By on May 29, 2018

smart fortwo electric

People make fun of automakers with severely limited vehicle lineups, but Mitsubishi has nothing on the diminutive — in every sense of the word — Smart brand. Note: we’re using a capital “S” here and always will.

Technically, the Daimler AG division sells a single model in the United States, though the powers that be break it up into two: coupe and cabriolet. Well known for being the smallest,  lightest mass-produced new car on the domestic market, the Fortwo quickly gained a reputation for having the jerkiest, most unsatisfying transmission in existence. Recently, engine fires sparked (pardon the pun) a recall of 43,000 2008-2009 vehicles in the U.S. and 7,000 in Canada.

Born as a diesel-powered division before changing over to gasoline propulsion, Smart has now evolved into an electric-only brand. And its U.S. sales have never been lower. Maybe the new head of Smart will have some ideas.

Announced Tuesday, CEO Dr. Annette Winkler will step down from the division’s helm after eight years, effective September 30th. Winkler has been with Daimler for 23 years.

“One of the key responsibilities of every executive is to pass on leading positions to the next generation at the right time,” Winkler said in a statement. “And that time has now come – with the clear focus of smart as a fully electric urban-mobility brand and with the decision to develop the Hambach facility into a plant for fully electric vehicles within the Mercedes-Benz production network. With my endless passion for smart and the people behind it, this decision was not easy for me. I am all the more pleased that I can now support the handover to a successor.”

Currently, the identity of Winkler’s replacement remains a mystery, much like the brand’s future.

Dr. Dieter Zetsche, Daimler chairman and Mercedes-Benz boss, said “the smart plant in Hambach has continually improved its competitiveness and is extremely well positioned for the future” thanks to Winkler’s efforts. The company recently announced plans to produce a small, EQ-badged Mercedes-Benz vehicle at Hambach.

Now that Smart is an entirely electric entity, at least in North America, Daimler saw fit to bestow its “EQ” label on the brand and its vehicles. For the 2018.5 model year, the division becomes “Smart EQ,” with its sole U.S. vehicle sold as the Smart EQ Fortwo Electric Drive. The model draws 80 horsepower and 118 lb-ft of torque from its electric motor, making it the fastest Fortwo to date. A price cut accompanied the brand’s green evolution.

Sadly, the electric model’s 2017 update saw range fall from an already paltry 68 miles to an even worse 58 miles, making this “city car” an urban denizen purely out of necessity. In the U.S. in April, just 93 customers picked up a Fortwo Electric Drive. 33 Canadians did the same.

This is quite a fall for the Fortwo, which, in its first year on the U.S. market (2008), sold 24,622 examples. Last year’s tally amounted to 3,071 vehicles, and the first four months of 2018 show a 70.8 percent volume loss. A rare car, indeed. Not unsurprisingly, there’s even a cheaper lease on leftover 2017 models advertised on Smart’s U.S. consumer website.

In the division’s home market, customers get a choice between two- and four-seater models, and cars can still be ordered with internal combustion engines (Smart goes all-electric there in 2020). Given the wide differences between North America and the continent, it’s not a shock to see Smart’s European sales topped 100,000 units in the past two calendar years. This side of the Atlantic, however, it’s a hen’s tooth.

[Images: Daimler AG]

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24 Comments on “Incredibly Small Car Brand Loses Its Head...”


  • avatar
    RHD

    Those gray shipping containers what the Smart cars are sent over in. They are informally known as “24 Packs”.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    blah, blah, blah, blah 43,000 vehicles in the US between 2008 and 2009, blah, blah…Wait…. WHAT?

    That was essentially my only take away from this article.

    • 0 avatar
      SlowMyke

      That’s my take, too. They’re gonna sell 500 maybe this year? And a decade ago they sold 20k+ annually? Surely this is a purely losing proposition for MB, what’s even the point anymore? There’s no brand recognition, the product is outclassed by any competitor, and the association to MB products must be completely negative.

      • 0 avatar
        MoDo

        Its quite simple actually. The French subsidized the plant so much so that I doubt Daimler even paid a cent to build or run it. The cars dont make any money, but the carbon credits from the electric ones help the MB side. That’s all it is.

        • 0 avatar
          conundrum

          Mercedes doesn’t run the Smart plant. Where do you folks come up with this stuff?

          The current Smart is a Renault Twingo under the skin. Renault runs the factory. Mercedes puts its own body on the Twingo and calls it Smart.

          There are many other Mercedes- Renault/Nissan tie-ups. Nissan makes all Mercedes 4 cylinder engines for the C Class made in Alabama, and keeps some for the QX30. Mercedes fits Renault diesels in its Vito vans.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    As of a year ago, there were 27 Smart dealers in the US. With only 93 sales in April, how do the few remaining dealers keep the doors open? Do they just put a little bell on the desk to summon somebody from the attached MB dealership on the rare occasion somebody shows up wanting to buy one?

    • 0 avatar
      MoDo

      Most started with dedicated sections of the dealership devoted to smart, but they have removed them and just put a couple smarts throughout the dealership now. Even then the floor space would be better used for far more profitable MB cars. If I were the GM they’d be outside permanently.

  • avatar
    Eggshen2013

    Saw this bumper sticker on a smart car: “My other car is stupid”.

  • avatar
    chopperjamie

    I wonder what the sale figure was to the Car2Go car sharing company? Does that figure into the US sales of these miserable little things?
    I am sure it is out there, but I don’t care enough to look for it.

  • avatar
    Manic

    “Born as a diesel-powered division before changing over to gasoline propulsion” – not sure where this info is from, it has always been gas-engine car co. selling some diesels as a side biz. In early years 7 to 1 or so, in Germany.

  • avatar
    MoparRocker74

    But…BUT…I thought electric cars were the FYOO-CHUUURRRR!!!! This HAS to be wrong, surely people are falling all over themselves to buy these things, just like every other hybrid and electric which have been sales juggernauts.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick_515

      Nice try…. but you are way off.

    • 0 avatar
      thegamper

      If I could buy a nice looking car, that seats 5 and can travel 300-400 miles on a charge in cold weather for under $40,000, I would likely pull the trigger and buy. They just aren’t there yet.

      As the range and number of models grows, and the price comes down; I suspect more and more people will decide go electric.

      But yeah, the Smart isn’t the answer.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      FWIW, the Smart wasn’t all that fantastic as an ICE powered vehicle. I think the sales years mentioned were the two best, after that, sales cratered.

      Our interim pastor’s wife had one of the early Smart cars; she was awfully proud of it. I went on an errand somewhere with the pastor, the herky-jerky trans was something I thought was failing. When he told me that was normal behavior, I really didn’t know what to say. I knew right then and there I wouldn’t even remotely consider one of these.

      The bad thing was, some of the other Euro models seemed half-decent. There was a sporty version that I thought was pretty neat. The Four-for would have been a good “step-up” from the basic Smart car. But there was no effort from Daimler to bring them over. At that time, they were trying to cheapen Chrysler into oblivion (and doing a damned good job, too!), I guess they didn’t need another “project” in North America.

      TL;DR, a crappy ICE powered car will not make a great EV, just due to the EV conversion. The Smart works well for other parts of the world, but there’s precious few applications for this thing in North America.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I see these things start at about $24K, but with lease offers as low as $129.00/36 months for a 2017. With a range of 57 miles or so, this would qualify to be nothing but a commuter pod for me. I think the Fiat 500e was a better deal, at least for this kind of duty.

    But for $129.00/month, there are probably better lease deals on other ICE (and possibly hybrid or EVs) vehicles. And frankly, you can go a lot further on gasoline at that point.

  • avatar
    arach

    If I could get 150 miles out of these things I’d buy one.

    Why is the range so paltry?

  • avatar
    Pete Zaitcev

    Aww, man, that transmission was a huge mistake. They fixed the car for the next generation (to a glowing review by Alex Dykes), even added a manual gearbox option that you could race. But it was completely hopeless — all that people remember now is the transmission on that old generation. It’s highly likely that Steph does not even know that the generation has changed.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      The transmission (mostly) worked fine if you put it in manual mode and used the paddle shifters. But most people didn’t do that, and were upset that it didn’t feel like a slushbox.

    • 0 avatar
      Ce he sin

      Was it? I first drove a Smart back in 2004 when they were using the six speed automated manual and after hearing nothing but negativity about it I was surprised to find it absolutely fine. Recently I bough a 2004 Roadster with the same box which for whatever reason isn’t as good, but it’s still liveable with. Usually I just put it in automatic mode and leave it to get on with it.

    • 0 avatar
      Ce he sin

      “Born as a diesel-powered division before changing over to gasoline propulsion, Smart has now evolved into an electric-only brand”

      Nope, the diesel came second.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Wrong car, wrong sales niche, wrong geographical market. It’s just all bad.

    The change to EV is a side show; a Buick V6 couldn’t solve Smart’s problems.

  • avatar
    robc123

    Where the article gets it wrong is that the new transmissions are great. HUGE night and day improvement over the old ones. Put it into sport mode and shifts are now immediate and has some acceleration.

    AND….

    its fast or feels crazy fast for city driving.

    Have experience via Car2Go for this, and I prefer it to the other Car2Go offerings (GLA, CLA) because it is so small you can park it in “event parking” like a block away from a stadium hockey game whereby no regular car could ever find a space big enough. and at $0.41 cents a minute (car2go) I am a buyer.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Give it the Old Yeller treatment – take it out in the yard and blast it.

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