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.
Back 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.