Smart is such a nice little word. It has so many different meanings. So it’s fun to play with and show just how smart you really are. For example, I could have titled this post: Smart Makes Smart Car for Smart People with Smart Money. Or: Smart Makes Smart Car Move. Or even: Smart Makes Smart Marketing Moves. However, I´ll stick with the title as is since Smart is proving itself so smart in the Brazilian market. In more ways than one. One of the synonyms for Smart is “on the ball.”
Smart swears it’s got nothing to do with the almost over World Cup (smartly because if it did, it’d have to give Hyundai, FIFA’s official sponsor, well, something. Or risk arrest.) Smart launched a special edition for Brazil. It comes in a smart, very nationalistically (jingoistic? opportunistic?) yellow with a stylized Brazilian flag on the Nike swoosh, sorry tridion bars. If you pay attention you can see the five little stars relative to Brazil’s five world championships, and a sixth one is just outlined – as you can see in the pictures on Brazilian enthusiast site bestcars.com.br. Wow, the Germans were really cheering for Brazil! Anyway, I guess the owner of a car like this could have taken a little yellow crayon and filled in the star if Brazil had won.
Smart is marketing this car to smart people. Smart, green people. It’s calling it the smart fortwo mhd Brazilian Edition. All cars come in the yellow you can see in the picture and are numbered from 1 to 300. “mhd” stands for “micro hybrid drive,” Smart smartly and confidently proclaims. Smart however is quick to clarify that this only means it’s got a stop-and-go system that automatically shuts down the engine if you’re going at less than 8 km/h and are stepping on the brakes. Foot off brake, engine fires up via a generator/starter that connects via a chain to the engine. Micro hybrid, my eye. Smart claims this system is more efficient, faster and reduces emissions vis-à-vis a traditional one. Don’t tell them though that in regular traffic such a system can be a pain (do you want to lose power when the car crawls along at 5 mph?), so unless you’re a hypermiler or a total greenie you’d probably make use of the button that Smart has thankfully and smartly placed on the dash that turns off the “micro hybrid” part of the car. Will all these smart, happy, shiny people who love the idea of a hybrid fall for Smart’s clever version? Hey, now you can own a “micro hibrido” and don’t pay for a fully fledged hybrid. (The unwashed will think that Smart mhd is simply a small hybrid.)
Anyway, this Smart comes with the same 3-cylinder mini 1.0 mill as a regular one. Sans turbo, I’m afraid. So you’re down to only 71 ponies. This reduces 0-60 times and general performance, but improves the greenness of this lil’ yellow car. As said the Brazilian edition comes in this special color scheme. After all 300 are sold, it’ll become a regular version. No Brazilian flags or numbers inside though. It’ll cost 11 300 Brazilian reais, or $6,278 less than the regular version. Smart move. Now the car can be bought for R$49,900 (US$27,720). So it’s within easy reach of Brazil’s high middle class, and members of the real middle car will, unsmartly, make the effort to come up with this kind of dough. So it won’t sell like hot cakes, but it’ll surely be much more seen on better-heeled Brazilian street. Those 6,000 dollars that separate this car from the only version available previously make this a much more palatable alternative and will undoubtedly make many image-conscious drones salivate.
However, as you can’t have your cake and eat it too, that smaller amount also means you have to do without such things as clock and RPM gauge, transparent roof, power side mirrors, fog lights and colored interior. Also, you will be handed the saddest little two spoke steering wheel the likes of which you haven’t seen since the 70s. Even we, in Brazil, haven’t seen such a thing since the 80s. Smartly though, Smart hides most of these changes inside. On the outside, the car, while displaying proudly the hybrid misnomer, remains almost undistinguishable from its most costly brother. So the fashionista (or fashion-victim?) inside won’t be unduly bothered as he drives around, showing off to others.
So is Smart being smart? In more ways than one, yes. It offers the car to a new client that is in love with his newfound wealth and wants to show it off (tentatively and carefully, we are yet, still in a 3rd world country). Who wants to show he cares for the environment and drives a hybrid! for Pete’s sake. Even though he’s driving an import he also wants to show his passion for his country (paroxysm that reaches absurd levels in this country in World Cup times). The problem with all of this is that Brazil is the king of compact (or subcompact cars in Americans’ eyes) cars. All the domestics and even some import car companies (Kia Picanto) offer cars that are very similar to this Smart. They pollute the same or less. Have engines of the same size. Have the same or better fuel economy (not to mention the ability to burn sugarcane juice). But offer more space. At much lower prices. Not to mention the ability to carry another 4 people and their luggage. However, they are from run-of-the-mill, unexciting Brazilian (cough!) brands. The Smart is new, it’s imported. It’s European. It’s German!