Smart USA plans to add nameplates to a lineup that has relied solely on the ForTwo two-seat minicar, beginning with a five-door, gasoline-powered subcompact in the fourth quarter of 2011.
Said Eric Patterson, general manager of Texas Smart Center in Round Rock, Texas: "We've had customers who were fans of the original Smart say they wished they could take their kids in the vehicle. It's good to see that becoming a possibility."
Smart USA President Jill Lajdziak said the brand will be "moving up just a little bit into the B segment." The new vehicle will compete with the Honda Fit in the growing U.S. subcompact-vehicle segment, she said.
The car will be built on a new global Nissan platform in one of Nissan Motor Co.'s factories in the Americas, Nissan spokesman Dave Reuter said.
That probably means it will be built in Mexico on Nissan's new global V platform, which also will be used to replace the Nissan Micra subcompact sold outside the United States. The Micra is almost two feet shorter than the current Nissan Versa.
It is unclear whether the Smart five-door will be a variant of one of two vehicles that Nissan says it is developing to be sold for about $10,000 in the United States.
Under the broad terms of an agreement involving Smart's parent, Daimler AG, and both Nissan and Renault SA, there also will be a Renault-built, four-seat Smart -- including an electric version -- developed for Europe that may go to U.S. retailers as well. U.S. retailers also will see a next-generation ForTwo, but Smart hasn't said when.
Smart's U.S. sales peaked at 24,622 in 2008, the year of the brand's introduction. Gasoline prices for much of that year topped $4 a gallon. ForTwo sales plunged 41 percent last year as the economy collapsed and gasoline prices fell. Through September, sales are down an additional 62 percent to 4,779.
Smart USA is a unit of Penske Automotive Group, the nation's second-largest auto retailer.
Vanessa R. Williams and Reuters contributed to this report