Smart cars have faced an uphill battle from the get-go, and it's not looking much better today. The gas models are already done. According to USA Today, Mercedes-Benz said the gas-powered Smart car will be no more after 2017. That happened back in February. The electric version of the car will soldier on. The real question is for how long? Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes Benz and Smart, first brought the little car to the U.S. when gas prices were extremely high, but now with the low cost of gas, not many people are interested in the cars.
Even when gas prices were higher, few people wanted to buy one of these, and for good reason. The car was tiny, and it didn’t drive that well. It simply isn’t well-suited for large American roadways and American appetites that lean towards bigger vehicles. Also, while the latest Smart cars get good gas mileage (31
A Smart EV Makes a Little More Sense
The gasoline versions of the car aren’t very enticing, but we can actually see the EV Smart car being a viable vehicle for a select market. One that does most of its driving in urban environments. Someone who needs a small car for short runs could make do with an EV Smart car without issue. This was already Smart’s focus, but now by narrowing the target market, even more, the brand could seriously focus in on prospective buyers.
The next generation Smart Fortwo ED (electric drive), as the EV model is known, has an 80 hp and 118 lb-ft of torque electric motor and a 17.6 kWh battery pack that’s good for 70 to 80 miles of range. That should be plenty for a city car. Also, it can charge from zero to 80 percent in just two and a half hours, which is relatively quick. The price? It’s expected to cost $23,000 before tax credits. That’s not a bad package.
Also, the EV Smart cars make sense for ride sharing companies. If someone who doesn’t own a car needs a little runabout for a day, there’s nothing wrong with an EV Smart car. Still, Smart tried this approach with the gasoline versions of the car and its former EV. While it proved mildly successful, Car2go, one of the car sharing services that used Smart cars, recently decided to switch to a Mercedes-Benz CLA and GLAs for its vehicles.
EVs Still Aren’t Selling That Well
According to electrek, an online survey showed 70 percent of millennial drivers don’t want electric vehicles. With only 30 percent of future buyers even interested in electric vehicles, it makes you wonder the fate of EVs in the future. It seems that’s the way things are going, but automakers will make cars consumers want to buy, and those numbers don’t necessarily spell success for the Smart brand’s move.
Even the new Chevrolet Bolt, touted by the automaker and many in the industry as a game changer has had only mediocre sales. Mark Duvall, director of energy utilization for the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, told The Mercury News, “It takes a long time to change someone’s inherent perceptions about new technology. Especially with one of the two biggest purchases people make (the other, a house).”
This insight not only makes the Smart brand’s move seem ill conceived, but it also makes other automakers large investments in electrification seem a little silly. Despite that, the EV future is coming. Regulators and automakers seem to be on the same page in that sense, and at some point, there should be a tip away from gasoline cars to electric vehicles. The question is will Smart be able to survive the interim?
We think not. The new EV strategy for the North American market is probably too close to the old one. The EV move might shake things up a bit, but it’s not like it will cause tons of people go out and buy a new Smart Fortwo ED. Narrowing the brand’s focus will likely help, but it probably won’t boost sales enough to keep the brand afloat. Still, we kind of hope we’re wrong.