Reselling the Smart: How Would You Do It?

September 1st, 2011

Smart Forvision concept

Back in February, after Penske had given up on selling the Smart in the U.S., we said the Smart ForTwo needed “a basic rework, mechanically,” a lower price, and some new product to succeed here. We also said (I’m so Smart) that there was an obvious failure of marketing.

Then we heard zilch about new product, except for the testing of the Smart electric drive (60-mile range), which costs $599 a month to lease. Around the world 1,500 “passionate” early adopters are providing data, 250 of them in the U.S. Guys, the electric Smart isn’t news anymore, even in the New York Times.

Now, yesterday in fact, we hear that the new generation Smart ForTwo (which may share platform or mechanicals with the Renault Twingo) will have gas, diesel or electric power options but won’t be around until 2014. So the company is producing, with Renault’s help, a Forvision electric concept (above), with a lot of plastic and roof-mounted solar panels. Yup, it will be at Frankfurt.

Smart electric drive chargingBack in July, Mercedes-Benz appointed a new marketing team, whose line was basically that people weren’t avoiding the Smart; they just weren’t aware of it. Good lease deals on the gas-powered cars are now offered, plus a major ad campaign, the traditional stuff. Here’s the plan, as Tracey Matura, the new brand general manager sees it.

Well, here’s my two cents—and we welcome yours, of course. You can market a product by research: finding out what people are willing to buy and what they want. You can also market by creating something seductive and tapping into customer desire—like what Steve Jobs did with Apple.

Mercedes is trying the first approach, because car marketing is pretty conservative, after all. But the present Smart has too many flaws, which most potential “passionate” early-adopter buyers are very much aware of. (There’s even a good forum about Smart cars.)

You can’t do the Steve Jobs approach with Smart. The car is already out there, love it or hate it. What M-B can do is fix the flaws immediately (more power, better transmission), change a few design elements and sell it as a Smarter car. Set a campaign along that line, “We got Smarter,” or some such. Sell it strictly as a city car for the young, and differentiate it from the competition.

And make it a Mercedes product, not some standalone weird duck in the corner of a showroom full of sleek, expensive German power. The car has to carry, somehow, the Mercedes brand. Figuring that one out will be the key to selling it, I think.

Tell us how—or whether—you think the Smart can be part of the Mercedes-Benz line.

—jgoods

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  1. Randy
    September 1st, 2011 at 17:28 | #1

    The Smart has an excellent structure, so that isn’t the problem in a crash. The problem is the same with any small car– There is no mass, so depending on what you hit (or vice versa) you’ll tend to decellerate quickly. A well-known Smart crash tape is an angled barrier. I’ve been involved in enough crash tests to see that the occupants would have been subjected to at least 30G of deceleration, which is instantly fatal. PERIOD. Now have the same car T-boned by a pickup truck going 50 and you have the same deal– fatality. That’s just the fact of life (and death) with such tiny cars.
    Smart headquarters and the first Smart dealer was just down the street from my house and I did consider the car a few years back when gas hit over $4 a gallon. I didn’t buy the car for three reasons:
    1. I was a nervous wreck after driving the car because even a standard size sedan behind me seemed like being tailgated by a semi. Being tailgated by a Dodge Ram truck was like trying to get out of the way of an Abrams tank. Also, other drivers seemed to hate the car and wanted to push it out of the way.
    2. Cost . Too darn expensive for an oversize golf cart.
    3. Premium fuel. The dumbest thing they did was use a high compression engine that required premium fuel. What’s the point of 40 MPG if you have an instant 10 percent cost penalty in your fuel?

    I liked the original Smart gas hybrid. We had one many years ago for evaluation and it was a sick little car.

  2. panayoti
    September 1st, 2011 at 14:56 | #2

    Not if people see what happens to it when crashed. Pretty scary.

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