Intent on reinvigorating the brand here in America, smart USA has announced plans to bring a new five-door hatchback to this market starting in the fourth quarter of 2011. A memo of understanding released recently indicated that smart USA Distributor LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Penske Automotive Group and Nissan Motor Company, have agreed to collaborate on the vehicle, which will be based on a version of the new Nissan Global V Platform that currently underpins the automaker's new March/Micra models in Japan. This new smart model will be built in one of Nissan's "Americas" plants, likely in Mexico.

In making the announcement, Roger Penske, chairman of the Penske Automotive Group noted: "We are faced with continuing customer demand for a smart car with more seating capacity. Together with Nissan, we will bring to market a fully equipped small car for our customers and dealers in the USA. It will fit in well with the smart brand." Those sentiments were echoed by smart USA President Jill Lajdziak, who said, "The new vehicle will expand smart USA's product lineup, offering five-seat capacity while maintaining the core principles of efficiency and conservation."

Save for it being a front-engine/front-drive B-Class vehicle, few technical details about this new smart offering were released. We do know that it will be powered by a gasoline engine, although whether it will be a three- or four-cylinder is not known. Like the smart fortwo, this new five-door also will be sold and serviced exclusively through the 75 dealerships in Penske's smart USA organization.

This expansion of the automaker's lineup can't come too soon, as sales of the diminutive two-passenger smart fortwo have plummeted of late, a reflection of its aging package, limited overall utility and lower gasoline prices. While an electric-powered fortwo based on the next-generation of its rear-engine/rear-drive platform is in the works, neither of those vehicles will go on sale here until sometime in early 2012. On a related note, there's still no definitive word on whether the electric-powered smart escooter that debuted in prototype form at the Paris Auto Show will join the smart USA lineup.

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