Roger Penske, the man in charge of Smart's U.S. distribution, is still optimistic about the automaker's long-term success.
Some might say that's wishful thinking for a brand of minuscule coupes and convertibles whose sales totaled 1397 during the first quarter of 2010 compared to 4937 in the same period of 2009, according to Ward's Auto. For comparison, 24,622 Smart Fortwos were sold in 2008, the car's first year in the U.S. Penske claims that Smart dealers are, for the most part, staying with the brand.
Sales of the Smart Fortwo coupe and cabriolet have fallen precipitously after an initial wave of interest. The current price of regular gas in the U.S. is $2.86, AAA reports, up from $2.05 a year ago but far below the $4-plus prices recorded during the summer of 2008. Should gas prices shoot up, sales of Smart cars might, too.
Penske's top suggestion for Smart is to have the automaker look to Mini's business model for inspiration. What started as a lineup of Mini coupes and convertibles expanded to include the Clubman and soon the Countryman small crossover. Now that Daimler, Smart's parent company, has struck a deal with Nissan/Renault, new product for the smart lineup is a possibility. Renault's Twingo subcompact and a Smart Forfour is being prepared for a few years down the road.
"By varying the wheelbase length of the current mid-engine platform, we could develop additional models, with 2+1 or 2+2 seating," said Anders-Sundt Jensen, head of Smart, to Automotive News.
In the meantime, smart does the best it can worldwide with a number of low volume specials.
Should Daimler want returned the smart distribution network after five years in the U.S., Penske says he'd be happy to sell them a 50-percent share.