It has been a rough couple years for Smart as Fortwo sales have continued to slide at obscene rates.
In sales news, the Smart brand has sold 3909 diminutive vehicles for the year through July. It's a 60.9-percent decline compared to the identical time period last year, and by now, the drop warrants an urgent cause for concern. The battle will be an uphill climb fighting relatively poor public perception that typifies the Fortwo as being too small and too pricey.
Spearheading the rebuilding efforts will be president Jill Lajdziak and her marketing VP Kim McGill. Lajdziak, a former general manager for Saturn, has honed in on print and Web advertising along with targeted product placement in movies and TV shows. Smart is putting banner ads on car-shopping Web sites for the first time in its short history in the United States and is going after lifestyle sites with an environmentally concerned audience. The stakes are high, and Smart will be scrutinizing its Web ads with a very close eye.
"We measure the effectiveness of our marketing not only by how many people we attract but what they do after we attract them," said McGill.
Smart will also throw its Smart Street Team back into the mix, allowing potential customers to sample the Fortwo in all its glory. Getting drivers into the hot seat was a primary worry and at least affords Smart personnel the opportunity to dispel the notion that the Fortwo is a cramped and unpleasant ride.
"I thought I would look like Fred Flintstone in it," said David Carroll, who recently looked at a Fortwo through a promotion event in Annapolis, Maryland. "But sitting inside one has really changed my mind."
Getting seat time is important but Smart will need to refine its product as well. A focus group study revealed only 8.1 percent of New York buyers would buy the Fortwo again, and 19.8 percent from San Francisco would do the same. The minor percentages aren't particularly heartening and may indicate the effect of current customers on their own friends and family -- as in, only the same 8.1 and 19.8 percent would recommend purchasing a Smart. For now, it's one step at a time.
The Smart lineup is buoyed by the Fortwo and its cabriolet and Brabus variants, although an electric model and a Forfour for a quadruple of passengers are said to be in the works. The Daimler sub-brand may also revive its roadster and try its hand at plug-in electric scooters, although it's yet to be confirmed if either will make it to the U.S.