By on July 9, 2010

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!

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11 Comments on “Brazilian Smart Is Ever So Smart...”


  • avatar
    vww12

    The cynicism of whoever markets this in Br. is apparent. And yet, as you say, probaby necessary in a place where such a large proportion of the market consists of small cars.

    Now, is this sold at smart dealers? Or MB dealers?

    • 0 avatar

      @www12:
      There are no stand alone smart dealers that I’m aware of. In my hometown it’s sold through the Mercedes dealer. So you’ll pay Mercedes standard pricing for parts and service on this little car. And this gives a lot of people major pause before buying the car.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    I tried to convince the wife they were cute cars (She’s Brazilian) and she said it’s too small EVEN by Brazilian standards. She asked her dad (lived his whole life in Sao Paulo) his opinion and said he’d be embarrassed to be seen in a Smart (He drives a vw polo w/ leather).

    I can’t imagine they’d sell well, esp if they don’t get significantly better gas mileage than existing cars. With 2-4 people in the polo with ~ 50% city diving, 50% highway (Sao Jose dos Campos) the dad-in-law averaged 38mpg.

    AFAIK (and I could be wrong…or this could be locally influenced opinion) they LARGER cars/SUV’s are a show of wealth there (and Japanese cars or bmw). Not sure this little thing would appeal to richer people…?

    Again, I don’t live there, these are my observations of having gone there > 10 times (probably 1/2 year of my life total).

    With all that being said, SMART should offer them with country specific flags here in Chicago. We have such a diverse group of people (The Polish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Russian, Iranian, Israeli, Mexican communities are all large here) living here, that this could only increase smart sales in Chicago.

    • 0 avatar

      Good morning Robstar!

      Well, my wife is Brazilian, too. And she’s in love with the car! If she had it her way, eventually she’d try to come up with the money, practicality be damned!

      As to your father-in-law, he follows the traditional mindset (I’m guessing). I think a lot of Brazilian macho men would feel like him. I believe though this car is aimed at and salivated at mostly by women (of all ages) and younger men (who don’t have families and would like to show off in a non-car-enthusiast way – in other words, not displaying horsepower, but showing how original and alternative he is). Women want it for the size and badge. Men want it for the badge in spite of the size.

      It’s intended better off clientele is, like I pointed out, very aware it’s an import. A German one! And that has a lot of cache. Most of the buyers will surely know it’s a Mercedes, even before they start looking (heck, they’ll have to buy it at the Mercedes shop). That is also a good thing for them. If this car were produced by say, a Chinese or even “Brazilian” car maker, few people would give it a second look. But being a Mercedes. (I’ve heard more than a few people calling it a Mercedes Smart, as if Smart were a model. Few people know Smart, but everybody knows Mercedes and what it stands for).

  • avatar
    marjanmm

    The sixth star! I wonder if bought now whether this car would still be driven around when Brazil adds up that star to its tally :)
    After the Ronaldo mystery in 1998 final, and the complete meltdown in the second half of the game with Holland this world cup, I reckon the Brazilian team should be labelled with the self destructive jinx instead of the Dutch.

    I count out the complete destruction of the Brazilian team in 2006. in the game with France. Nobody could have beaten the greatest maestro of the recent times when he was in such a mood.

    • 0 avatar

      Well marjanmm, I think the car can last 4 years, don’t you? (Keeping fingers crossed)

      Anyway, you’re right. Crazy stuff. Something must’ve happened in that dressing room at half time. Guess it’s what you gat an inexperienced coach, thrown along together with a team that’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

      Just to finish the soccer, hope Spain win. Holland played like Argentina or something against Brazil. Sad thing to see.

    • 0 avatar
      marjanmm

      ah, yes, forgot the next one is at the home ground for you. I shudder at the thought what kind of pressure will be on the team and the manager. With the attitude that they are not good enough if they do not beat everyone five nil I reckon the sixth star is not that likely even at the home ground.

  • avatar
    vww12

    The Br’s marketing team’s approach is fascinating for how it diverges from its counterparts in the US:

    1. All of the Brazilians so far are turbos. In the U.S. the turbo is a no show in any smart. Not even in the U.S. Brabus edition, which is always turbo in Europe.

    2. Things such as foglights and instrument pods are extra in the U.S.; so far these were standard in Br.

    3. The U.S. has all 3 levels: stripped Pure, mid-Passion and loaded Brabus. The Brazilians did not even bother with the pure, which has had OK sales stateside, all things considered.

    And this in a country with a per-capita income clearly not as high as that of the U.S. So the Br. mktg. team went for the small-ultra premium positioning (in relation to its market), whereas the U.S. team went for the merely small premium.

    • 0 avatar

      @www12

      This true of most every import into Brazil is it not? I mean we don’t get the basic Fusion, just the loaded one (SEL). And many other examples (Malibu only LTZ). I think this is to keep the notion in Brazilian minds that imported cars are ultra-luxury thing only for riche people. “Normal” people should just trrod along in their lowly 1.0 Fiestas and Corsas. Plus, I think the dealerships also only wanted these cars the owners of which were “money is no problem” types. When you sell basic versions you atart getting budget minded consumers. Who com´plain and bitch about every little charge. It’ll be interesting to see these guys in Mercedes dealers fighting tooth and nail at every revision for discounts and whatnot.

      Now, Mercedes has seen that the Smart is a wanted commodity. They have also piad attention to BMW, I think. BMW is now bringing some of the lowly 1.8 Series 3 (no leather, fog lights, no electric adjustments…shocking!)to Brazil. And probably the 1.6 for the BMW 1. So in effect I think they are testing the waters and don’t want BMW to get too far ahead.

      And they’re also taking advantage of the relatively weak Euro.

      Well, at least that’s what I think.

  • avatar

    Smart does have a few standalone dealers. In São Paulo, where I live, their one dealer is located on Avenida Europa, the street where every premium brand has a showroom (except Ferrari, which is two blocks away on Avenida Brasil, and Lexus, which is apparently sold only through selected Shinto shrines).

  • avatar

    These cars are poorly named. instead of getting a new smart car, get a 2008 Corolla for the same price or cheaper. It will last longer, require less maintainable, be more comfortable, and it is faster and more fun to drive. Maintenance will also be cheaper. Better crash safety too. The downside is ~20% fuel economy, right? I don’t see the appeal, other than to be different. “Look at me, I drive a shittier car than I need to!”


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