NEW YORK -- Mercedes-Benz won't need 80 Smart dealers if the ForMore is axed, says the brand's chief executive in the United States.
But it will need annual sales of at least 15,000 units to create a viable separate franchise for the Smart brand, says Paul Halata, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA LLC.
"You can't cover a country of this size with a handful of dealers, and they have to make money," Halata said in an interview at the New York auto show.
Mercedes is exploring scenarios for Smart in the United States in anticipation of a decision in Germany on the brand's future. The announcement is expected in about four weeks.
DaimlerChrysler CEO Juergen Schrempp recently told analysts that killing the money-losing Smart brand is a possibility.
If the ForMore SUV is killed, a U.S. launch of Smart could be pushed back about a year to 2007 when the second-generation of the ForTwo two-seater minicars would debut, Halata said.
"It would mean we would have to reconfigure everything we have done," Halata said.
Smart started the search for dealers on the assumption that annual sales would be about 30,000 vehicles in the first full year and grow quickly to 50,000 to 60,000.
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