Mini-Cars to Be Built to Order

Smart mini-cars, that goes on sale in the U.S. next year, will contain options determined from retail customer orders instead of from dealers. So says Roger Penske, chairman of Penske Automotive Group, Smart's importer and U.S. distributor through an initial 70 U.S. dealers. Option order forms were sent this fall to the first 1,000 customers who, in turn, sent Smart headquarters $99 each for a Smart

Smart mini-cars, that goes on sale in the U.S. next year, will contain options determined from retail customer orders instead of “guesstimates” from dealers.

So says Roger Penske, chairman of Penske Automotive Group, Smart's importer and U.S. distributor through an initial 70 U.S. dealers.

Option order forms were sent this fall to the first 1,000 customers who, in turn, sent Smart headquarters $99 each for a Smart ForTwo car reservation. By early September, about 31,000 consumers had sent in reservations, for a total of about $3,070,000 in income for the Mercedes-built two-seater.

The build-to-customer-order system “is entirely different from having John Doe waiting on the showroom floor for the customer to walk in,” says Penske. “Those days are over.”

Penske says about 20,000-25,000 Smarts will be sold in the U.S. in its first year on the U.S. market, beginning in early 2008.

The tiny Hambach egg-shaped car is assembled in France, and nearly 10,000 have been sold by Mercedes dealers in Canada since its launch there in 2004.

Seeking to dispel concerns about Smart's safety and driveability, auto racing tycoon Penske drove one last summer on a 200-mile stretch in Texas.

“I just wanted to see what it is like going 75 mpg on the highway,” says the 70-year-old industrialist and megadealer CEO. “I didn't get tired, and I wasn't fighting a car that moved all over the road. At 65 to 75, it is very driveable.”

Smart division's national headquarters is next to Penske's Detroit area Smart dealership in Bloomfield Hills, MI.

TAGS: Dealers Retail
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