More stories related to 2005 NAIAS DETROIT – Smart GmbH is using the North American International Auto Show as a giant clinic to determine a market for its mini cars.

It could be construed as a retreat for a brand that originally planned to use the Detroit show to showcase the Smart Formore in anticipation of selling the cross/utility vehicle in the U.S. in 2006.

The Formore is not even on display this week at the show, and may not come anytime soon – if at all. (See related story: Formore’s Absence Speaks Volumes)

The exhibit does feature the tiny Fortwo, which is selling well in Canada, the Forfour and the Smart Roadster.

Smart Formore noticeable in its absence at Detroit auto show.

Ulrich Walker, the new head of Smart, says Detroit is the first phase of a clinic to gauge reaction to the vehicles by American consumers. “It is under discussion what we bring to the U.S., so we are using this as a clinic,” Walker says.

He tells Ward’s a decision is expected within six months.

Walker cites the need to take vehicles developed for the European market and ensure they meet U.S. specifications.

But during DaimlerChrysler AG’s third-quarter earnings call, Manfred Gentz, chief financial officer, said the money-losing Smart division was under review. And the financial review has been cited as the reason for not showing the Formore in Detroit this week, as it has been delayed.

Walker says the goal is to bring the full lineup of Smart vehicles to the U.S. and Canada for 2006, which leaves plenty of time to show the Formore.

“We don’t want to show the Formore two years before launch. It’s too early,” Walker says. “We can show the Formore next year here.”

Meanwhile, Paul Halata, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz U.S.A. Inc., says he sees a good opportunity for Smart in the U.S.

He says it is premature to say if all the products in the Smart lineup would work. And he says Canadian sales will be watched closely.

The auto maker sold more than 1,000 Fortwos in Canada since it was launched there in October. The 2-seater is sold in more than 36 markets.

apriddle@primediabusiness.com