By on January 18, 2010

Smart’s new President, former Saturn overseer/undertaker Jill Lajdziak, knows how the dying brand thing works. With Smart sales down a (barely) Chrysler-beating 41 percent on the year, the Penske-owned Smart USA is teaming up with Daimler Financial Services (Smart vehicles are produced by Daimler in Europe) for a good-old captive lease deal right out the old GM playbook. According to Automotive News [sub], Smart is offering

a 36-month lease for $169 a month, $999 down, a $595 acquisition fee and the first month’s payment due at the time of the lease.

That’s a lot more realistic than the the old deal they were offering ($3k down, $200/month) but we’re still talking about a 10k miles-per-year lease. On a car makes a Yaris seem luxurious, overpowered and confidence-inspiring. Incidentally, were you aware that the Smart ForTwo was first introduced way back in 1998? The more you know!

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27 Comments on “Smart Concedes Defeat, Starts Captive Lease Program...”


  • avatar
    paul_y

    I still insist that the smart isn’t bad. It suffers mostly from a horrible exchange rate with the Euro; if MB tooled up to build these in Alabama, they could be sold at a price that makes their weird-ass compromises worthwhile.
    I’ve driven one (a few different times, actually), and I actually rather enjoyed driving it. Of course, I own a 1st-gen xB, and have something of a soft spot for goofy vehicles in general, so YMMV.
     
    Now, if I could have a smart Roadster, I’d bend over backwards to have one, but that’s another story entirely.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Re. importing the Smart Roadster (A452) …

      would love to bring one back with me if/when I return from Europe … but far as I have been able to find out, EPA/DOT have made this nearby impossible …

      anybody have any suggestions as to how this can be accomplished?

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    >10 years old? 

    Original A450 came in 1998, and the updated A451, with a new engine (this a 4-cyl 1L unit from Mitsubishi) and transmission (5-speed AMT) came in 2007.  Even the BIW is revised …

    So what is this >10y old stuff?  (by the way, I like my 2004 ForTwo better than the new 451.)

    • 0 avatar

      Was referring to the basic design by way of demonstrating how late in the game Americans were introduced to the city car concept … but you’re right, it was majorly revamped, so it’s an unfair point. Txt amended.

    • 0 avatar
      dancote

      Correction: Three (3) cylinder Mitsu engine.
      The 450 has its charm and you can get it with a turbo diesel but I prefer the 451. (Different strokes, etc.)

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Perhaps the new Mitsu is a 3 cyl, I’m not sure … what turned me off was the displacement exploded to 1.0L from the 0.7L in the previous MB 3cyl engine, and the 6spd Getrag AMT was replaced by a 5spd unit …

      I’m driving the turbo-intercooled 75hp Brabus version of the 0.7L, and to me, this felt more lively than the 1.0L which still had a lousy trans tuning causing the fore-aft pitching motion … but without the satisfying acceleration shove of the old car.

      The cheapskates at DaimlerChrysler should have gone with a CVT … but noooooooo.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    I often notice that Smart dealerships are near Porsche dealerships.  Coincidence?  (This isn’t a rhetorical question;  I really am curious.)

    • 0 avatar
      damonK

      It isn’t coincidence.  The smart cars in my town are sold where the rich people go.  I don’t see many Mercedes dealerships near where ham-and-eggers like me work or live.

    • 0 avatar
      dancote

      Not sure why they’d be near Porsche dealerships. They’re a Daimler (Mercedes) product. Matter of fact, in Canada they’re all(?) affiliated with Mercedes dealerships unlike here in the U.S.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      The Daimler-Benz dumbskulls were so concerned about devaluing the brand … a brand that sells busses, tractors, trucks, vans, taxis, etc., and were so overweenieingly (sic) confident that they could sell 220k pc per yr that they just had to create a new brand and set up a different channel …

      Well, how has history played out Mr. Schrempp?  Never sold over (about) 150k per year … dealers starved on the vine … many were closed and folded into (ta-da) local M-B dealers …

      In the US, the lessons of the branding/channel disaster in Europe were well understood by the time Mr. Penske stepped-in, as well as the more modestly-sized market segment (and to be honest, even the extreme sensitivity to fuel-price declines, and the possiblility of these happening, as well as the boutique nature of the product, appears to not have been well understood.)

      What Smart USA was hoping for, was to have the appearance of a separate channel (entry way, show room, etc.) without dealers having to make a large investment in a separate building, service, lot  complex … for the relatively small number of sales per dealer realpolitik investment strategies were required …

      Unfortunately, another of these strategies appears to be having very large territories for each dealer (that is, unless, they just couldn’t find more dealers willing to take the chance) which results in much inconvenience for the customer … and this is a big turnoff for potential customers …

      Case Study:  I as a convinced Smart driver living in Europe, visited my mom in Ann Arbor MI (a locale that would be very smart friendly), but in order to go look at, and test drive, a car, we had to drive 50 minutes to get to the sole Smart dealer in Michigan (far as I could tell) located in Bloomfield Hills, MI …  then, despite the relatively full used lot, new delivery lot, and a very dead showroom, the salesman wouldn’t allow us to do a test drive … had to schedule an appointment for … wait for it … the following week … this inconvenience, coupled with the charade that they were too busy to allow a customer, who drove nearly an hour to their location, to do an immediate test drive … was as off putting as the idea of my 75yo mom having to drive an hour every time she needed service or a dealer oil change. 

      Conclusion:  Dat Shit Don’t Sell …  (oh, and my mom doesn’t have high expectations or aspirations, she is perfectly happy with her 3rd PT Cruiser and the very nice Chrysler dealer 5 minutes from her doorstep … they even pickup and deliver her car to her … if she personally goes to the dealership for service, it is just to say hi and chat with the salesman!

  • avatar
    dancote

    Hopefully this (leasing) is a delaying tactic until smart can figure out how to certify/sell the CDi smart and/or offer us the turbo upgrades here in the U.S. as fuel prices rise to European levels.
    Don’t get me wrong, smart will probably always be a niche market vehicle here. Then the Japanese (Toyota/Scion iQ) will overwhelm the segment with price/performance/warranty advantages and the automotive world will be a different place. Except for my idol Jay Leno.

    Full disclosure: we own 2 smart cars

  • avatar
    carguy64

    I would love to know why they didn’t have an option for a 4 or a 5 speed in this car, considering a 3 banger viberating under the hood, having to feather the gas pedal while the slushbox goes through it’s gears is darn near mandatory, unless you use the so called auto stick…I’d much rather drive a Yaris…or better yet a 2010 Focus, and I am not even a Ford Man, but I rented one and was impressed, sprited driving, even with a automatic transmission, even at 80 mph I got 33 mpg…granted the Smart car is cool looking on the interior, they severely missed the fun factor this car could of been

    • 0 avatar
      paul_y

      A real manual tranny would make the smart so much better. The autostick works best when shifted manually, and lifting off the gas when you shift. Granted, you’re not going to bang through the gears too fast, but it makes it vastly more tolerable to drive.
       
      …even when I try to shift from first to first, because I have only ever owned cars with normal manual transmissions.

    • 0 avatar
      carve

      My 98 2.3L 5-spd Accord gets 33 mpg going 80, too.  For the Smart to get that is pathetic.

  • avatar
    carguy64

    lease subject: If the lease was less than 99.00 a month and more liberal miles per year, I might be able to for go the fun factor and be in the cool factor…really it’s just a commuter car if that..Oh also, Smart, are you listening??? 2yr 24000 mile warantee is just long long enough to justify spending 13k on this car..

    • 0 avatar
      smartjenna

      hey carve,
      Carguy 64 was referring to the Ford Focus getting 33 mpg; not the smartie. According to Natural Resouces Canada, the Smart car wins as most fuel efficent over Focus or Yaris or Fit; plus lowest emissions (up here we consider emissions, too).
      J

  • avatar
    joeveto3

    I laid my deposit down early for a smart car, then pulled it when I learned there would be no diesel and no cruise.  Later, when Cash-4-Clunkers arrived, the smart was the first car we drove.  We went there in love with the car.  After driving it, and realizing just how Not-Fun the car is to drive…we walked away.

    My amateur analysis is that in order to aid stability in such a short wheelbase vehicle, they had to increase the rear track…but in doing so, made the car handle like a much larger car.  Honestly, the darn thing felt like my Grand Marquis.  I went expecting the car to feel small, fun, different.  Zippy.  The smart was none of these things, and not that fuel efficient to boot.

    Oh, and all the dealer had in stock were convertibles and loaded up cars, nothing close to what I was looking for.

    So I bought a Fit Sport for a bit more, and for obvious reasons discussed elsewhere on this forum,  I haven’t regretted it the way I know I would have regretted the smart car purchase.

    Still, I think the smart has merit, and deserves a place on US streets.  I think they need to spend some $$ and certify the diesel.  I also really like to see them dial some fun into the handling.

    • 0 avatar
      smartjenna

      Did you drive it in autostick or automatic? Firstly, let’s give this funky little fuel-efficient car its due; where can you affordably buy an amazing small German-conceived car that has TWO transmission modes?

      Next time drive it in the autostick–and you will uncover the fun!!!
      J

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Smart is Daimler’s Saturn for sure. A poorly conceived New Kind of Car Company set up as a complete green field operation separate from the mother ship … which will perpetually loose money. The Smart car is actually rather dumb.

  • avatar
    stuki

                    A guy near me street parks his Smart in a spot where the curb length between two driveways is just big enough for it to fit. A Mini is too long. Considering how hard it is to find street parking in SF, I bet he crosses his fingers none of his neighbors will take advantage of this new lease offer :)

  • avatar
    Boston

    Considering the Smart is more of a small city, reasonable commute kind of car – I think the 10k per year would be fine for >50% of the people.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    Make it sub $10k msrp and either hybrid or diesel (so the mpg’s come out a LOT higher) and I’m in.  I think I could even live without a stick option at that price, but until then at LEAST give me the option of a 5 speed stick so I can wring it out when I need to..
    My commute is 45 miles into chicago with a half circle on ramp + yield sign that goes right into an existing traffic lane.  When I need to go, I need to _GO_.
    Even driving my wife’s car (0-60 in 11 seconds) makes me nervous as it does not have the handling (to go around the ramp at an almost-highway speed) or the acceleration (to shoot off the ramp into traffic) at a reasonable speed.
    As a city car, it fails as well — the main roads around me are 40 mph officially put people typically drive 50+….(Then again, maybe it isn’t built for my city of 30k people…?)
    With all that said, I absolutely LOVE the looks & size of the car!  If they did something to let me push it and gave it a little more power &/or gas mileage, it would be perfect for my wife & I (no kids).

  • avatar
    beken

    In Canada, the Smart was diesel until they started selling them in the US.   Then Canadians had to buy the gasoline powered ones.   For the purposes of what the Smart was made for, the people I know that bought Smarts prefer the diesel and those that were considering getting a Smart passed and bought something else.
     

    • 0 avatar
      smartjenna

      You may be correct. I feel for all those smart diesel drivers who didn’t properly research (ie, test drive) the new, gas powered smarts. What’s in a fuel, anyway? At 60 mpg for the gasoline powered smarts they are still the most fuel-economic car on the road in its price class. (I could never get 70mpg from the diesel smart anyway, as the factory claimed). Gasoline is waaayyy more accessible than diesel–and burns A LOT cleaner. The new smart is 8″ longer; has a glovebox. How many out there have driven the ’05 or ’06 diesel smarts and found the fan to be underpowered??? Not so with the new 2008+ smarts. The shifting is nicer and in driving a gas powered smart you don’t get the “lag” off the gate at traffic lights that plagued the diesels. More airbags, passenger window controls on the DRIVERS SIDE TOO!!
      I’ll take the newbies, thank you very much.
      J

  • avatar

    The only advantage that the gas powered Smart sold in the in the US  has is parking in high density urban areas.  In the US that pretty much limits it to Boston, Manhattan, Northwest DC and few high density neighborhoods in Chicago and San Fransisco.    You can match its fuel costs and price with a low rent Versa, Yaris, Elantra or if you want to step up, a Honda Civic.  These cars give you similar mileage, room for four and a trunk.  A Smart is just another car that people with money buy to show their moral superiority.  The Smart car is a car for people with little common sense.


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