NEW YORK -- Smart plans to enter the US market with its For4 four-door model, which will be launched in Europe in 2004.
The For4 shares a platform with the Mitsubishi Colt and will be built at Mitsubishi's NedCar factory in Born, Netherlands, for sale in Europe.
Smart CEO Andreas Renschler says the US version of the For4 will be modified heavily for American tastes, and its design will differ from the European version.
Due to capacity limits at NedCar, the US model will be assembled in the underused Mercedes-Benz factory in Juiz de Fora, Brazil.
Smart will have its own network of dealers and separate stores when the city-car brand goes on sale in the USA, Mercedes-Benz officials said.
Smart, which is expected to enter the US market with a four-passenger model in 2005 or 2006, will be a division of Mercedes-Benz USA and be headed by Mercedes executive David Schembri, according to sources at last month's New York auto show.
Schembri, who had been head of marketing for Mercedes-Benz USA since 2001, was named to the new position of vice president of pre-owned sales and fleet operations in March.
Mercedes-Benz is working on a business plan for Smart that will be ready for presentation to US dealers by late summer, an insider said.
Mercedes dealers will be offered the Smart franchise but will be required to build a separate showroom, the source said.
By summer, Mercedes will have decided on key issues for Smart, including price, volume and size of the retail network. Mercedes dealers won't be approached about taking a Smart franchise until these issues are resolved, the source said.
"Dealers want a detailed business plan before they make any major decisions," the source said. "We think it's a unique opportunity for dealers."
The US sales strategy is an extension of the way Smart is now sold in Europe. Smart was launched in continental Europe in October 1998 through 110 special Smart Centers. But after a trouble-filled first six months, Smart was relaunched in April 1999 with a new pricing strategy and advertising campaign. Parent DaimlerChrysler integrated Smart into its own national sales organizations the following month, supplementing the Smart Centers with up to 1,000 Mercedes sites operating as sub-dealers.