Pick your jaw up off the floor. The Smart brand, officially spelled with a lowercase “s” that we can’t abide by, is now 20 years old, but seems destined to leave this earth before it has to start worrying about the big three-oh.
Smart’s development partner, Renault, is reportedly entertaining thoughts of leaving the relationship, opening the door to Smart’s death… or substitution.
The Smart (“smart,” officially) experiment continues in North America, only now it’s electric. While the Daimler division has never offered anything other than a single, two-seat model on this side of the Atlantic, Europeans have a modicum of choice when it comes to choosing a Smart. You can even get one with a backseat.
After going the all-electric route in the U.S. last year, Smart wants its small legion of global fans to know it’s thinking of the future. Hence, the ForTwo Electric Drive became the ForEase.
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.
Maybe it’s the Hoth-like climate and the urge to do anything in one’s power to warm it up, but Canada has so far taken a laid-back approach to the fires plaguing older Smart Fortwo models. A big part of the problem is that no one’s telling the country’s transportation regulator about them.
The models bursting into flames in the Great White North are of the same vintage as those which sparked an investigation by the United States’ National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, Transport Canada has yet to open a defect investigation of its own.
Daimler announced in February that it would stop sending gasoline-powered models to North America this summer and move exclusively to EVs after inventory levels decline. Dealers had until the end of June to decide if they wanted to be a part of the next wave of personal mobility.
With Smart swapping to electric-only drivetrains for U.S. retailers, we assumed the majority of Mercedes-Benz dealers still clinging onto the microscopic Fortwo would abandon it — as would every standalone Smart store still in existence.
Smart only sold 54 electric models within the United States between January and May, so it’s understandable that this summer saw over two-thirds of all retailers opting out of the deal. That leaves Smart with only 27 sanctioned stores within the United States, making it more exclusive than Lotus, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and even Rolls-Royce.
It’s been roughly a decade since Daimler’s Smart Automobile first caressed America’s purple mountains and amber waves of grain with the microscopic Fortwo. Despite a promising first year in the United States, the brand never really managed to carve a space out for itself in a competitive and size-obsessed marketplace. The same is true (over a slightly longer timeline) for Canada.
Standalone Smart dealerships have become a rarity, frequently rolled into Mercedes-Benz sales lots over the years. But both have to ask themselves the same question: Is it worth pursuing sales when Daimler converts the little two-seater into a pure electric later this year and abandons the gasoline engine?
Obviously, the gut reaction is to tell every Mercedes-Benz franchise “probably not” and recommend any standalone Smart dealership immediately consider arson. Small car sales in North America are dwindling and EV sales are miniscule. Claiming a vehicle that exists as one of the least capable examples of both is a good investment is not something any rational person would suggest. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for the unfortunately named Fortwo ED in North America.
Will anyone notice? Mercedes-Benz certainly hopes so, as it recently choose to ditch gasoline powerplants altogether and make the Smart sub-brand an all-electric affair.
The automaker announced pricing and specifications for its 2017 Smart Fortwo Electric Drive coupe and convertible today, billing the two-seater as one of the cheapest EVs you can buy. The droptop variant remains the only electric convertible you can get your hands on, should that be your thing.
While many scratch their heads and wonder why Smart continues to exist in North America, the automaker hopes to entice consumers with a lower starting price and added range.
You’d probably never guess this from examining any parking lot in suburban North America, but Daimler’s microcar brand is actually doing exceedingly well. Despite the global trend toward crossovers, Smart saw record sales last year and increased its global volume 21 percent to 144,479 units. More amazing is that it’s still a brand that owes the entirety of its success to one niche market.
Smart doesn’t seem interested in changing course, either. While it’s abandoning internal combustion units to pursue a strict EV-only mentality in the United States, it will be business as usual for the the rest of the planet. But, with much of the industry offering spanking new compact crossovers and with fuel prices still so low, wouldn’t it be in Smart’s best interest to look beyond the limited microcar segment?
It would appear that the Smart money is literally on electric cars. Daimler says it plans to stop selling combustion-engined Smart models in North America entirely. If you live in the United States or Canada and want a goofy gas-powered mini car, you’d better buy one now.
Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Dietmar Exler has issued a letter to dealers explaining that the sale of Smart cars with gasoline engines will stop when the 2017 model year ends this fall.
Smart, the plucky and perplexing subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz, has the unique distinction of offering an EV variant of its sole U.S. model that’s generally accepted as being an improvement over the gas-powered model.
Certainly, a vastly reduced range doesn’t boost the tiny package’s appeal, but the two-seat city car really isn’t meant for those long-legged highway trips. That’s what the Ford F-150 and Fiat 500 are for. No, the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive has two aces up its sleeve — instant thrust, and a transmission that mercifully stays in the same gear.
For 2017, Smart has sized up its Electric Drive, accepted its limitations (no, we can’t add a backseat ... ), and made it a bit better in any way it can.
Elk. Majestic creatures, and delicious, too. You can cut that meat with a fork. But colliding with 900 pounds of it in the smallest car on North American roads is no one’s idea of a picnic.
That’s exactly what happened last week, when a tiny, first-generation Smart Fortwo went head-to-head with a bull elk on a dark British Columbia highway.
It’s a Dodge Caliber festooned with a seven slot grille and boxy proportions. It exists for no other reason than to leverage the brand equity built up by decades of Jeep heritage. The Patriot*, according to your nominations, our writers, and your votes is — by far — TTAC’s 2016 Worst Automobile Today.
After all the votes were cast, a staggering 66.1 percent of you believed the Jeep Patriot to be the worst new vehicle money could buy. And, as many of you guessed, it’s not the only Fiat Chrysler Automobiles product in the Top 10.
Let’s face it: when it comes to modern cars, no model is as maligned as the diminutive two-seat Smart Fortwo. Well, maybe the Mitsubishi Mirage.
Measuring just 8-feet-10-inches in length, the rear-engined Smart looks less like a car than a rolling phone booth, or perhaps the bubble that would take Patrick McGoohan back to The Village in the TV show “ The Prisoner.”
Jokes and instances of car-tipping aside, the Smart harbors a secret ability that sets it apart from its larger peers — and it took an Ontario mechanic to find it.
America loves big cars, big trucks and fat crossovers. If you doubt me, all you need to do is look at 2015’s top sellers. The top five vehicles account for 13 percent of all vehicles sold in the USA this year, and the smallest of the five is the Toyota Camry. Not so small. Check the top 20 list, and the smallest entry is the Corolla which has grown so large we would have called it “midsized” in the ’80s.
Today, we’re looking at a very different kind of car: the 2016 smart fortwo (yes, that’s all lower case for some reason), a car that is six feet shorter than the Corolla.
2008 was Smart’s best year in the USA with some 24,000 cheeky micro cars sold. Since then, sales haven’t been swift. Yearly sales numbers in the USA bounce between 5,000 and 14,000. Canadians, however, seem to love them. Sales volumes in the Great White North hover around half the US volume. Not impressed? The entire Canadian market’s sales numbers are “smart-sized” compared to the United States. Heck, Smart outsells Maserati in Canada. Could it be that, like nationalized healthcare, the Canadians are up to something good? Or, just like healthcare, is this a good idea somewhere else, just not in the USA?
The next-generation Smart Fortwo, expected to go on sale in North America shortly, won’t achieve the magical 40-mpg benchmark in highway driving, reports Car & Driver.
Fuel economy for the Mercedes microcar will stay similar to the current generation at 33 mpg city and 39 mpg highway when equipped with the automatic transmission. Manual models will get the same highway fuel economy, but give up 1 mpg on the city cycle.
I like Smarts.
It’s not a guilty pleasure, for I am not ashamed. It is a bizarre pleasure, however, lacking consistency and believability.
I’m a true blue car enthusiast with a love of V8 rumble, turbocharged torque, supercharged sizzle, manual shifters, and performance wagons. And yet, I can’t help myself: I like the way the Smart Fortwo steers. I’ve adapted to the way it wants to be shifted. I love the feeling of interior airiness. And I periodically enjoy well and truly pushing a car to its limits just to make proper forward progress. Approaching the limits in those performance cars I love? That’s a recipe for jail time.
There’s a new car sharing program in Columbus, Ohio called car2go (not capitalized). For $0.38/minute, smart cars are available for rent – fuel and insurance are included. They can be driven anywhere, but they have to be returned to a public parking space within the designated “home area”. The Columbus home area is essentially downtown, the immediately adjacent suburbs, and the Ohio State University campus. I am fortunate enough to live in the home area and for the past several weeks I have been tempted by a car-nu-co-pia of car2gos (cars2go?) smart cars parked everywhere.
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