Daimler's Smart smashes 2008 sales expectations, similar results expected for '09

Despite an overall down market in 2008, Daimler's U.S. Smart launch went off better than expected. Many naysayers expected the diminutive ForTwo to fail in the U.S. because of its tiny size - especially considering the mass of some SUVs on the road -- but Smart's unique marketing strategy and $4 gas helped spur the brand to better-than-expected sales.

Daimler launched the Smart ForTwo with the hopes of selling 16,000 units during its first year on the U.S. market, but actually sold 24,622 ForTwos in 2008. Moreover, that momentum looks like it will carry into 2009.

Smart has taken 40,000 reservations for its 2009 ForTwo, which should already put the tiny two-door close to last year's figures. According to Automotive News, about 55 percent of those who plunk down $99 to reserve a ForTwo actually take delivery, which means roughly 22,000 units have already been sold. Add in walk-in buyers and the added volume of six new stores in 2009, and Smart should be close to the 25,000 mark by the end of the year.

Although Smart's fuel-efficient image is likely behind most of those sales numbers, Penske - Smart's lone U.S. distributor - should be credited with the brand's impressive sales figures. By abandoning traditional TV and print media in favor of internet marketing and a 50-city tour, Penske managed to raise Smart's brand awareness from 18 percent to 80 percent.

Further proving how popular the Smart brand is, even a down market, Smart's U.S. arm sold out its allotment of 1,500 Brabus ForTwos in just eight hours. Smart managed to get 500 more units for the U.S. market, which also sold out in eight hours.