* Smart brand dealer count in "mid-50s" by July 1
* U.S. 2010 smart sales about 6,000, from 24,700 in 2008
* Mercedes-Benz wants smart to help fleet fuel economy
(Adds background, sales figures, quote from smart USA
DETROIT, Feb 14 Daimler's (DAIGn.DE)
Mercedes-Benz USA will take over sales and marketing of the
microcar smart USA brand from Penske Automotive Group (PAG.N)
by the middle of this year, Mercedes-Benz USA and Penske said
By the end of the transition period around July 1, the
number of U.S. Mercedes-Benz dealers selling smart cars will
drop to the mid-50s, down from the current 75 at dealerships
owned by the Penske group, a Mercedes-Benz spokesman said.
After the transfer, said Mercedes-Benz USA spokesman Geoff
Day, "We have plans to expand that but right now we want to get
this transition done as soon as possible."
Plans for a smart five-door hatchback from Nissan Motor Co
(7201.T) have been scuttled, said Mercedes-Benz USA.
The next new smart will be developed by the joint venture
of Daimler and Renault/Nissan as a global car.
Penske, the No. 2 U.S. dealership group, has been the
exclusive distributor of smart in the United States for three
Smart sales were robust in 2008 as U.S. gasoline prices hit
record levels but have lagged since then. However, sales in
January were up 29 percent from January 2009.
U.S. sales of the eye-catching dinky smart fortwo in 2010
were 5,927, down from 14,595 in 2009 and 24,622 in 2008.
The smart fortwo is 106 inches (270 centimeters) long and
about 61 inches (155 centimeters) wide. That compares with the
Toyota Camry's length of 189 inches (480 centimeters) and width
of 72 inches (183 centimeters).
The only smart model sold in the U.S. market, the smart
fortwo, gets 41 miles per gallon in highway driving, and has a
combined highway-city EPA rating of 38 miles per gallon.
Mercedes-Benz USA wants sales of the small smart brand cars
to help boost overall fuel economy performance before stricter
new U.S. regulations go into force for the 2017 model year,
Mercedes-Benz USA said.
"Aligning smart distribution with Daimler, as it is
worldwide, is the logical next step for the smart brand in the
U.S.," said Roger Penske, chairman of Penske Automotive Group.
"This alignment will enable the smart brand to grow through the
Mercedes-Benz dealership network."
Jill Lajdziak, smart USA president, will stay on a Penske
Automotive after the transition of smart to Mercedes-Benz.
"My focus over the next 90 days is to ensure a smooth
transition for our retail owners and dealers," said Lajdziak,
adding that her goal is hand "a very strong business over to
The ownership group of 45,000 is extremely passionate and
loyal to the brand, said Lajdziak. For those owners, the
transition will be seamless, she said.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall and Deepa Seetharaman; editing by
Gunna Dickson, Gary Hill)