DETROIT - DaimlerChrysler may launch Smart in the United States with a concentration of dealerships on the East Coast, West Coast and select urban areas.
But DaimlerChrysler is keeping all options open regarding its European small-car brand, including selling the money-losing unit.
Dieter Zetsche, CEO of DaimlerChrysler, confirmed last week that the company has received unsolicited offers for Smart. He said the investment banking firm Goldman Sachs has been retained to screen those offers.
Analysts estimate that Smart lost more than $700 million in 2004 and more than $4.8 billion since 1998 when the unit began producing cars. DaimlerChrysler does not separate the division's financial results.
But Zetsche said last week during an interview with Automotive News at the Detroit auto show that Smart would break even by 2007.
Mercedes last year decided against bringing its Smart brand to the United States after canceling plans for a compact Smart SUV.
Before it nixed the idea, Mercedes conducted a nationwide search for about 70 Smart dealers. Paul Halata, Mercedes-Benz USA CEO, said he now thinks Smart vehicles have more potential in certain regions, such as California and the Northeast.
"I am not sure that a vehicle like this could be sold throughout the whole United States," he said during an interview at the auto show. "We have a very unique market in the United States. There are differences, and a car like this would do well in some markets."
Halata says he wants Smart in the United States.
"I haven't changed my tune about this," he said. "I believe that a car like this could be sold in certain parts of the United States."
Zetsche said DaimlerChrysler is evaluating three options for distributing Smart in the United States: through Mercedes-Benz dealers; through Chrysler dealers; and through a third party network.
"We will see the pros and cons and then decide," Zetsche said. "I think it would not be feasible to replicate the European concept of a stand-alone network."
Zetsche said that the next generation Smart ForTwo two-seat minicar, due in 2007, would be homologated for the United States.
Diana T. Kurylko contributed to this report