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Just a few weeks ago, former Saturn general manager Jill Lajdziak was hired by Penske Automotive to head sales and marketing for its Smart USA operations. Now, Smart has announced that Lajdziak will take over the entire operation as the new president of Smart USA, replacing Dave Schembri who has held the post since its inception.
In the past several months, sales of the Smart Fortwo have collapsed in the States, with November down 65 percent. From where we sit, Lajdziak has a tough job ahead of her, trying to find a way to convince buyers that a tiny but not inexpensive car with disappointing fuel economy and a horrible transmission is a good idea. To be fair, tilting at windmills is nothing new for Lajdziak, who worked at Saturn throughout its entire nearly twenty year run. Revamping the sales network will apparently be a big part of her job, since a revamped version of the Fortwo is not on the immediate horizon. You can check out the official press release after the jump.

[Source: Smart USA | Image: Stan Honda/Getty]


Penske Automotive Announces Management Changes at smart USA

January 4, 2010 – Penske Automotive Group, Inc. (NYSE:PAG), an international automotive retailer and exclusive distributor of the smart fortwo through its wholly-owned subsidiary smart USA Distributor LLC ("smart USA"), announced today that Jill Lajdziak has been named President of smart USA. In this role, Lajdziak will assume day to day operations for the smart brand in the United States. Lajdziak has over 30 years of progressive automotive experience, including expertise in brand development, product marketing and customer satisfaction. Penske Automotive Group Chairman Roger Penske said, "As we look to enhance the position of the smart brand, Jill's background and experience will help us reinvigorate the dealer network and bring a greater awareness to the smart brand." Previously, smart USA was managed by Dave Schembri. Schembri will transition into Penske Automotive Group's retail operations. Penske continued, "I would like to thank Dave for his efforts over the last three and a half years with smart USA. His contributions were instrumental in helping us bring smart to the United States."

About Penske Automotive

Penske Automotive Group, Inc., (www.penskeautomotive.com) headquartered in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, operates 310 retail automotive franchises, representing 40 different brands and 25 collision repair centers. Penske Automotive, which sells new and previously owned vehicles, finance and insurance products and replacement parts, and offers maintenance and repair services on all brands it represents, has 160 franchises in 17 states and Puerto Rico and 150 franchises located outside the United States, primarily in the United Kingdom. Penske Automotive, through its wholly-owned subsidiary smart USA Distributor LLC (www.smartusa.com), is the exclusive distributor of the smart fortwo vehicle and related parts in the United States. smart USA supports over 75 smart retail centers in the United States. Penske Automotive is a member of the Fortune 500 and Russell 1000 and has approximately 14,000 employees. smart and fortwo are registered trademarks of Daimler AG.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      A Fiesta or Fiat 500 are far better small cars.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Not that I'd ever want one of those small little space wasters (in my world anyway)...but, had they not imported them into the US in the first place (shot themselves in the foot on that), the diesel would still be available here in Canada, which though still not inexpensive, at least was great on fuel. An acquaintance has one, before they sent only the gas jobs over, and he claims 85 mpg (about 71 US mpg). I hear the gas jobs aren't any better than say a Civic or Corolla...maybe worse. Why the hell would you bother with less than half a car then? They probably sold more than a few here, and especially with the diesel. (someone know the stats?)
      • 5 Years Ago
      Now that the boutique shoppers all have theirs, sales will be dead in the water until they get a new model with better economy over here STAT. If you're not saving on fuel over a Civic, why would you mess with something so tiny? I believe many municipalities won't let them park sideways as well, which was on of their big advantages for urban dwellers.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Wow. Bad hair day.

      As for the Smart, I think it was a good idea executed not very well. The transmission needs work--either give a proper manual or a proper auto, not that half-assed sequential compromise you've got now. Or better yet, a real dual-clutch gearbox--though that'll make it even more expensive.
      Fuel economy is also a bit lackluster given the size of the vehicle. I'm betting this is because the teeny tiny engine is overworked. A larger mill might actually improve economy somewhat because a bigger engine won't have to work quite as hard. It'd fix the car's anemic power delivery too.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'll repeat what others have already said...
      It's overpriced, underperforming, ridiculously small for the NA market, and fails to even get decent gas mileage for such a small car-- wasn't that the whole point of it?? I can buy a civic with much better utility for less and get better mileage and performance. All the Berkley professors have bought one so the market is pretty much saturated.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Never have fathomed how the "Smart" can compete with 4 door small cars that get just as good mileage and might even cost less?

      The "Smart" IMO is just a little status vehicle for the person with the Lexus/Mercedes in the driveway. It's their little grocery go-get'er.

      One can save money, and get a small sized entry-level 4 door, 4-banger, and have 2 extra seats, more storage, and just a "tad" less mileage if any.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'd heard horror stories about the transmission & read somewhere that you have to drive it in manual mode to drive it smoothly. I've since driven one & was surprised how easy it was to drive smoothly...put it in manual mode, lift the accelerator when shifting & the car responds just like any other manual transmission car driven conservatively. This slight adjustment from using it in the clunky "automatic" mode makes a big difference. No lurching between gears at all, but I guess you have to drive a manual transmission car smoothly to understand it can be done in the Smart as well, just with a paddle shifter & no clutch pedal. I also found the car quite comfortable & roomy for its size (more like a narrow minivan than minicar, the seats are excellent), and at city speeds a very quiet ride. The electric cabriolet roof can open/close at speed.

      That said, the transmission does sap any potential fun from the ride, the ride itself is very choppy, directional stability over 60 MPH is interesting to say the least, fuel economy isn't great for the size and they're completely overpriced. Perfect vehicle for some (the one I drove is towed behind a motorhome, it's not a daily driver).

      Give it a real gearbox, a better engine, & better marketing and it might have a better chance in the US. Or not. Hard to say. For a city car in tight confines, especially in Europe w/a diesel, I can clearly see why it can be popular.
      • 5 Years Ago
      What she's supposed to? People here have tried them and decided the Smart is basically a gimmick and not practical for the states.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Why not call the next street legal golf cart the Dumb for One? Dumb and Dumber for Two? I've seen these cars on freeways sharing lanes with eighteen-wheelers, not "Smart."
      • 5 Years Ago
      I've seen these all over the place, but I wonder the practicality of it when it snows like it has been in the Northeast. I can't imagine these handle well when there's a sloshy mix of yet-unplowed snow on the road.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Sounds like this woman has lots of experience marketing crappy cars to Americans. Ultimately though, her efforts could only go so far at Saturn and that company is dead now. I see the same thing happening to Smart in 2-3 years.

      The Smart is a stupid car and a poor use of money. Besides the things mentioned in the post, further evidence is that a guy I know who owns a Pontiac Aztek bought a Smart too. He has THE WORST taste in vehicles on Earth!
      • 5 Years Ago
      Why is it that Smart is willing to challenge the (incorrect) notion that American's don't want small cars but won't challenge the notion that American's don't want diesel? At this point, American's don't care what type of fuel they put in if the car gets 70mpg.

      I think all the people who have a Smart now didn't actually look at the mpg rating...or at least didn't compare it to a civic. They just figured small = efficient.

      How to save Smart:
      1) Bring over the diesel. At the very least, you'll be able to advertise 70mpg even if that's not the model people buy
      2) Give us a halfway decent transmission. Most people can't tell a decent tranny from a good one, but they know when one sucks. Basically, take away any major "dealbreakers".
      3) Make it cheaper than a Honda Fit or Toyota Yaris. Back seats are worth -$1k (negative) to most people.
      4) Improve the dealer network. How are you going to sell a micro car in the same showroom as an $100k mercedes?
      5) Advertise...and see #1. And advertise that it's safe. A lot of people assume that it's not (and I'm not even sure).
      6) Optional: Make a sport version. Throw a hayabusa engine or something in it and a sporty suspension. That way you get a car-enthusiast base (who accept 2 seaters anyway). If I had a smart that I loved, and someone asked me my opinion, I could say that Smart makes good cars. That's what Mustang did/does - enthusiasts get the GT then when the non-enthusiasts asks what car to get, he/she recommends a v6 mustang...which sucks but is good enough for a non-enthusiast.
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