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Smartcar sales plummet as U.S. consumers realize they suck.

Posted in Commuter Cars, Compact Cars, EcoLust, Economy Cars, Smart by MrAngry | September 1st, 2010 | 13 Responses |

Smart ForTwo

Two years ago I was given a Smart Fortwo to road test for a week and to say that I thought it was a monumental pile of crap would be an understatement. Yes it’s small, and yes you can park it just about anyplace, the problem is that after parking it, too many of its owners simply walk away from it without setting them ablaze. When Smart first entered the U.S. car market they brought with them a great ad campaign, the promise of amazing fuel economy and a fun little car that would make you feel happy when you drove it. The ad campaign worked because in 2008 Smart sold 25,000 of these little buggers to people who bought into the hype before ever having driven one.

Smart ForTwo

Then 2009 came along and Smart sales in the U.S. began to drop as people realized that these cars actually weren’t very good. We’re now 7 months into 2010 and according to Automotive News, Smart has only sold a dismal 4,000 cars to U.S. consumers. So what happened here? Well, I’ll tell you, in theory the Smart Fortwo is a great little car. It’s small, somewhat economical and makes for a good urban runabout. The problem is that it’s not a car that was designed for American roads and or the 70-80 mph sustained speeds that Americans are accustom to driving at on U.S. highways and interstates.

Smart ForTwo

Maintaining these speeds in the Smart means you are never going to take your foot off the floor. Also, cruising at these speeds is also a bit unnerving as the Smart does not welcome speeds in excess of 70 mph. The short wheel base and ultra tiny wheels mean you feel every bump in the road. Combine that with scary emergency handling and you have the makings of a none-to-happy scene if something goes array. My test car averaged a combined mileage of around 41 mpg. Yes, it’s good, but you have to realize that the fuel capacity is only 5.8 gallons, which means you’re filling up every 210 miles or so. The Smart’s transmission is another story entirely… simply put, it stinks.

Smart ForTwo

In all honesty I can’t see Smart regaining any ground here in the U.S. unless it implements some drastic changes to its model line in the form of enhanced performance, fuel range and price. Today’s mini-car market simply has too many good cars for a poor performer like the Smart to have any type of competitive edge.

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13 Responses

  1. Mark Smith says:

    I had a hard time believing that this car would make it here. It was perfect for Europe where most of their driving is in crowded urban environments and they have great public transportation for long trips. You NEVER saw those things on a freeway in Italy though.

    • hollis says:

      I just drove my smart car from St Petersburg Florida to Chicago. Total miles 1192, total cost $112.13. I drove 75-80 mph, passed semi’s and no problem. Car handled great. This car gets up and goes. Maybe you just don’t know how to shift but know a lot about complaining. Your not driving a Cadillac.

  2. William Brown says:

    A few errors in the article that I thought should be corrected.

    The 2005 smart cdi has been the best of the cars I’ve owned to date.

    The diesel smart cruises just fine at 75 – 84 mph and will do so all day long. My first long trip was from Seaforth Ontario Canada to Dixie Georgia, 1100 miles. I drove straight through, just stopping for fuel every 350 miles (6 gallon fuel capacity) and to stretch my legs (no cruise control at the time). My smart is a pre-2008 model, with a diesel engine and smaller fuel tank, it is the most fuel efficient car in North America.

    The new gasoline version released in the US has a larger engine (25% larger), higher top speed (90 mph) and a larger fuel tank (9 gal). Giving it a real world range of 400 – 500 miles.

    I would not equate 15″ and 16″ wheels with ultra tiny. In addition the smart has front brakes equivalent in size to many much larger and heavier cars. Giving superior stopping ability.

    If the car is going to live on the interstates upgrading the front tires to something slightly wider (original equipment are 155/60R15) will give excellent stability in heavy winds. I run 175/55R15 tires all around and enjoy the neutral handling when the car is pushed to the limit.

    The short wheel base does result in a stiff ride but it is better than what one receives in many sport cars like the Corvette for example.

    From personal experience the emergency handling is the best on any car I have owned. The other cars all being North American made. With standard traction control, ESP, brake force distribution and ice radials the smart is a little tank in the snow and very composed. I wouldn’t want to try to duplicate some of my winter maneuvers in a top heavy, weak roofed SUV.

    Complaining about the transmission tells me that you were not shown how to drive the car properly, or did not have sufficient time behind the wheel to master the automated manual gear box. When driven properly, gear changes can be as smooth as an automatic.

    I am looking forward to another I-75 drive September 16 to North Carolina to run my smart through the Tail of the Dragon. Having a remapped car and cruise this time around will make the drive all that much better. I will just have to stop for fuel, no need to stretch the legs. YouTube has some great videos showing how well our little cars handle the Dragon, easily out performing most of the other cars on the road.

    The economic melt down has had a detrimental effect on smart sales and all car sales. Once the economy stabilizes and fuel prices start to climb, buyers will be looking once again to small fuel efficient cars like the smart.

  3. MrAngry says:

    I understand as an owner you feel the need to justify the purchase of this car, but you’re kidding yourself if you honestly believe these are good vehicles.

    The emergency handling is terrible, acceleration is atrocious and the ride is one of the worst I’ve experienced. The fact that you compared it to a Corvette tells me first off, that you’ve never driven a Vette and two, you simply don’t know what a good ride feels like, even a stiff one.

    Sir, I’m sorry, but I stick to my review… these cars are terrible and I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone.

  4. William Brown says:

    I am not trying to justify my logical purchase, only point out the inaccuracies / exaggerations you have posted.

    This in no way invalidates your opinion. I only take exception to the false / misleading information. I am sure I could come up with several truthful reasons not to recommend the daily driver you yourself own.

    There are many items I do not like about the 2008+ North American smart but it still would be near the top of my list for my personal needs.

    I needed a car to commute myself to and from work, 25,000 miles per year. An additional 7,000 – 10,000 miles for personal usage is also needed.

    There is nothing currently on the market that gets the same fuel mileage (74 mpg) as the smart cdi, for the same money with the same safety features (ESP, TCS, EBD), with the same interior passenger room (equivalent to the M-B C class). I very much hope this is not the case when I look to my next auto purchase. A Fiat 500 diesel would be great or for a little more fun the Abarth version. The next generation smart in 2013 or 2014 may also be very enticing.

    Please enlighten me of any car that is superior for my needs.

    Please be specific what is atrocious about the emergency handling and under what conditions you placed the car. I have pushed my car very hard under all weather conditions and the electronic have never let me down. Also as noted the braking is superior to most cars. Several smart owners with slightly modified cars (wider wheels and tires, sport suspension) averaged 50 mph in the rain running through the Dragon last year. I challenge any new $15,000 car to match that.

    As far as acceleration goes, in the city I have no issue keeping up with traffic. I also have no issue merging onto the interstates at or above the posted speed limit. As a reminder my car is diesel and slower than the version currently offered in the US.

    True I have never driven a Vette. I must rely on the comparisons made by those that I know that have and have also ridden in my car.

    I do know what a good sporty ride feels like but I just can’t afford to put fuel in a BMW as a commuter car.

  5. Johann S. says:

    Wow, you’re in a world of FAIL in this one, the smart’s fuel tank is EXACTLY 10.0gallons and a smart is the cheapest car to own in the USA in the long run…

    Your theory is invalid. Before you comment, read this:
    Download and read, they’re both the same but in two different formats

    http://www.mediafire.com/?5w8ueuekepl28uh – ODT format
    http://www.mediafire.com/?pozya49y8mggjn3 – RTF format

    And to clarify, I don’t actually own a smart either, I drive a 2003 GMC Envoy XL. I just hate to see a biased article like this make something seem like something it’s not.

  6. Johann S. says:

    And in case you’re lazy:

    Here are my equations for how much I would be saving with a smart compared to a Yaris and a Prius:

    –smart fortwo: 41mpg after break in (EPA estimate for highway) equates to a 410mi range on one 10 gallon tank. At current local gas prices ($2.95 Premium) the smart gets that 410mi with only $29.50. Not bad, weekly dinners cost more than that.

    –Okay now to a Prius, estimating 48mpg (EPA estimate for highway) after break in and with an 11.9 gallon tank this equates to a range of 571mi. And with gas ($2.80 Unleaded) it would cost $33.32 Not bad either, for four more bucks you could go 160 more miles.

    –Now to the Yaris, estimating 36mpg after break in (EPA estimate for highway) and with its 11.1 gallon tank it has a range of 399mi but it requires extra gallons to reach that and with the gas ($2.80 Unleaded) it will take $31.08 to fill up a Yaris.

    Here are the standings:

    smart – $29.50 – 410mi 41MPG Yaris – $31.08 – 399mi – 36mpg Prius – $33.32 – 571mi – 48mpg

    -Now let’s consider buying price and later purchases (batteries):
    Base models:

    –smart fortwo pure – (automated manual transmission) $11,990 – no A/C – no power accessories (excluding locking), no radio. side airbags included

    –Yaris – (manual transmission) $12,205 – CD player standard, A/C, side airbags NOT included but are “optional” (receives “POOR” for side impact safety without it (08’ models only)). In an IIHS test against a Camry, a new Yaris with side airbags also received “POOR”.

    –Prius – (automatic) $22,000 – CD player standard, Eco A/C, side airbags included

    Fully Loaded:

    –smart fortwo cabriolet (convertible) – (automated manual) $20,000 – Navigation with Bluetooth and iPod control, leather seating/heating, fog lamps, security system with immobilizer, power steering. Etc…

    –Yaris (2 dr coupe) – (automatic) $22,157 – iPod compatible stereo, power upgrades, style upgrades, safety upgrades, security system.

    –Prius – (automatic) $35,173 – eco friendly materials, navigation, remote start, solar panel cooling.

    –Prius battery change – every 100,000-200,000 miles/ 8 years at a price of $2,500.

    Yearly costs (if driven 1,000mi a month):

    Prius – $679.73 @ 1.7 fill ups a month @ $33.32 a fill up @ $2.80gal
    smart – $849.60 @ 2.4 fill ups a month @ $29.50 a fill up @ 2.95gal
    Yaris – $936.13 @ 2.51 fill ups a month @ $31.08 a fill up @ $2.80gal

    –With those $169.87 gas savings it’ll take a Prius 89.32 years to offset the cost of a smart ($15,173 difference in price). That does not include the 100,000-150,000mi battery change. If you were to buy them in their base trims ($10,010 difference in price) it would take a Prius 59 years to offset the cost of the smart.

    –Parts cost of the smart: (these high strength body panels awarded the smart “GOOD” for bumper crush resistance tests)(this is if your insurance company does not pay, out of pocket etc.):

    $190 for single body part
    $1,000 for whole new body replacement (including installation)
    Parts cost on “traditional” cars (Prius, Yaris, F-150):

    $1,000 – $2,000+ for single part
    $8,000+ for full body replacement
    Parts cost of the Prius (3rd gen)
    Body is painted with a paint that releases oxygen
    $3,000+ for single part
    $10,000+ for full body replacement

    So overall, the smart is the cheaper car. It does offer a bit less performance and 2 less seats than other cars but the payoff is great. The combination of safety and design makes the smart a revolutionary car. And driving it does nothing but put a big smile on your face.

  7. Johann S. says:

    America is generally ignorant, like you. You don’t need a chunky SUV to get YOU (statistically, nearly 90% of daily traffic consists of vehicles with only ONE person in it) to and fro.

    Barely holds 70mph? Please stop, my BS meter’s off the charts…

    How could you get this wrong? The fuel tank is 10 gallons! I can tell you didn’t actually drive one…

    Especially since all of your photos are of the PREVIOUS generation smart fortwo…

  8. MrAngry says:

    Oh boy… I know that everyone WANTS to like the Smart, after all they are cute little runabouts, but they are still TERRIBLE CARS!! You can spout out all the statistics you want but that doesn’t change the fact that the driving experience in these cars is horrible.

    You then say America is generally ignorant and proceed to tell us you don’t need a chunky SUV, yet you drive a – “And to clarify, I don’t actually own a smart either, I drive a 2003 GMC Envoy XL.”.

    Listen to these reviews:

    US News and World Report:
    “Beyond the Fortwo’s safety concerns, it also has sluggish acceleration, even for a subcompact car. It is low on utility since it offers seating for just two and only 12 cubic feet of cargo space (and that’s only if you’re willing to obscure the rear window). Test drivers also complain loudly about the car’s sluggish transmission and the fact that the engine requires premium gasoline.”

    “Herky-jerky automatic gearbox, seats only two, gets buffeted on the highway by stiff crosswinds and big trucks.”

    “So the Smart is an unpleasant-to-drive, one-trick pony. And yet there are plenty of people– some 30k American early adopters at last count– who couldn’t care less about its dreadful driving dynamics.”

    Unless you live in a very urban area the Smart is simply not suited for American roads, it’s got 70 hp and a top speed of 90 mph. What that means is that if you are cruising at 75 you’re killing it’s little 1-liter 3 cylinder. Also, good luck passing someone in one of these things as a stiff fart could blow it into the other lane.

    How about this, go get rid of your nice cushy SUV and then drive one of these for a week… then come back and tell me how good they are.


  9. wiltjk says:

    For the record, I did drive corvettes this summer in NC. The smart greatly out-maneuvered the vettes in cornering, braking, and slalom moves – this not only from my experience driving the vette, but the vette owner who drove my smart. We agreed that the two vehicles greatly out-perform each other in different areas.

    People comfortable driving a manual generally understand the smart’s transmission and choose to manually shift to maintain complete control of the driving experience.

    The best way to educate is to offer personal experience – so I invite friends to drive my smart to ease their concerns of safety and performance. Typical comments I get include, “it is so big inside, more room than I have in my SUV”, “I had no idea it can go so fast and it drives like a much larger car”, and when hard/emergency stopping from 45+ mph to 0 in just a few short feet automatically turning on the hazards, “holy #%^*, that is simply amazing”

    Most journalism about the smart does not to approve of the vehicle which for some reason comes across as a threat to other vehicle types. It exists not to threaten but to co-exist (e.g., a smart’s seats sit higher than the bumper line of a large SUV to protect its occupants when colliding with much larger vehicles).

    Its original purpose/concept when designed by Mercedes as the Micro City Car (MCC) in 1974 (yes, 1974) was to reduce congestion on roads (original drawings show two MCCs/smarts taking up the same space as a conventional vehicle resulting in a doubling of vehicles in the same space) – not what everyone assumes it to be for today. By the way, smart (always lower-case) stands for Swatch Mercedes ART.

    The fact it is built like a formula-one having an equivalent safety cage, rear engine, composite body on steel frame, paddle shifted manual transmission means it is for a specific audience and not the general public – this is no different than other two-seat vehicles that are also not sitting in every other driveway on the street.

    If you have to be “convinced” a smart is right, it definitely is not the vehicle for you. If you are curious, you need to spend some time in one. If you are closed-minded, then it will remain a threat for whatever reason it seems to threaten others. Just the way we humans behave, I suppose.

  10. Sebastian says:

    I love how clowns like Johann S. say that Americans are ignorant and biased when Johann S. is just a drone. Here’s a kink to Johann’s goofy equation. The Smart does not get 41 mpg. It’s more like 36 mpg max. The Prius get’s 52 mpg and the Yaris makes about 36 mpg as well. What Johann S. fails to tell you is that while the Prius and Yaris both run on regular unleaded, the Smart requires premium which costs on average 25 to 30 cents more per gallon. What’s sad about the Smart is that both the Yaris and Prius seat four people while the Smart only seats two but costs more than the Yaris and a little less than the Prius. Did you ever see somebody do their grocery shopping in a Smart Car. Guess what, if the Smart Car is your only means of transportation, then you’re going to make two trips to the grocery store because typical groceries won’t fit into the Smart Car. Since it’s conception, the Smart car has not turned a profit until they brought their car to the United States in 2008. Now after sales of the Smart have completely tanked, their back to taking losses again. The Smart is easily the biggest failure in automotive history and hopefully 2012 will finally put the last nail in the casket for the Smart.

    By the way, I know why Smart Car owners are so upset. It’s because if they try to trade their goofy Smart Car for a real car, they’ll get about a third if not less of what they paid.

  11. Sebreo says:

    How could you or anyone with a brain for that matter – even in 2010 – have thought that it would be a good idea to take a smart on a highway at 70-80 MPH (well above the legal speed limit in most places) and think you would get a rolls royce oops sorry, a caprice classic type ride? get a life and don’t forget to tune up your Pontiac Matiz, or dodge Atos.