DaimlerChrysler AG will partner with race team owner and businessman Roger Penske to sell a funky and fuel-efficient two-seat car in the U.S. starting early in 2008, the automaker’s CEO said Wednesday (June 28).
According to an Associated Press report, the decision — announced by DaimlerChrysler Chairman Dieter Zetsche during an appearance in Detroit — is a watershed moment for the company’s Smart car unit, which has not posted a profit since it was formed in 1998.
The Smart Car is considered to be a viable dinghy vehicle that can be towed behind motorhomes. The former Euroliner LLC that exported diesel motorhomes to Europe also had plans to design a coach that would haul the Smart Car in an onboard garage area.
Penske’s United Auto Group Inc. will be responsible for picking potential dealers and developing and maintaining a Smart vehicle dealership network throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico. It will focus mainly on highly populated areas and have 30 to 50 dealerships, Penske said.
Smart will sell the next generation of its “fortwo” model, which has been popular in Europe. It gets an average of 40 miles per gallon in combined city-highway driving and will sell for less than $15,000. The company says it can get up to 69 mpg on the highway.
Zetsche said the time is right to introduce Smart to urban Americans who have to deal with congested roadways, $3 per gallon gasoline and a perpetual search for parking.
“We may never see cheap gas again,” he said.
But he said the appeal of the car goes beyond gas mileage to attract people who question the status quo and seek individuality.