What’s it going to take to revive sales of the Smart ForTwo?
The 2008 launch of the Smart ForTwo—the only conventional gas-powered car rated above 40 MPG on the highway—was well timed for rising gas prices. When gas hit $4 a gallon in June 2008, dealerships had a hard time keeping up with the demand for the Smart car, which represented an innovative fuel-efficient strategy for urban mobility.
Two years later, it’s different story. Smart’s U.S. sales dropped to 577 cars in June, down 48 percent from June 2009. For the first six months, sales fell 61 percent to 3,349 cars.
In an attempt to get its mojo back, Smart USA is now offering a nifty gimmick: the small two-seater can be painted any color you like. “Smart Expressions builds on the innovative smart brand and empowers owners to be creative with their vehicle through a number of personalization choices,” said Jill Lajdziak, president, Smart USA.
Customers can choose from 93 colors or custom-match the car to any color under the sun. Smart also offers 35 designs of laminated vinyl wraps in either matte or glossy. The wraps cost $1,350 plus $300 installation. The program is made possible because the six exterior color body panels can be swapped out at a dealership in about 90 minutes.
The sticker price for the Smart ForTwo, which is available in five trim levels, ranges from $12,000 to $21,000.
Personalization or Electrification?
Sagging sales of the Smart ForTwo have not been helped by persistent complaints that the car’s “automatic manual” transmission bogs down when shifting—making for inconsistent and unpredictable acceleration. The new color options will not solve that problem, not will it alter the economics of the two-seater’s relatively limited functionality and relatively modest fuel economy numbers, considering the car’s diminutive size.
On the other hand, the creation of an electric version of the iconic Smart car—already available in Europe and coming to the U.S. in 2012—could work wonders for the car’s drivability and dramatically shift its value proposition. The current clunky transmission would be replaced with a smooth electric drive. Yes, the cost of the Smart ED would be higher than the gas version, but the lower cost of ownership of running on electric fuel would offer a compelling payback. The small platform is ideally suited to an electric powertrain, which would only enhance the brand’s savvy image of innovative 21st century mobility.
Besides, can you imagine the electricity-themed anti-oil wrap designs that Smart could offer on the Smart ED?
To see a gallery of paint colors and wrap designs for the gas version, visit www.smartusa.com/smartexpressions.