The on-again, off-again plans of Mercedes-Benz to import its Smart commuter car to the United States seem to rise and fall along with gasoline prices.
Earlier in the year, the prospects for Smart models coming to the States seemed dim when Mercedes-Benz disbanded the fledgling U.S. marketing team.
Now that gasoline prices are hovering around the $3 a gallon mark, Mercedes is expected to give the project a green light by the end of the year.
The company figures there is U.S. market potential for 20,000 of the commuter cars a year, mostly in large urban areas. There already are a few running around that were imported outside the Mercedes-Benz network.
You see Smarts all over Europe, but there seems to be a larger than normal concentration of them in Berlin. That's because Berlin has a higher than usual concentration of single, young adults. About 800,000 of the city's 3.5 million residents are young and single, according to a German industrial development agency.
Mercedes execs had planned to build a new, four-seat SUV version to launch in the United States, but tough financial times forced cancellation of that model. And Smart President Ulrich Walker told our German-language sister publication Automobilwoche that there will be no new models until at least 2007.
So if Mercedes plans to come soon, it most likely will be with the same two-seat models sold in Canada.
But if the price of gasoline continues to rise, that 3-cylinder turbodiesel that gets about 60 miles a gallon could look like a bargain to a lot more than 20,000 Americans.
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