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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.

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Can Smart Reinvent Itself?

U.S. distributor may teach the Germans what’s needed to save smart brand.

by on Jan.14, 2011

With the brand's sales off another 60%, last year, Smart USA boss Jill Lajdziak can only hope and wait for the distributor's planned 4-seat model.

It was the hit of 2008, its U.S. launch inadvertently timed to take advantage of the record run-up in fuel prices.  But since then, things haven’t gone nearly so well for the little Smart USA brand, which reported a nearly 60% drop in sales, last year alone, even as most makers reported double-digit gains.

In a bid to stave off disaster, the U.S. distributor, which is operated by Detroit entrepreneur Roger Penske, plans to introduce an all-new model later this year that will be built for it by Nissan, rather than Daimler, the German parent of the Smart brand.

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Might even more products be added to the U.S. line-up that aren’t available to Smart buyers in other parts of the world? That’s not out of the question, according to various company officials who are betting that Smart can rebound from its disastrous tumble.

“We’ve got a business to run,” and that means that Smart USA may have to make some critical moves that aren’t necessarily what the folks at Daimler AG headquarters, in Stuttgart would like,” acknowledges Jill Lajdziak, the U.S. distributor’s boss.

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