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Smart car rolling into US

Bob Moon Jun 26, 2006

TESS VIGELAND: If you find yourself in Florence and in need of transportation, your best option is two feet. Trust me. Barring that, there’s the pricey Vespa to get you through the crowded streets. Barring even that, try a Smart Car. It’s about the size of an oversized golf cart, seats two, plus maybe a couple of bottles of Tuscan wine. But you’ll get better than 40 miles to the gallon. I personally can’t imagine driving one through L.A. traffic. But DaimlerChrysler plans to start selling them here next year. Despite the fact the cars aren’t quite smart enough to turn a profit. Marketplace’s Bob Moon reports.

BOB MOON: A few hundred of the Smart cars already have been imported by a company that tweaks the European models to comply with US smog standards. Now Chrysler’s Mercedes-Benz division reportedly has decided it’s ready to bring the tiny cars to the US market, amid declining sales in Europe.

Some analysts say . . . smart move. There are all kinds of new entries suddenly competing in the subcompact market. But industry analyst Jim Sanfilippo wonders about reports the company has settled on selling the cars through a distributor, rather than a dedicated group of dealers.

JIM SANFILIPPO:“The Smart is visually arresting, gets extraordinarily high mileage, obviously comes from a corporation that builds wonderful cars. It should do very well. But what’s really important is the kind of distribution network that is set up, how efficient it is to enable them to, you know, build enough profit to expand the franchise and market successfully and competitively, consistently.”

There’s already a Smart car Web site aimed at the US market . . . The musical promo plays to the car’s hip side. But at autoextremist.com, industry commentator Peter DeLorenzo says even though he likes the car, he’s skeptical of Daimler-Chrysler’s marketing savvy:

PETER DELORENZO:“They’ve demonstrated time and time again that they are incapable of marketing hip cars.”

Indeed, the Smart Car operation began back in 1998, and it’s yet to turn a profit.

In New York, I’m Bob Moon for Marketplace.

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