The first Smart car store will open in mid-December, soon after the factory starts shipping U.S.-spec cars, says David Schembri, president of Smart USA.
Smart USA expects 40 to 50 dealers to open in early January, when the brand officially goes on sale.
Schembri declined to name dealers, saying distributor Penske Automotive Group is still working on individual agreements. Some dealers have begun building stand-alone or separate showrooms.
By the end of 2008, Schembri says, Smart will have 72 stores. About 40 will be exclusive or stand-alone with "complete or separate buildings and, at minimum, a separate showroom," he says.
Some Smart dealers are known. They include Mercedes-Benz of San Francisco; Bergstrom Automotive Group in Neenah, Wis.; Ray Catena Mercedes-Benz Center in Edison, N.J.; and Park Place Motorcars in Dallas.
About 60 percent of Smart dealers are also Mercedes-Benz dealers. Dealers handling both brands will be permitted to use some shared facilities, such as service and parts, Schembri says. Mercedes and Smart are owned by Daimler AG.
Mercedes-Benz USA had to approve all of the Mercedes dealers who got Smart franchises and took pains to make sure that there are separate entrances and different tile and furniture for the two brands, says CEO Ernst Lieb.
"Every Smart application had to go past us to make sure that we are not compromising anything on the Mercedes-Benz side," Lieb says.
Schembri says 30,000 people have contacted the company to express interest in the cars, and that has translated into about 1,000 orders. He adds: "Regardless of where they are in the country, they will have the opportunity to pick up the car — or, in some cases, we will have the car delivered to the consumer's home."