How smart is the SMART Fortwo

Posted By on June 30, 2006

Smart Fortwo
Although the Smart car has been around in Europe since 1998, Americans have been reluctant to accept it here in the US. (government, consumers and importers alike) When you look at it next to most car and trucks on American roads you understand why … its tiny! Most I have asked about it say its “cute” but “I wouldn’t want to be in a crash with an SUV.” I echo their sentiment.

The general manager of a new Mercedes dealership in West Chester Ohio secretly pointed out the showroom design that was built to showcase both the Mercedes Benz models and the Smart Car. I’ll let you guess which division was given the most space but as of last month he didn’t know if or when they would get their first Smart.

Yesterday DaimlerChrysler AG announced that it would begin importing the Smart Car to the US the first quarter of 2008. Obviously gas price focused city commuters will be a targeted customer. The micro-sized Smart is barely 9 feet long, has two seats and is reported to be able to get 40 miles per gallon in the city. Yes … that’s what several of the articles are saying … 40 mpg city. For those of you thinking “oh that’s pretty good” — that’s not my point at all. Let’s consider that most hybrids that are much larger, some 4 place non-hybrids and the majority of Volkswagen TDI Golfs, New Beetles and Jettas are getting over 40mpg. My 2003 Jetta TDI running 100% biodiesel has a lifetime average of 44-45 mpg mixed driving, and that’s with a bit of a boost from oversized injectors and an aggressive stage 3 chip.

The Smart Fortwo (model) is expected to list for a tad less than $15,000 which is about the same as a handful of other small cars. (a relative term considering that the Mini-Cooper is 3.5 foot longer than the Smart) According to DaimlerChrysler Chairman Dieter Zetsche, the cars will be distributed by United Auto Group which is owned by Roger Penske. They have nearly 300 dealers in 19 states as well as a presence in Europe, Mexico and Puerto Rico. Currently they sell about 40 brands of vehicles. I’m not sure how this plays into my local Mercedes Benz dealership?

Under the hood of the Smart Fortwo, is a 3-cylinder engine capable of 40 mpg in the city and 60 mpg on the highway. It has small 10-gallon tank for gasoline which gives it a range of 400 miles. (although sitting for a 400 mile trip in a Smart Car might be the bigger challenge?) The US will be getting the next-generation Fortwo which will get a new engine by Mitsubishi which is expected to be a 3 -cylinder, but rumor has it that it could be a 4-cylinder. The Fortwo will come in three models, one is the coupe, one a convertible and an unnamed version. For those having the same thoughts I do, it will be loaded with safety hardware, including air bags, anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control, but its hard to imagine feeling safe being rammed by a Hummer?

Fuel economy is probably not the reason most people will purchase the Smart, as just like the VW Beetle or the Mini Cooper, its the “cool factor.” It is something different and will be the only pocket car on the road. According to Penske, they will initially sell the Smart in about 30 to 50 dealership around large cities or vacation destinations.

As a business unit, Smart has lost $3.6 billion, according to analysts. Criticism from within the automotive industry suggest that even though the Smart cars have sold well, 750,000 vehicles in the last 8 years, they offer too many models and continue to expand the line with new models before each becomes profitable; the future of the Smart car may continue this trend. Dieter Zetsche commented that the Smart may offer a hybrid version as well as a diesel for the U.S. too. That would be interesting, but is it a wise business move considering the criticisms above? Although, diesel Smart is already available in Canada, it doesn’t meet new strict U.S. emissions mandates for 2007 and therefore would have to undergo significant modification as well as additional emissions testing. This from a business only standpoint would most likely be too costly to justify in a US market that doesn’t particularly embrace diesel cars.

Leave me a comment if you hear more.


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