Smart gets help from Mercedes dealers

Boeblingen, Germany. Smart is expanding its dealer base by selling cars at Mercedes-Benz dealerships. It is part of the DaimlerChrysler subsidiary's sales offensive known as "Smart forward."

Worldwide, 175 new sales and service operations opened from January through May, 26 of them in Germany.

Smart's president Ulrich Walker made an agreement with the brand's dealers that Smarts will be sold at Mercedes sales outlets just as long as there isn't already a Smart dealer in the city or the local dealer hasn't adequately exploited the market.

Smart sold 139,600 cars worldwide last year. The carmaker wants to sharply increase sales this year, but Walker would not disclose sales goals for 2005.

And with good reason: To reduce capital spending as part of the brand's 1.2 billion euro restructuring, Smart's production in the second half of 2005 is expected to be cut back substantially. That should reduce high inventories quickly.

"We have higher vehicle inventories than planned," Walker said.

Walker broke down Smart's market share figures for various major cities: The strongest markets were Rome, with a 3 percent share, Paris with 2.7 percent, and Berlin with 2.5 percent. Marketing efforts need to be intensified in Munich, 1 percent, and Barcelona, 0.4 percent.

In the next few weeks, Smart's marketing will be refocused and will increasingly target older customers.

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