NEW YORK -- DaimlerChrysler AG may use a third party to distribute its Smart minicar in the United States, says Klaus Maier, executive vice president for Mercedes-Benz sales and marketing.
If Smart comes to the United States, only one Smart model would be sold: the next-generation ForTwo in 2008. Paul Halata, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA LLC, says the DaimlerChrysler supervisory board will decide whether to launch Smart in the United States in six to eight weeks.
"We aren't talking to dealers yet," Halata says. "We need to have the decision."
Mercedes has considered the possibility of a regional network for Smart in the biggest metropolitan areas where the miniature car likely would sell best.
Mercedes last year canceled plans to bring Smart to the United States after the company decided not to build a small SUV called the ForMore. The company had begun to enlist U.S. dealers.
Last month, Mercedes decided the Smart brand will have only one model in the future, the two-seat ForTwo. The ForFour four-seater will be killed.
But Mercedes is still studying costs, particularly exchange rates, Halata says. The euro has been strong for the past several years, making for unfavorable pricing for European makes. This was a major issue in an earlier decision not to bring in its Mercedes-Benz compact B-class car.
Maier says Mercedes is still debating whether to use its own dealer network or an outsider for Smart.
"We have all the options still on the table - whether third parties can do that or our own organization," he says.
Maier would not rule out using an independent dealership group. Roger Penske's UnitedAuto Group Inc. has been rumored for the past several months as a possible partner.
Says Maier, "We are open to the most efficient and suitable solution."
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