Tiny Smart Rolls Into U.S. - Tire Review Magazine

Tiny Smart Rolls Into U.S.

(Akron/Tire Review – Detroit News) DaimlerChrysler AG has revived plans to sell its Smart two-seater in the U.S. after signing up Detroit magnate Roger Penske to handle the distribution.

"The time is right for this car," said Penske, chairman of the dealer company United Auto Group, at a joint news conference June 28 with DaimlerChrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche.

"The market is crying for a car like this – or thirsting, if you will," said Penske, who has long-standing ties to DaimlerChrysler.

Measuring just eight feet from bumper to bumper, the Smart ForTwo gets more than 40 miles to a gallon of gas in combined highway-city driving.

DaimlerChrysler is preparing to build a second-generation two-seater meeting U.S. safety standards. It will start selling it in the U.S. in early 2008.

"We’re looking at prices to be below $15,000," Penske said.

Zetsche’s decision to bring the ForTwo to the U.S. is likely to quash speculation that DaimlerChrysler will jettison its minicar brand. The Smart business – part of the Mercedes Car Group – has lost around $4 billion since its start in 1998, but the two-toned, two-seaters are popular in European cities.

Zetsche, who heads both DaimlerChrysler and Mercedes, got rid of a Smart four-seater and other versions and is focusing on making a success of the ForTwo, the first model in the lineup and the most memorable.

"I am convinced the Smart ForTwo will soon become just as familiar a sight on the streets of New York, Miami or Seattle as it is today in Rome, Berlin or Paris," Zetsche said.

But in the U.S., DaimlerChrysler will have to overcome car buyers’ concerns about safety.

The ForTwo already is equipped with advanced safety systems rarely offered in the minicar segment. Its interior cabin is encased in a "hard shell" tridion safety cell to protect occupants.

The car, with a top speed of 85 miles per hour and a choice of gas engines delivering 50 or 61 horsepower, is designed primarily for city driving. "It’s easy to drive and park," said Philip Reed, consumer advice editor of auto research site Edmunds.com, who drove the car recently. "But it’s not an econobox. The interior is good. Once you get inside, you forget how small the car is."

Over the next year, Penske will pick dealers to sell Smart cars. "We’re expecting 30 to 50 dealers on the rollout," mainly in and around big cities, he said. He will not limit the search to dealers from United Auto Group, one of the largest U.S. auto retailers.

They said the car’s performance in Canada, where it has been on sale since late 2004, has exceeded expectations. DaimlerChrysler has sold 6,000 to date in Canada. Worldwide, Smart has sold 750,000 vehicles since 1998.

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