It’s no secret that Smart sales in the U.S. have fallen off the chart. So one can only imagine the deep pain at owner Mercedes-Benz, which recently was happy to announce a 13 percent January-to-June sales increase for all its cars, the best June in its history.
Smartly, they are rethinking (to some extent) and tweaking the design of the Fortwo, giving it a facelift for the 2010 Paris Motor Show in October. The cars get fresh exterior features, a much better interior treatment, and four upgraded engines with higher fuel economy and lower emissions.
Whether these developments will turn the tide for Smart remains to be seen. Autoblog Green thinks, and I tend to agree, that the company needs something more differentiating, more “head-turning,” like the forthcoming battery-powered Smart Electric, coming to the U.S. for testing in October.
The Fortwo has gained some acceptance around the world, because it is functional as can be, attractive, and for the past ten years has set the pace for city cars. Americans have still to be sold on such vehicles, but when you see these cars maneuvering and parking on the streets of Oaxaca, Mexico, for instance, you wonder why they haven’t had more impact in, say, New York.
Americans, of course, want their vehicles to be highway cruisers, sports cars, and city cars all in one package. This way of thinking will change, I believe, not just for environmental but for practical reasons. The all-purpose automobile is far more expensive and less and less practical for those who live in cities.
Daimler’s press release mentions a couple of innovative mobility projects in Ulm and in Austin, Tex., for “spontaneously” renting Smarts at a small fee. I can also imagine living in a city, owning a Smart-type car, and renting a freeway car on a similar basis for longer trips as needed.
There are over one million Smarts now on the road. Changing the habits of U.S. drivers may be as difficult as tackling the obesity problem. But they will change, as they have in other countries.
What do you think is needed for cars like the Smart to take off in the U.S.?