We Americans may not think much of the diminutive Smart fortwo urban commuter car, but the rest of the world loves it. In fact, the second generation Smart fortwo has just crossed the 500,000 sales mark, despite just hitting the market in 2008. Dr. Annette Winkler, head of Smart, called the car an “icon, which is indispensable in the cities of the world.”
That would be cities outside of the United States, of course. Worldwide sales are up 6.6 percent in 2011, but sales in the United States remain dismal. In 2010, the last full year under former distributor Roger Penske, the brand moved less than 6,000 units in the U.S. market. Mercedes-Benz, the new distributor for Smart in the United States, is launching a major ad campaign, focused on urban markets, to revitalize the brand.
For U.S. customers, that will be an uphill battle. The Smart’s price is higher than more practical offerings from competitors, and its fuel economy isn’t remarkable, especially given the fortwo’s size. Mercedes’ job wont get any easier with the launch of minicar competitors from Scion (the iQ) and Chevy (the Spark). Unless Mercedes can find a way to make the Smart relevant to U.S. buyers, the brand is living on borrowed time in America.