Penske Spends $25 Million to Rework Nissan Model for Smart Franchise
By Jim Henry
| November 1, 2010
Parent company Penske Automotive
(PAG) disclosed that itís spending $25 million to help Nissan
(NSANY.PK) develop a new four-door hatchback exclusively for the U.S. market, which goes on sale in the fourth quarter of 2011. The new car shares Nissanís global ďBĒ platform under the skin with models like the Nissan Cube
, the Nissan Juke
and the Nissan Versa.
Thatís not much money by auto industry standards. Assuming thereís not a lot more to come - and that seems unlikely, since the time from now until the end of 2011 is critically short by auto industry standards ó that implies the new Smart five-door
is going to be pretty close to an equivalent Nissan. In photos, it looks a lot like the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle, and a little like the Nissan Juke.
One thing for sure, the U.S. Smart franchise
sorely needs fresh product. Smartís sole model in the U.S. market, the Smart fortwo, is a two-seater, as the name suggests. That severely limits the audience for Smart. Two people with one overnight bag each are enough to test the current carís limits for passengers and cargo.
Not only that, the fortwoís styling is remarkably true in its outside appearance to the first Smart concept car, which was first conceived more than 20 years ago. Itís a tribute to the late Nick Hayek, who founded Smart
, that the styling is considered futuristic to this day.
However, the reality is nobody can sell the same-old, same-old for more than 20 years and get away with it. Even instantly recognizable icons like the Volkswagen
(VLKAY.PK) Beetle, the Porsche
911, the Chevy
Corvette and the Ford
(F) Mustang have evolved over the years.
Smart canít stand pat, either. During the third quarter, Smart USA
wholesaled 1,165 units, roughly only one-third as many as the year-ago quarter. In October, Smart USA introduced finance and marketing campaigns designed to sell out its remaining 2010 model year inventory.