Smart made a splash last fall with the announcement that the base price of the all-electric Fortwo Electric Drive would be $25,000, making it the cheapest EV in the US. After getting a lot of attention with that number, Smart has been communicating with potential customers to make sure that the launch this spring (no date has yet been set) will be exactly what people want. Smart USA General Manager Tracey Matura is certainly planning for success.
Matura recently told AutoblogGreen that initial response to the price announcement was "all very positive." Around 2,500 people have registered so far, with around 40 percent making a reservation with their local dealer and 60 percent just asking for more information. "We've heard anecdotally that people are very pleased that there will be a cabriolet version as well," she said.
The trick, of course, is figuring out how best to sell and lease a car like the Fortwo ED. While no lease price has yet been announced, Matura did say Smart USA might soon be the only automaker in the US to offer an electric vehicle with a battery lease program. This option is available for Fortwo EDs (and EVs like the Renault Twizy) in Europe. "We haven't ruled it out," she said. "I don't know that it has to be exactly the way they do it in Europe, but there might be some reason to bring something similar to customers here. That's part of the reason I'm asking some of those questions of the people who are interested. I want to understand why they're buying the vehicle, why they're leasing the vehicle. You can't do that by looking at what the Prius did or what Nissan did, because the Smart customer is different.
"Mercedes-Benz has never had an issue introducing a new concept. Smart certainly doesn't," she added. Still, battery leasing isn't just a matter of figuring out the right price. It's full of legal challenges. "In Europe, every country operates different, but if you're in the European Union, they all kind of operate the same," Matura said. "Not so in the United States. So there are just a lot of little things to look at. What I never want to do is launch something that has good intentions but because of some things that are outside of our control it might not be how we envisioned it and might not be a positive for our customer."
"Mercedes-Benz has never had an issue introducing a new concept. Smart certainly doesn't."
Related GallerySmart Cityflame: Detroit 2013
As we said in our First Drive, the Smart ED finally makes the two-seater the car it should always have been. Matura agrees, to a point. "The car you see out there [indicating the ForStars concept] is an electric car, and you wouldn't know it unless we tell you what's inside. To be green, or whatever your purpose is for driving new technologies, doesn't have to be boring. When you talk to Americans, sometimes they think that. What Smart brings to the table is that it can be anything you want it to be, just like the gasoline version."
"When you talk to Americans, sometimes they think that green is boring. It doesn't have to be."
In the US, the electric Fortwo will be available with the bespoke Tailor Made by Brabus program. Smart USA can also wrap your new Fortwo for more personalization. Matura said even before you get to Tailor Made, there are 6,200 combinations of colors in the "standard" lineup, so that whole "anything you want" line isn't just bluster.
Well, unless, of course, you want four seats. While the Smart brand did sell a ForFour in Europe between 2004 and 2006, it never did so in the US. An updated version is coming to the brand, but Matura wouldn't say if it's on the schedule for the US. "As far as the four-seater, I know it's in discussion for the US, but I don't have an answer on that yet," she said. "I would love to see it, but the interesting thing is we've had so much success here this year  without it, that it's not necessary." Smart sold 10,009 Fortwos in the US last year, up from 5,208 in 2011.
We do know that an all-new Fortwo will be available in 2015. "I've gotten a glimpse of it," Matura said, "Not to say it won't change, but it holds true to its Smart roots with some very clever and great updates. It will look different, but the passion is still there."
Ahh, passion. It's not just a trim line for the Fortwo line. It's something Matura wanted to tap into when Daimler took the brand back in the US in early 2011. "When we took over, we saw such passion in the customers that we had that we knew there had to be more of that out there. So, building awareness of the Smart brand itself was the first step, and we did that successfully. I think the electric drive is the next step in the evolution of Smart. I think it will be very positive for Smart in the United States, but I think more so because now we have that awareness built up and people say, 'That makes sense. I understand what Smart is and it's a no-brainer that they have this new technology.' I think people would scratch their head if it wasn't here.
"I think people would scratch their head if electric drive wasn't here."
"We're playing around to see if the electric bike makes sense for the United States. They're talking about the electric scooter, and if you look at how cities are evolving these days, Smart will just continue to grow and it's going to grow in that electric role. I think it's the perfect brand to do it."
The perfect brand, maybe, but Matura was clear that she doesn't think one company can promote electric vehicles on its own, even if it does have a few thousand color choices. "I think the auto industry and the government has to do a better job of promoting why driving an electric car might be the right thing, whether you consider yourself to be green or not," she said. "I think there's this attitude that only early adopters or people who believe we should never have another plastic container in our lives are the only ones interested in that, and I don't think that's true."