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Mercedes-Benz Pulls Smart Franchise from Penske

Move likely to scuttle plan for a Nissan-made Smart four-seater.

by on Feb.15, 2011

Roger Penske's auto group will lose the Smart USA franchise by mid-2011 to Mercedes-Benz.

Days after officials from the Penske Automotive Group expressed their commitment to stand by the struggling Smart brand, they’ve been given their walking paper by Daimler AG, which produces the minicars.

Operation of the franchise, which has seen its sales in the U.S. collapse since a briefly successful 2008 launch, will be taken over by Mercedes-Benz USA by the middle of the year.  MBUSA said it has already begun negotiations to end Penske Automotive Group’s management, sales and marketing activities of the Smart car in the United States.

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The announcement also appears to spell the end of Penske’s efforts to rebuild the Smart brand in the U.S. by turning to Nissan, which was expected to begin providing a new four-seat model that was to be introduced wearing a Smart badge, later this year.


Smart Brings In Outside Designer House

Aiming to counter slow sales with new small car.

by on Nov.17, 2010

An "outside" designer has been hired by Smart USA to work up a real-world version of this concept 4-seater due out by 2012.

Struggling to overcome cripplingly slow sales, Smart USA has brought in an outside design house to work on the new small car the maker is developing with help from Nissan.

Jill Lajdziak, smart USA president, confirmed to that Penske Automotive Group, has turned to an outside design partner to work with Nissan on both the exterior and interior design for a four-seat Smart.

Lajdziak declined to identify the designer but confirmed the project is already well along.

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The project is particularly unusual because Smart USA is working directly with Nissan on the vehicle, without the participation of the smaller maker’s German parent, Daimler AG.

The 4-seater coming from Smart USA-Nissan is expected to be ready for the market by the end of 2011 or in early 2012, at the earliest.


Struggling Smart to Get Nissan-Derived 5-Door – Updated

New model to be assembled at Nissan plant in U.S.

by on Oct.06, 2010

Smart will begin selling a Nissan-derived 5-door in late 2011.

Desperately struggling to reverse crashing sales, Smart USA has inked a memo of understanding with Japan’s Nissan to provide a new 5-door model to the Smart microcar line-up.

The first clear product to emerge from a new partnership between Daimler and the Euro-Asian Renault-Nissan Alliance, the B-segment hatchback will reach the U.S. market by the fourth quarter of 2011, the partners say.

While specifics remain to be released, inside sources tell the Smart hatchback will be based on a next-generation platform and not the current B-segment Nissan, the Versa.

In an unusual move, this particular memorandum of understanding specifically links Smart USA and Nissan, though insiders report a version of the new product will very likely show up in other Smart dealerships around the world at some point.

Significantly, those sources tell, the two-row, 5-seat Smart will be produced in the United States, rather than in France, where the maker’s current fortwo model is produced. While they won’t discuss specific production details it appears to point to Nissan’s Smyrna plant, since the Japanese maker’s other American facility focuses largely on trucks and larger models.

“The new vehicle will expand smart USA’s product lineup, offering five-seat capacity while maintaining the core principles of efficiency and conservation,” said Jill Lajdziak, president of Smart USA.

Smart needs to expand, and fast.

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After achieving a surprisingly strong launch in 2008 – which was timed serendipitously to coincide with the record run-up in U.S. fuel prices – things have taken a severe turn for the worse.  In September 2010, the maker’s American distributor reported selling only 422 of the little fortwo 2-seaters, down 48% from year-earlier results – which were already sharply down.  For the first nine months of 2010 Smart has sold just 4,770 cars, a 61.5% decline despite offering massive incentives.