smart Sales Plan Revived

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Persistance Pays Off
Though once abandoning a plan for U.S. sales, automaker smart didn’t give up on us like they have on the use of capital letters and two of their European entries (smart roadster and forfour dropped by 2007MY). An exclusive agreement with the United Auto Group dealers, headed by Roger Penske, has been forged to bring over the next fortwo in early 2008. Reports are that optimistic DaimlerChrysler, parent of smart, would like to see sales in the States at about 20,000 units.
Having never really given up on the States, smart has shown off its fortwo at several occasions, including an exhibit at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and as a lead vehicle for the New York City Marathon and a sponsor of the Boston Marathon. Groundwork for creating interest and enthusiasm for this tiny city car is well laid, and rising fuel costs only add to the hype.

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The current fortwo was never meant to come to the States, due to problems meeting U.S. emissions regulations, though importer and electric car company ZAP has sold about 200 Americanized fortwos through May 2006, and sales in Canada reached 4000 units with months-long waitlists.
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What is a smart fortwo?
In North American terms, the fortwo is half a vehicle at a full vehicle price. Pricing through UnitedAuto Group is far from set, but Zap sells the current model for about $25,000, loaded up with luxury features.
The fortwo is optimized for two people in high-traffic areas. It features a unique rear-engine, RWD setup and uses a spaceframe designed for high levels of safety and flexibility. In Europe, motive power is from 1.0L three-cylinder turbo gasoline and diesel engines, mated to an automatic sequential five-speed gearbox. The crosstown concept featured a gasoline-electric hybrid powerplant.
Launched as the CityCoupe and CityCabrio, this small entry has been available in Europe since October 1998, and smart has sold about 750,000 in thirty-six countries. (The change to the name fortwo came for 2004.) The new car grows slightly but will not change its overall focus or basic package. It was previewed at the 2005 Frankfurt auto show in the crosstown concept, where VehicleVoice and AutoPacific contributors got a closer look at the possible future fortwo.

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Despite its diminutive size, the fortwo could find a happy home in some U.S. urban areas, but it can only be a niche, low-volume proposition. When streets are crowded, spaces are tight, parking is stratospherically expensive and limited, and ultra-tight spaces have to be negotiated, there is nothing quite like a fortwo. A fortwo is small enough to be transversely in conventional street parallel parking spaces, between the front and rear of two regular cars.
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The fortwo could also find a natural home in wealthy retirement havens such as Palm Springs, Scottsdale, and Fort Lauderdale where a full car isn’t really needed. Picture the fortwo as a style accessory during a resort stay, with its fun and quirky personality. Whether urban or retired, most fortwo buyers will have other cars or transportation to fall back on when more room or higher performance is needed.

ANECDOTE

Just spoke with a French Canadian journalist who had driven a smart fortwo roadster from Vancouver British Columbia to Los Angeles, then to the Grand Canyon and back. Said it did very well, even on American Interstates and through Los Angeles freeway traffic. She said that the biggest blast was driving down Sunset Boulevard and getting catcalls from motorists and pedestrians alike, “Where is the rest of your car?” Only spent a bit more than $200 for 4,200 miles (or was that kilometers) of driving.

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