TURIN - The success of the Smart car in Italy could show DaimlerChrysler how to sell the tiny two-seater in other European markets.
The Smart is beating sales targets in Italy with help from innovative and aggressive marketing tactics. Rome has absorbed more Smarts (3,600) than any other European city. Milan is second, with 3,000 sales through early December.
Orders in Italy were on course to exceed 18,000 in 1999, second only to Germany.
'But if you consider the many units sold in Germany with heavy discounts to Mercedes-Benz employees, Italy should be the first retail market for the Smart,' said Jochen Prange, the outgoing president of Mercedes-Benz Italia.
Altogether, DaimlerChrysler expected Smart sales to surpass 80,000 in 1999 after receiving just 6,500 orders in the entire first quarter.
Mercedes-Benz Italia took over Smart distribution in April. Only 2,868 cars had been sold in Italy at that time, though DaimlerChrysler's target for the year was 16,115.
'We immediately realized that with only 22 Smart Centers such a goal was impossible,' said Francesco Barra, sales director for Smart at the newly created DaimlerChrysler Italia. 'Consequently, we started to think about different ways to sell this car.'
The first step was to offer the two-seater through Italy's 90 Mercedes-Benz dealerships. The same is being done elsewhere in Europe, but Italy introduced the idea. It was accomplished quickly and easily here, because Mercedes dealers own 98 percent of Smart Centers in Italy. By the end of November, the Mercedes stores had sold 5,880 Smarts.
Since October, monthly Smart registrations in Italy exceeded 2,000 units a month. The year was expected to close with more than 18,000 orders and more than 14,000 units registered. The target this year is 20,000 - 20 percent of planned Smart production.