Desperate to replace its aging ForTwo model and expand its appeal, Daimler AG’s Smart brand will nonetheless skip the U.S. market when it comes time to launch a second, larger minicar.
The troubled brand’s top executive told Automotive News she doesn’t think the cost of upgrading the planned ForFour model would be justified by what are likely to be modest sales, at best, in the American market.
While a final decision has yet to be made, the likelihood that there’ll be no U.S. version of the ForFour is leaving some observers scratching their heads, especially when compared to what Smart’s competitors have been doing to expand their own appeal.
Fiat recently launched its second product line, the 500L a full 27 inches longer than the original 500 coupe, while also 6 inches wider and 6 inches taller. Though it’s too early to tell how the new Italian offering will fare, British maker Mini scored a major success with the addition of its first larger, crossover-style model, the Countryman. And the latest-generation Mini Hatchback will also grow slightly when it reaches showrooms later this year.
The big problem is that while developing the ForFour, Smart apparently decided not to initially homologate it for the American market, a curious move in today’s globalized industry. So, to retroactively meet U.S. crash and emissions standards, to achieve “what is needed here costs extra money,” said Smart CEO Annette Winkler.
The question is whether Smart can pull off a turnaround based on just one core model and a mix of variants. The current ForTwo is struggling to the point where it generated just 9,264 sales last year, a 7% dip from 2012 and less than half its peak volume.
The model is handicapped by an aging design, a widely criticized transmission and mileage that isn’t any better than competing four-seat minicars.
(Most minicars fail new frontal crash tests. For more, Click Here.)
The maker nonetheless is hoping to perhaps double sales when the new ForTwo comes into showrooms, though with U.S. fuel prices expected to remain stable for the coming year or more, that’s anything but a lock.
Smart officials have been hoping to generate a bit more interest with the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive, a battery version of the little two-seater that actually delivers better performance than the gas-powered model. Introduced last May, Daimler cut the lease cost by more than half, to just $199 a month for the convertible version and $99 for the Coupe.
(Click Here to see why there isn’t a new Miata coming soon.)
So far, that hasn’t exactly charged up the market, however. Smart sold just 921 ED models last year – though sales were limited to California and a handful of other states that adopted similar zero-emissions rules. The maker is hoping demand will pick up when the ForTwo ED launches in all 50 states this year.
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