned to launch the Smart brand in the United States with a new, four-seat SUV. But the plan collapsed as mounting Smart losses forced DaimlerChrysler to cut costs.
Smart's spiffy ForTwo model is shorter than the (BMW) Mini; it will be the smallest car sold in the USA. How Smart owners will enjoy doing battle with the huge 18-wheeler big rigs that ply the nation's highways remains to be seen. (Smart convertible interior, below left, Smart sports model, below right. All photos by Steve Parker at Tokyo Motor Show, October, 2005).