Special Coverage

New York Int’l Auto Show

NEW YORK – Roger Penske, chief of Penkse Automotive Group’s Smart U.S.A. Distributor LLC, still is enthused about selling Daimler AG’s A-segment car, despite its precipitous plunge in sales in the year’s first quarter.

Penske says his dealers also remain confident in the brand’s future.

However, he suggests Daimler needs to emulate BMW AG’s Mini brand in evolving a market plan that creates some derivatives to expand the Smart product portfolio.

Penske tells Ward’s Daimler has the right to buy back a 50% share of the exclusive Smart distribution operation after five years.

“If they want it back, then I’d be happy to sell it to them,” Penske says, although he doesn’t appear eager to abandon his exclusive arrangement.

A Daimler spokeswoman here declines to confirm this arrangement.

Details of the exclusive contract’s “duration and maturity are confidential,” she says. “(They) only concern the contractual partners, and thus are not being made public.” Smart sales fell to 1,397 for the year’s first quarter, compared with 4,937 units in like-2009, according to Ward’s data.

But Penske insists there has been no wholesale defection of dealers, and he is confident in the staying power of the Smart brand in the U.S.

While he would like to see additional models added to the Smart portfolio, he declines to comment on what those derivatives might be.

This week, Daimler signed a deal with Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd to collaborate on future small cars, including next-generation Smarts due in 2013.