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Smart Car’s New GM Has Tough Task

Tracey Matura takes over as Mercedes-Benz USA assumes control of U.S. distributor.

by on Mar.24, 2011

Smart's ForTwo represents the automaker's biggest problem. The 13-year-old design needs to be revamped to be competitive.

Mercedes-Benz USA has named one of its veteran retail strategists to take over the troubled Smart brand.

Tracey Matura, currently general manager of retail strategic development, was named to take over the brand a month after M-B announced it was canceling the Penske Automotive Group’s contract to distribute Smart cars in the U.S.

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Matura has a tough job. Initially given Smart distribution rights in 2008, Penske had good success the first year as the car’s novelty and tiny size made it a cult favorite. But once the early adopters got their Smart cars, keeping the sales momentum became tough.


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.


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.


Smart or Dumb Sales Plan?

Customization option is likely the most aggressive ever offered.

by on Jul.08, 2010

Turn a Smart fortwo into a personal statement with the maker's new Smart Expressions program -- but is it little more than a gimmick?

With sales taking a sharp tumble, Smart USA is hoping to rebuild demand by giving buyers the ability to extensively customize the brand’s fortwo microcar.

The new program, dubbed Smart Expressions, will not only let buyers choose from 93 paint colors, but also bring a color swatch of their own to match the color of their car to just about anything – whether a shade of lipstick or the colors of a favorite sports team.

Smart will also offer a series of full or partial vehicle wraps. Eventually, buyers may be offered the ability to design their own vehicle wraps.


Smart is looking for some sort of spark to bring it out of its sales funk. Earlier this year, Jill Lajdziak, former general manager of GM’s Saturn brand, was tapped by Smart USA distributor Roger Penske to take over from the brand’s first manager, Dave Schrembi. Sales dropped 38% between its 2008 launch and the 2009 sales meltdown that affected the entire auto industry.