Smart to get a big brother in the US

Daimler-owned compact car brand Smart is to launch a larger, Nissan-designed vehicle in the US next year, the company confirmed October 6.

The five-door gas-powered vehicle will hit the roads in the fourth quarter of 2011, said Smart USA, and will be sold by 75 Smart dealers across the country.

Initial sketches of the vehicle show a sporty-looking hatchback.

The introduction of a larger B-segment vehicle in the US marks a significant change in strategy for Smart, which has seen sales dwindle over the past year.

Its only US model is the tiny Fortwo, which proved wildly popular in Europe but has been something of a flop in the US - it sold 24,622 models in 2008, the first year of its introduction, and only 14,595 in 2009.

Current year-to-date sales for 2010 are at 4,779, down 61 percent on last year's already-low figures.

Smart's USA boss Jill Lajdziak said, "The new vehicle will expand smart USA's product lineup, offering five-seat capacity while maintaining the core principles of efficiency and conservation."

Although previous indications suggested that US consumers were ready to downsize their vehicles in favor of more compact, fuel-efficient vehicles, it seems that they're not ready to go below a certain size - no doubt Chrysler, readying the compact Fiat 500 for a market introduction before the year is out, is watching closely.

http://www.smartusa.com

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