California's Zap group lost out on a bid to buy the Think electric car from Ford Motor Co., but now it is bringing a plastic-bodied fuel sipper to the United States.
The Sebastapol firm has a contract with DaimlerChrysler AG to bring as many as 15,000 of the two-seat Smart minicars to the United States, two years before the German-American firm launches its own four-seat sport utility vehicle version of the Smart in the region.
``There are people who went to Europe, saw [the Smart] and fell in love with it, only to be told they couldn't buy it here,'' said Zap spokesman Alex Campbell.
Zap's two-seater Smart must meet U.S. crash and emission standards before it can be sold in the country. The car runs on gasoline - a switch for Zap, which specializes in electric-powered vehicles. But with fuel use of about 60 miles per gallon, the Smart still can make an environmental contribution, Campbell said.
The company is offering the first U.S.-legal Smart on Internet auction site eBay, where bids topped $27,000 within the first week. Zap is setting up a dealer network to oversee the sales.
But the United States is not alone in North American Smart sightings. DaimlerChrysler began shipping the car with its injection molded body panels to Canada in August, under its own dealer networks.
Canadian sales have contributed to a growth spurt for Smart, which has sold 126,000 vehicles so far this year globally, up nearly 22 percent compared with 2003.
Smart formally enters the U.S. market in 2006 with an SUV, set for production in Brazil.