In 2010, Daimler sold some 100,000 Smart cars worldwide, but managed to push only 5,927 units through Smart USA. That wasn’t enough to keep Roger Penske interested, so his company is turning over sales, marketing, distribution, service and support of Smart cars in the U.S. to Mercedes Benz USA. Smart has already sent letters to owners advising them that all warranties will still be honored, and that the transition is expected to be complete by the end of the second quarter of 2011.
Smart sales have been hampered in the U.S. by relatively low gas prices and an automotive culture that equates size with safety. Designed for urban driving in the EU, Smart cars don’t necessarily adapt well to the American landscape, where drivers often commute longer distances at higher speeds. I’ll admit to not disliking the Smart as much as Mike does, but their 70 horsepower, three cylinder engine and “Smart-Shift” transmission leave much to be desired. Smart cars aren’t inexpensive, either, and you can buy a base Hyundai Elantra (which gets 40 MPG highway) for the same money as a well equipped Smart Fortwo Passion (which gets 41 MPG). I know which one I’d rather drive, so there isn’t much mystery as to why sales are lagging. Cut the price, up the horsepower (and the fuel economy) and update the transmission; maybe then Smart will have a product that appeals to more than a handful of American buyers.