Penske bails out of Smart distribution deal, Daimler takes over

2009 Smart Fortwo Click above for high-res image gallery

So much for Valentine's Day. Penske and Smart have jointly announced that the couple is going their separate ways.

Penske is walking away from it distribution rights, management, sales and marketing duties, but that doesn't mean the brand is going anywhere. From now on, the pint-sized city movers will be peddled by Mercedes-Benz USA, and Smart says the move is just one part of a greater growth strategy. In a letter to owners, Smart said that all warranties will still be valid and that all of the transition kinks should be ironed out by as soon as June of this year.

Talk about a quick rebound.

Daimler handles Smart distribution the world over, so the move makes sense for the troubled brand here in the States. Hobbled by low fuel prices, Smart sold around 100,000 units globally last year. In comparison, the company managed to move 114,000 vehicles amidst the world-wide recession of 2009. A paltry 5,927 Fortwos were sold in the U.S. in 2010.

Rumors have cropped up around a number of planned new models for the company, including a ForTwo+2 as well as a five-door hatch. Hit the jump for the full press release as well as the company's letter to current owners. Thanks for the tip, Vince!

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[Source: Smart]
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Mercedes-Benz USA Intends to Transition the Distribution of smart from Penske Automotive Group
MONTVALE, N.J., Feb. 14, 2011

Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) and Penske Automotive Group (NYSE: PAG) today announced they have started negotiations to transition the distribution rights, management, sales and marketing activities of smart USA from Penske Automotive Group to Mercedes-Benz USA. The transition is expected to occur by the end of the second quarter of 2011.

The proposed change marks a further step in implementing the future growth strategy of the smart brand. It also reflects last year's reorganization at smart headquarters in Germany, where smart is now managed as an independent brand, but is fully integrated into Mercedes-Benz Cars business unit of Daimler AG.

"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," said Mercedes-Benz President and CEO, Ernst Lieb. "The addition of smart, combined with our Autohaus dealer initiative, will help us build upon the tremendous momentum the Mercedes-Benz brand has achieved here in the U.S."

"Introducing the smart brand to the U.S. has been a unique opportunity for us," said Penske Automotive Group Chairman Roger Penske. "Over the last three years I've experienced the passion consumers express for the brand as we delivered over 45,000 vehicles. Aligning smart distribution with Daimler, as it is worldwide, is the logical next step for the smart brand in the U.S. This alignment will enable the smart brand to grow through the Mercedes-Benz dealership network and lead the way in conservation and meeting future fuel economy standards."

The addition of the fuel efficient smart fortwo and smart fortwo electric vehicles to Mercedes-Benz USA's product portfolio underscores the company's commitment to meet even more stringent fuel economy standards in the future. The smart fortwo achieves EPA estimated 41 mpg in highway driving. Manufactured by Daimler AG, smart is currently sold in more than 40 countries, and more than 1.2 million smart fortwo have been sold worldwide since 1998. Since then, smart has established itself as the think tank for urban and electric mobility for Daimler AG and plays an important role in the Corporation's plans to make innovative future mobility concepts such as car2go available in Europe and the United States.

Dear smart Owners,

I wanted to take a moment and let you know that today Penske Automotive Group announced plans to transition the smart USA business to Mercedes-Benz USA. It was important to us that you hear this news from us and not via news reports.

As a loyal smart owner this is good news for you. The brand will continue under the responsibility of Mercedes-Benz USA, a natural home for the smart brand given the product is designed and engineered by Mercedes-Benz. This transition will be seamless for you. You will be serviced in your market as you are today. Your warranty does not change. We are working through all the transition details which we anticipate to be complete by no later than the end of June. We of course will continue to have open dialogue with you through the next few months and please do not hesitate to reach out to us if you have questions.

Thank you for your continued loyalty to smart.

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