LAS VEGAS – Smart has small plans. It wants to be like Mini.

“The Mini is a good model,” says David Schembri, president of Smart USA. “It has good residuals; it’s not relying on incentives; and it’s selling well.”

And Mini owners buy an average of $5,000 in factory- and dealer-installed accessories to customize their little vehicles.

The BMW brand Mini has been selling in the U.S. since 2002.

The DaimlerChrysler brand Smart Fortwo debuts in the U.S. in 2008.

Schembri extols the virtues of the tiny Smart that resembles a subcompact with its back half missing.

Don’t be put off by its size, Schembri tells a J.D. Power and Associate automotive conference held here in conjunction with the National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention.

He speaks of the car’s crash worthiness and shows a video of a Smart holding its own in a crash test with a Mercedes-Benz. He lists Smart’s standard safety features including four airbags, electronic stability control and an antilock brake system.

Some conference attendees remain wary. “I don’t care what they say, I wouldn’t want to be in that thing in a crash with an SUV,” says a General Motors Acceptance Corp. executive.

Schembri also tries to answer skeptics’ oft-posed question of which American will buy such a smidgeon of a car in a nation with a predilection for long wheelbases and V-8 engines. The 71-hp Fortwo has a top speed of 91 mph (146 km/h).

He predicts Smart buyers will belong to “the creative class,” with a demographically diverse membership that includes “intelligent, take-charge people who want to go to the latest restaurant and see the newest movie.”

They are consumers that will buy the car as “a personal statement,” says Schembri, who has held sales and marketing posts for several auto makers during a 32-year automotive career. “Maybe it is a statement about the economy or urban congestion or about excess.”

Lamenting over a common sight on U.S. roadways of a lone person in a “big, big vehicle,” Schembri says, “When you go to dinner by yourself, you don’t order dinner for five.”

Smart buyers apparently will be watching their curb weight.

The Fortwo’s base price tentatively will be $15,000, says Schembri, “but hopefully we will surprise you.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com