The small, quirky Smart ForTwo was a hit among microcar fans when it launched in the United States. Its popularity may have worn off, however, as Smart is now selling a mere fraction of what it did the year it debuted. With the U.S. market playing a large role in Smart sales, the automaker is struggling to keep consumers here interested in the ForTwo while awaiting new products.
Daimler first introduced its Smart brand to European customers in 1998, but the subcompact cars didn't make their way to the United States until late 2007, when Smart brought over its two-seat ForTwo. While not a smash hit, the brand sold some 25,000 units in its first year, but Smart is on track to deliver just one-third of what it sold in 2008. Through the end of July, the automaker sold just 3909 units in the U.S., a 61-percent decline from the same period last year. In 2009, Smart sold 114,000 units, but this year it isn't expected to surpass 100,000. With the U.S. a major player in Smart's annual sales figures, it has prepared a few customization options to entice buyers.
To court more buyers, and compete more effectively against competition like the Fiat 500 hatchback, Smart is expected to revive its four-seat ForFour previously offered in Europe, but discontinued in 2006. The revived model is expected to debut with new ally Renault's 2013 Twingo. Its alliance with Renault has also sparked rumors of the German automaker bringing back its roadster, for a more rounded lineup.
For the short term, 2011 Smarts have a number of exterior enhancements, including a mildly refreshed front fascia, optional matte-green paint, and body panels that can now be painted to match the color scheme of the entire car. Buyers can continue to customize their ForTwos with the "Smart Expressions" graphics package, which offers exterior vinyl wraps and custom color options. An instrument cluster with a dark background, as well as a revised dashboard spruces up the interior, and an iPod cradle will offer full integration with the car's audio system. Head of sales and marketing at Daimler Joachim Schmidt believes the improvements will help sales, expecting a turnaround in the second half of the year. Some consumers, however, may still be turned off by the ForTwo's limited space and high starting price.
While rumored new offerings are still a few years off, do you think Smart's recent upgrades to its ForTwo are enough to keep it afloat here until then? Give us your thoughts below in the comments section.
Source: Automotive News (Subscription required)