DaimlerChrysler AG will team with former auto racer 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.
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.
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.
This is great news. I have driven both a ForTwo (shown above) and a ForFour in Europe. We got two adults and two big suitcases into a car so small you can park sideways where other cars have to park parallel. The Tahoe/Hummer/Bulgemobile crowd will dismiss them as toys, and they wouldn't make sense in Wyoming, but here in the Bay Area it is the perfect commuter car. San Francisco has literally thousands of parking spots between driveways that normal cars can't take, so Smart cars will be able to park damn near anywhere.
Roger Penske is no Malcolm Bricklin. He wouldn't be doing this unless he smelled money, and he has pretty impressive track record. So I think this is a good thing pretty much all the way around.
I'll be plunking down a deposit as soon as I can.