DCX still undecided about bringing Smart to U.S. ... but Zap's still on the case
By Automotive News/Autoweek March 6, 2006
DaimlerChrysler still hasn't decided whether Smart will come to the United States despite promises that an announcement would be made at the Geneva auto show. But it seems to be leaning toward yes.
Said Ulrich Walker, head of Smart: "We are close.
We will decide within the next weeks."
But Walker pointed to a comment DaimlerChrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche made to a German reporter last week: "It is now more likely that we will decide in favor of rather than against (entering) the U.S."
Zetsche also said DaimlerChrysler still is entertaining offers of joint cooperation and even the outright sale of Smart, but he wouldn't say which companies have expressed an interest.
U.S. distribution would be a thorny issue. Mercedes-Benz disbanded its project to name dealers in the United States after DaimlerChrysler's previous management decided against U.S. Smart sales. Mercedes now is considering whether Smart should be sold only in areas of the country where the tiny car would be popular, a spokesman said recently.
... but Zap's still on the case
Wannabe small-car importer Zap is making waves again.
Last spring the company placed an out-of-the blue order with DaimlerChrysler for $1 billion worth of Smart cars. But it was stiff-armed by the automaker, which said it had doubts about Zap's ability to pay. Zap, deeply offended, smacked DaimlerChrysler with a $500 million lawsuit last fall.
Although Smart says it wants nothing to do with Zap, the California company says it's doing an end run around the auto giant by procuring Smart cars from third-party brokers it wouldn't identify. Zap said last week that it has delivered 85 Smart cars to U.S. dealers, and CEO Steve Schneider said the company has 250 it's preparing to deliver this month.
Zap spokesman Alex Campbell says the company has "about a dozen" dealers, but he said he didn't know the exact number.
At least one of them - Sue McFarland of McFarland Ford in Exeter, N.H. - is a new-vehicle dealer. She said she sold the one Smart that Zap provided last summer and is willing to take five more.