Smart's Micro Car Gets an Early Start By TERRY KOSDROSKY July 11, 2007; Page D4 DETROIT -- The president of Smart USA, which will distribute a two-passenger micro car in the U.S., said that it's received more than 20,000 reservations and will have 45 to 60 dealerships ready to sell the vehicles by January. The number of advance reservations for the Smart "fortwo" have exceeded Smart's most optimistic expectations, said Dave Schembri, president of Smart USA. The reservation fee on the vehicles is $99. Once available in the U.S., the base model will sell for under $12,000. Smart USA, a unit of auto-dealership titan Penske Automotive Group Inc., is currently working with Smart maker DaimlerChrysler AG to balance demand with production. Last year, DaimlerChrysler announced its partnership with Penske Auto Group, then known as United Auto Group, to bring Smart cars to the U.S. The vehicles will be built at a plant in France and will be equipped for the U.S. market. Mr. Schembri, speaking at a press conference here, said the 45 to 60 Smart dealers should be ready to sell by January 2008, when the cars are expected to arrive in U.S. showrooms. Smart plans to have 60 to 70 dealerships in the U.S. The Smart cars will hit the U.S. market at a time when auto makers are seeing sales of small cars rise as gasoline becomes more expensive. The Smart fortwo, at 8.8 feet long and 5 feet wide, is smaller than the subcompacts on the market. But Mr. Schembri said the Smart is expected to have at least a four-star crash rating. The car should average 40 miles a gallon. A majority of the dealerships -- 60% or more -- will be adjacent to Mercedes-Benz dealerships either in a separate, connected showroom or a separate building. Others will be stand-alone dealerships with other dealers. Mercedes is a DaimlerChrysler unit. Smart USA's headquarters will be housed in a dealership in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Mr. Schembri said. The Smart fortwo will come in three trim levels -- a Pure baseline model that starts under $12,000, a Passion Coupe that starts under $14,000 and a convertible that starts under $17,000.