Mercedes-Benz USA has begun negotiations to takeover the distribution, management, sales and marketing activities of the Smart car brand from the Penske Automotive Group, a move that would better align the brand's efforts in the U.S. with those in the rest of the world. Smart, although managed as an independent brand, is a fully integrated part of Mercedes-Benz Cars, which is a business unit of Daimler AG.
Penske had been responsible for Smart's U.S. operations since 2008.
"Introducing the Smart brand to the U.S. has been a unique opportunity for us," said Penske Automotive Group Chairman Roger Penske. "Over the last three years, I've experienced the passion consumers express for the brand as we delivered over 45,000 vehicles. Aligning smart distribution with Daimler, as it is worldwide, is the logical next step for the Smart brand in the U.S. This alignment will enable the Smart brand to grow through the Mercedes-Benz dealership network and lead the way in conservation and meeting future fuel economy standards."
The brand's sole product, the Smart fortwo, is offered in both coupe and cabriolet configurations but has struggled in the U.S., chiefly because relatively low fuel prices and the car's small proportions have made it a tough sell in the current market. At just 106.1 inches in length, the fortwo is more than 3.5 feet shorter than a MINI Cooper and 4.5 feet smaller than a Honda Fit. Yet its EPA ratings of 33 mpg city/41 mpg highway/36 mpg combined are now being approached by much bigger vehicles like the Hyundai Elantra and Chevrolet Cruze. These new compacts are some six feet longer than the Smart, yet the former can achieve EPA ratings of 29/40/33 and the Eco model of the latter can reach 28/42/33.
However, a new version of the fortwo with an electric-drive system is currently being tested as well. Leveraging a 30-kW drive motor and 16.5-kWh lithium battery, the car has a range of up to 98 miles using the U.S. EPA LA4 test cycle, which emphasizes urban driving at warm ambient temperatures, and of up to 63 miles in the EPA's standard system of combined city and highway driving. Top speed is an electronically limited 100 km/h.(approximately 62 mpg). Charging the battery to from 20 to 80 percent of its capacity can be achieved in as little as 3.5 hours using a 240-volt charger, while a fully depleted battery can be completely recharged in eight hours or less.
More details of the transition will be released in the future, but Penske is assuring customers that the process will be seamless and warranty coverage will not be affected. For further information about the changes, please contact your local Smart car dealer.