Smart just never took off. Initial success in Europe was followed by a constant decline in sales that resulted in the brand's ownership change to Mercedes and now to 50% ownership by China's Geely. The market just never embraced the car. It was a gamble that made sense at the time given the price of gas and the needs of urban commuters.
But other than its initial cuteness factor, the Smart never quite took off in America, a land where even hatchbacks and hybrids struggle. News just broke announcing the end of Smart sales after 2019, and we're guessing no one will notice as the coffin lid creaks closed on this car that was anything but smart.
The Smart car was small (8 ft long), light (1,600 lbs), and had a turbocharged 3-cylinder engine up to 61 horsepower. But gas mileage wasn't exactly impressive for such a small car, with EPA estimates around 36 combined. The little car actually had trouble hitting its 41 mpg highway rating. Cars that were larger and heavier actually came close to 40 mpg highway.
Initial reception of the diminutive coupe was warm and sales were decent but not mindblowing. Daimler became the owner and even delivered a Roadster variant, as well as a Cabrio. And even as sales dropped in the states, Smart saw fit to bring an electrified version to America a few years ago and eventually made it the only Smart model for sale here.
The folks at TechCrunch reported that Daimler plans to stop sales in the U.S. and Canada after the 2019 model year. A spokesperson for the brand stated, "After much careful consideration, smart will discontinue its battery-electric smart EQ Fortwo model in the U.S. and Canadian markets at the conclusion of MY2019. A number of factors, including a declining micro-car market in the U.S. and Canada, combined with high homologation costs for a low volume model, are central to this decision."
Sales figures are proof in the pudding behind the decision. Back in 2016, total sales amounted to a mere 6,211 units in the U.S., dropping to a paltry 1,154 units last year. Mazda sold more CX-3s in March of 2019 than Smart cars in all of 2018. That's embarrassing. Only 231 Smart cars have been sold in the first quarter of this year.
It's no mystery why the brand didn't do well here. In Europe, it made more sense because of the limited parking spots and small roads in urban areas, but Americans like their cars big, and drivers like to feel safe with more metal around them. It's why crossovers, pickups, and SUVs do so well here. The more efficient EQ version doesn't even make sense with gas prices that have more or less remained low for the past few years. Will the brand ever make a comeback? If we see gas prices rise tremendously, it's possible, but with the onset of electrification that's also making its way to bigger vehicles, it's a longshot.