Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz USA will take over sales and marketing of the microcar Smart USA brand from the Penske Automotive Group by the middle of 2011, Mercedes-Benz USA and Penske said.By the end of the transition period (around July 1, 2011) the number of US Mercedes dealers selling Smarts will drop to the mid-50s from the current 75 owned by the Penske group, a Mercedes-Benz spokesman said.After the transfer, said Mercedes-Benz USA spokesman Geoff Day, "we have plans to expand that but right now we want to get this transition done as soon as possible".SMART NISSAN IDEA KILLEDPlans for a Smart five-door hatchback from Nissan have been scuttled, said Merc USA. The next Smart will be developed by a joint venture between Daimler and Renault/Nissan as a global car.Penske, the No.2 US dealer group, has been the exclusive distributor of Smart in the US for three years.Smart sales were robust in 2008 as US petrol prices hit record levels but have slowed since. However, sales in January 2010 were up 29 percent from January 2009. US sales of the eye-catching dinky Smart ForTwo in 2010 were 5927, down from 14 595 in 2009 and 24 622 in 2008.Merc USA wants sales of the cars to help boost overall fuel economy performance before stricter new US regulations go into force for the 2017 model year, Mercedes-Benz USA said.'LOGICAL STEP'"Aligning Smart distribution with Daimler, as it is worldwide, is the logical next step for the Smart brand in the US," said Roger Penske, chairman of Penske Automotive Group. "This alignment will enable the Smart brand to grow through the Mercedes-Benz dealership network."Jill Lajdziak, Smart USA president, will stay on at Penske Automotive after the transition to Mercedes."My focus over the next 90 days is to ensure a smooth transition for our retail owners and dealers," said Lajdziak, adding that her goal was "to hand over a very strong business to Mercedes-Benz USA."The ownership group of 45 000 is extremely passionate and loyal to the brand, Lajdziak asserted. For those owners, the transition would be seamless, she said.