[Editor's note: The video above depicts a Penske-era Smart ad. The new Mercedes-led marketing effort begins this fall]
Having taken over sales and distribution of the Smart brand from Penske and canceled a planned Nissan Micra rebadge, Mercedes is trying to inject some life into its flagging city car brand (Sales are down 24% YTD, at 2,556 units) with a new marketing campaign (coming this fall) and finance offers. Smart’s new General Manager Tracey Matura explains the problem to Automotive News [sub], saying
People are not avoiding the brand or the product, but there is a great majority of people who are not aware of the brand
Really? People don’t know or notice a brand that’s in its fourth year of US sales, offering a car that’s unlike any other on the market? It seems to me that the problem isn’t awareness, as the term “Smart Car” is almost universally synonymous with “hilariously tiny car,” even among non-expert consumers. The problem seems more precisely to be that Smart is neither as cheap nor as efficient as larger rivals, and American consumers are constitutionally resistant to the idea of paying more for less (a point that VW seems to be proving in spades). More promising: $179/month lease and finance deals backed by Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, not to mention the decision to ditch the snottier-than-thou Penske campaign embedded above. But even new ads and good deals aren’t likely to make Smart a truly viable brand in the US until new product arrives in 2014, hopefully in a more efficient, enjoyable-to-drive form. Or unless gas prices spike again, causing a 2008-style rush for conspicuously downsized vehicles.