NEW YORK -- Mercedes-Benz dealers urged DaimlerChrysler AG CEO Dieter Zetsche not to launch the Smart micro-car brand in the United States, says Doug Callahan, chairman of the luxury brand's dealer council.
"We asked them not to bring it to the United States because we did not think it was commensurate with the Mercedes-Benz image," says Callahan, owner of Helms Bros. Inc. He has Mercedes-Benz stores in Bayside, N.Y., and New London, Conn.
Dealers also told Zetsche that if DaimlerChrysler, Smart's parent company, chose to launch Smart here, franchises "should be offered to all the Mercedes-Benz dealers and let the dealers make the decision," Callahan says.
But Zetsche went ahead with a plan to bring the tiny Smart ForTwo hatchback to the United States using Roger Penske's UnitedAuto Group Inc. as an independent distributor. Former Mercedes executive Dave Schembri will head Smart USA.
Schembri says UnitedAuto stores will be "given preference" when selecting the 30 to 50 stores to sell Smart, with other DaimlerChrysler dealers receiving consideration. He said last week that UnitedAuto has been deluged with requests for Smart franchises.