Faced with a massive slump in sales, the Penske Automotive Group has shaken up the management team at its smart USA operation. Jill Lajdziak, the long-time head of General Motors’ Saturn brand has been name the new president of smart, which serves as U.S. distributor for the pint-sized fortwo, built in France.
Lajdziak replaces Dave Schembri, the automotive veteran who helped develop the smart franchise for the Penske Group and then brought it to market in early 2008. A corporate release said Schembri, a Detroit native, will “transition into Penske Automotive Group’s retail operations.”
While the release contained strong praise for Schembri, there’s little doubt that the demanding Roger Penske has been frustrated by smart’s performance. In the first months after the brand went on sale, in mid-January 2008, it scored a solid success, but that reflected fortuitous timing, as much as anything else, the launch coinciding with the record run-up in U.S. fuel costs. Once pump prices peaked, in July 2008, sales tumbled sharply.