In what’s being described around the internet as an “implosion”, Penske Automotive has announced its intention to relinquish Smart distribution rights in America to Mercedes Benz. Given the abysmal US sales and the reality of what a Smart car really is, we can’t say we’re shocked the whole house of cards finally came tumbling down. However, the story from Penske is that this was actually Merc’s idea. In a nutshell, Benz selling the Smart in-house is a shortcut to meeting the upcoming 2016 CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards. This is not unlike Aston Martin restyling the Toyota IQ to bump its terrible MPG fleet average up to something the feds won’t ding them for.
Included in the restructuring is the likely closure of 21 Smart-only dealerships (dealers who do not also sell Mercedes Benz vehicles) and probably Smart’s Michigan headquarters. Additionally, Smart will forego its planned four door model, based on the Nissan Micra, in favor of a FourTwo+2 currently in development. Mercedes-Benz USA President Ernst Lieb had this to say: “We are very excited about working toward integration of Smart into the MBUSA organization and look forward to working with our dealer partners to exceed customer expectations for this unique vehicle.”
Benz seems to think they can better handle the sales and marketing of the Smart, which is probably true. They’ve got plenty of cash to spend on marketing and advertising. In the end though, I can’t help but wonder if Benz really cares about the success of Smart itself, or if they will simply maintain the brand like a pet for the sake of better fleet MPG numbers.
And if you really want to know why Smart USA is dead, read our review from a few years ago.