NEW YORK – Some U.S. buyers interested in the Smart Fortwo now hitting the market may have to wait until the first quarter of next year to take delivery.

This year’s allotment of cars virtually is sold out, says Smart USA President David C. Schembri.

Roger Penske, chairman of Smart U.S. and Penske Automotive Group, the second-largest automotive retailer in the U.S., says sales should total 26,000 units this year, about 4,000 fewer than the 30,000 pre-launch orders the company generated.

Customers are spending an average $1,100 on options for the three Smart models, the Fortwo Pure ($11,590), Fortwo Passion Coupe ($13,590) and Fortwo Passion Cabriolet ($16,590), Schembri says.

“The No.1 option for the base model is air conditioning,” he adds. “The No.1 option on the middle and upper model is a comfort package ($850) that includes air conditioning.”

All deliveries are being made against a reservation list, which is closed for the remainder of the year at half of the brand’s 74 dealerships, Schembri says. Waiting lists are the longest on the West Coast, he says.

Smart prohibits franchised dealers from selling the vehicles for more than the suggested retail price, Schembri says, but he admits some Fortwos have been listed on eBay at a premium.

Only 5% of orders prior to launch were for the base model. The cabriolet was selected by 35% of those on the reservation list. The remaining 60% of orders were for the coupe.

Before the Fortwo officially went on sale in the U.S., some gray-market models were sold at well above the current base prices, but Schembri believes those dealers no longer are offering underground units.

Fifty-three of the Smart franchisees are Mercedes dealers who are required to have a walled-off dedicated showroom and separate service facilities.

Schembri says the current dealer body covers 31 states. Later this year, he expects dealerships to open in Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

“We’ll also probably open a dealership in Louisiana,” he says.

There is no franchise fee, but Schembri estimates Smart dealers are investing $400,000-$2 million, depending on the cost of real estate.

“I’m confident Smart dealers will have (at least) a minimum of NADA (National Automobile Dealers Assn.) return on investment,” Schembri says.

The new Smart starts out as a stripped-down car with the lowest warranty in the industry currently: 2 years/24,000 miles (38,400 km). However, the corrosion warranty covers 4 years/50,000 miles (80,500 km).

Conventional equipment found on base models of virtually all other brands is optional on Smart. For instance, power steering is a $450 option on all three models.

A 70-hp 1.0L, 3-cyl. sourced from Mitsubishi Motors Corp. powers the Smart cars. It is mated to a 5-speed, clutch-less manual transmission. Paddle shifters are available on the coupe and cabriolet.

But there is an impressive array of standard safety equipment in all three models. There are four airbags that deploy according to the force of an impact, antilock brakes and electronic stability control with hill-start assist. The seatbelts come with pre-tensioners and belt-force limiters.

The Fortwo is built at Daimler AG’s Hambach, France, plant.

There are no plans for other models at this time, but Schembri says management is studying use of alternate-fuel and hybrid powertrains for future models.

Says Penske: “If the brand can demonstrate this (volume) is sustainable, my hope is that there will be derivative models.”

One example could be an electric-vehicle version, he says, emphasizing no decisions have been made on additional models.

Currently, about 50 battery-powered Smarts are undergoing testing in the U.K.