In Electric Shift, Smart Will Lose 2/3rds Of Its U.S. Dealers

2 months ago by Sebastian Blanco 35

Despite finding a place on MIT’s “Smartest Companies” list for 2017, Daimler might be making a not-so-smart decision with its Smart brand in the U.S.

smart

smart fortwo cabrio electric drive

Six months ago, Smart said it would discontinue selling gas-powered ForTwos in the U.S., offering only the electric models. Turns out, this change will mean that over two-thirds of the Smart dealers in U.S. have decided to stop selling the brand entirely.

According to Automotive News, 58 of Smart’s 85 U.S. dealerships will no longer sell the little city car, but they will continue to offer repair services for vehicles already on the road.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the 27 Smart dealerships that will keep selling the EV are in states that have signed on to CARB’s zero-emission mandate or cities like New York and Miami that have a green, EV-friendly population ready to zip through the crowded streets in a zero-emission two-seater.

In 2016, Smart sold 6,211 vehicles in the US, and 657 of them were the electric version. Of course, those were all the older models, since the new Smart EDs didn’t arrive until earlier in 2017. Back in 2014, Smart sold 2,594 ED models, the most electric vehicles it ever sold in one year.

Smart dealers in the U.S. had until the end of June to decide if they were going to go along with the EV-only plan.

Mercedes-Benz Dealer Board chairman Ken Schnitzer recognized two months ago that, “Electric smart vehicles make sense in certain markets, but don’t make as much sense in other markets. So it might make some sense for some dealers to become service-only dealers.”

Mercedes-Benz USA chief Dietmar Exler told Automotive News that getting rid of the gas-powered Smarts may get Smart’s overall sales figures up “quite a bit” higher than the 2014 high-water mark. Given the fact that the next gen ED coupe is just set to arrive in the US this month, and the Cabrio edition this Fall, we may have to wait until the end of 2018 to see how Smart’s new plan is working out.

Source: Automotive News

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35 responses to "In Electric Shift, Smart Will Lose 2/3rds Of Its U.S. Dealers"

  1. WadeTyhon says:

    This probably would not have happened if the forfour were released here. And If the range of both models were increased to at least meet the new 100+ mile minimum standard.

    In my opinion… while some people praised Smarts decision initially, it is pretty clear that it was just made to meet CARB requirements in the US until they have more capable EVs released. While at the same time setting up the eventual killing off the unsuccessful smart brand in the US.

    1. BenG says:

      I think if Smart has a future, it is electric, so while this decision is obviously going to make sales contract massively for now, it is smart for the future of the company.

      The car needs a massive upgrade though. They won’t sell many as is. But if they can double the range they’ll have something very interesting.

  2. Mil says:

    This just highlights the corrupt states that are anti-EV. Banning Tesla’s direct sales model is nothing to do with direct sales, as they’ve shunned Smart. They just don’t want to sell EV’s. Because for manufacturers that have both EV and ICE, they hide the EV cars at the back and then claim “they don’t sell as well as ICE”.

    I can’t believe how they can blatantly get away with so much corruption.

    1. Spider-Dan says:

      …wait, what?

      Daimler announced that they are phasing out all ICE-powered Smart models. Smart dealers had the choice to opt-in or opt-out, and they chose the latter. Why must it be “corruption” for a dealer to decide that they don’t want to go along with a (rather significant) mission change from an automaker?

      You can say this is a dumb, shortsighted decision by those dealers, and I’d agree. But it’s not corruption.

      1. DJ says:

        Because people don’t like dealerships. I’m surprised someone hasn’t said the devil, which they all serve, told them to opt out of selling any Smart cars…

        I mean seriously, if you are a Smart dealership in some coal state do you really think you’re gonna sell a hell of a lot of EVs.

        If I were a Smart dealer in a state where EV adoption isn’t high you better believe I’d seriously consider opting out. Why keep the inventory, train the repair staff, etc. on something that isn’t likely gonna make me $…

        1. taser54 says:

          6,000ish total Smart cars sold last year.

          Simply not worth it to most dealers.

          This was an easy out for them.

    2. Brave Lil' Toaster says:

      Ah, the old “I don’t know, so corruption” conspiracy theory.

      Or maybe, the old fogies running dealerships are scared of change.

      Or maybe, the old fogies running dealerships have been carefully watching the sales numbers and decided that the venture is pointless.

      Or maybe, the guys running dealerships (stunningly common to be male) are total petrolheads completely enamoured with car culture, and believe that if you can’t drive for 1,000 miles without a bathroom break or any other kind of stop, you’re a pansy. Those types typically take one look at the range and horsepower numbers on the EVs that come from the brand they sell, scoff, and openly mock them.

      Or maybe, customers come onto the floor, do a quick comparison of the Kia Soul and the Kia Soul EV, and decide the short range and higher sticker price aren’t worth saving the world, scoff, and buy the gas version. Then these salespeople tell other people in the business how well *that’s* going, and nobody else takes up this banner.

      Or maybe there’s something going on that I haven’t thought of.

      But I’d be the last one to blame some kind of conspiracy between gas companies and auto dealerships. That kind of thing just makes you feel good about how not corrupt you are. Or it confirms your suspicions that because you’ve got a price, so does everyone.

  3. Tosho says:

    Sooner or later one of the traditional automakers will go Tesla and open direct stores. The future holds only bad things for the car dealer mafia…

    1. Throwback says:

      Unless the state laws are changed this wont happen. The dealerships laws are specifically targeted at companies that have dealers selling their cars, hence why tesla has won in some states.

  4. Michael Will says:

    It’s a very smart nice actually. It gives them a comprehensive list of which car dealers to cut loose first as they transition to direct sales of all their vehicles.

    1. Vexar says:

      My read of this is interesting. Take the Anti-Tesla laws in the books today in a handful of states. Overlap that with the requirement Tesla has been standing on which is that there be existing dealerships which would lose the ability to sell competitively against a manufacturer. Where that leaves you is those 27 dealerships cannot be in all 50 states. Suddenly, Daimler can say “OK, the state of […] no longer has Smart dealerships. Let’s open a manufacturer store.” At that point, Daimler can cut loose the dealership model and follow the disruptive model Tesla has stuck to from the beginning.
      With German automotive manufacturers being forced to electrify or die and the diesel scandals, there’s a template to get there. I find this news embarrassing, as a US citizen, but far from surprising.
      I’ll bet this isn’t an issue in Europe!

      1. Throwback says:

        Doesn’t work that way. The laws are not brand specific, but manufacturer specific. Mercedes is the manufacturer of Smarts, thus they can not sell cars directly in any state in which they have dealers. they may not even be able to sell Smarts in states in which they do not have Benz dealers depending on how the state law is written.

        1. Vexar says:

          Good catch and thank you. Not like Mercedes is going all EV any time soon what with their killing off their only EV already.

  5. john Doe says:

    I test drove the 4 seater Smart EV..
    Very mixed feeligs about it. It kind of have a cool personality, feels OK/nice/snappy to drive and so on – but they really must learn stuff from Hyundai Ionic which is super efficient. The Smart is anything but.. and mixed with a tiny battery the range is short. . about 70km in real life winter driving.. only older EVs like Nissan E-NV200 and the egg triplet from Peugeot/Citroèn/Mitsubishi have a range like that..
    They don’t even have a fast charger for it, but will come sometime in 2018 (22kW onboard charger)with a faster charger – so people can charge faster at home too.

    I’m more then a bit surpriced at Smart, for not choosing a bit better battery and include a faster onboard charger from the start.
    I know it cost more money, and the Smart is cheap – but just 40-50% more battery would be nice. I know what the car is intended for, but It could be capable for more – it they wanted too.

    And why does it use so much energy, compared to the Ionic? It has the same energy usage as many larger EVs.

    It would not surprice me it they ship it with a more energy dense battery in 2018, together with the onboard charger they have said will come in 2018.
    The car in itself is good and all.. it just lacks the EV tech/capacity.

    Can the Smart in the future be fitted with the new small car EV platform Daimler is developing? or is it too small?

    1. salipander says:

      The drag caused by the short length of the smart (cd=0.36) can’t compete with the IONIQ’s drag (cd=0.24, so just two thirds!). It is meant as a city car, driving at lower speed. Riding on the highway will deplete the battery within the hour. It’s how it is, or it should be designed as a rain drop, but that’s too uncomfortable in city traffic..

      1. speculawyer says:

        Yep…the logic of a building a tiny little car for energy savings is illusory. You can build a tiny little low-cost car…but it won’t ever really be energy savings because you can’t good aerodynamics without elongating the car to maximize volume for a minimal frontal surface area.

        There’s a reason why jet airliners generally all look the same.

        1. Asak says:

          This has always been the Achilles’s heel of the smart. In theory, you think tiny car, efficiency should be good, but in reality it’s anything but. I’m not convinced it’s just aerodynamics though, I think there’s more to it than that. I think the car is just poorly made with an inferior engine.

          1. john Doe says:

            I’m sure the quality of the car is OK, and materials and all looks and feel to be of high quality (compared to the price of the car). It feels tight, firm and well put together.

            The electric motor and controller + drivetrain MUST have room for improvements.

            If you’ve tested the Ionic, you kind of feels how energy efficient it is. I’ve never experienced that feeling in an EV before.
            Everybody should reverse engineer the Hyundai and see what kind of pixiedust they have in their car.

  6. Some Guy says:

    This is a Smart move by Daimler. The Stealerships cancel the binding contract on their own, that forces Daimler to sell through them (until cancellation). Then, entering a direct sales model gets easy, because the stealership is no longer to be protected by the “no direct sales”-laws in most states, because there are simply no Smart Dealers to protect (pun intended). And if Tesla wins (hopefully) in supreme court against Michigan, all states.

  7. Disappointed says:

    I have driven the “new” 453 smart fortwo ed.

    It launched on wednesday, August 9, 2017.
    Release had been expected but no formal announcement was made. The Mulroney report is a disaster, IMO, the range is 58 miles and the 0-60, is also slower.
    While the competition moves forward the smart has moved backwards.
    I find this very sad, not just for the playful among us who might enjoy the potential fun it could offer but also for the Brave Dealers who agreed to sell them.

    1. speculawyer says:

      Slower and less range? How did THAT happen?

      How do you make a car that is WORSE than your previous version?

      1. eloder says:

        6 inches wider in a short car that can also fit someone who is 6’5″ = significantly worse aerodynamics.

        It’s also heavier.

        Now for the target market, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. They improved the turning circle by 25% (it is RIDICULOUSLY small now), and the interior is thousands of times better than before.

        The range is crippled by highway driving, too. The previous generation could get 100 miles in warm-weather city driving on an EPA range of 67 or so. Early reports suggest this model still can push 80 miles in city driving in warm weather. For a city-only Californian though, where parking is invaluable, this can be the best car out there.

        Anyways, though, I’m still amazed they didn’t buff up the battery a bit. Still the same battery from 2013 makes me really sad.

    2. Nix says:

      That is very sad. The Smart EV has been around since 2009 as Car2Go rideshare cars. Even if they simply upgraded to the latest battery cells and left the physical pack the same, they should have seen an improvement in range and 0-60.

      It is almost like they are intentionally trying to limit them to just being for Car2Go fleet use, and making them as cheaply as possible for that task.

  8. speculawyer says:

    Smart is just not smart. When you build cars so small, the aerodynamics just really suck. And the ICE models had a TERRIBLE transmission. The EV versions are best but they are pretty dead when you have the Bolt, LEAF, Fiat 500e, Model 3, Focus Electric, and others as better competition.

    Once nice thing they have to offer is that they are the only EV convertible available, so that’s nice.

  9. James P Heartney says:

    The Smart could make sense as a city car in a really crowded city. But in most of U.S. it’s just a dead end. ED has almost no range, and for the money you could buy a Prius.

    Don’t think there’s any clever plan here; the brand is dying. Daimler will eventually bring out viable EVs under its established brands.

    1. Nix says:

      I believe that the majority of Smart dealerships are already near big cities right now. So that really shouldn’t be an issue.

    2. Rhaman68 says:

      Well said. Except for California with state and possibly other rebates, this EV has little to zero potential sales.

  10. Nix says:

    This is actually just another sign of why traditional ICE car dealerships are absolutely failing when it comes to selling EV’s.

  11. Bill Howland says:

    Ironically, I think my local SMART dealership is one of the largest in the country, if not THE largest (at one time I counted 18 SMART ED’s on the lot). That’s more than the amount of smarts for sale in many whole states.

  12. ItsNotAboutTheMoney says:

    It has no fast charger.

  13. Don Zenga says:

    Those 58 smart dealers are smart and that’s why they cancelled. No dealer will sell a make with just 1 model and that too an electric.

    If MB is really interested, then they will sell both gas & electric version of both For2 & For4.

    Soon the other 27 dealers will become smart. Smart ED will go the way of B250e.

    1. Asak says:

      To be honest, I doubt many of those dealerships were smart only. Too few of them sold to actually support any dedicated dealerships. It’s more likely they were selling smart in addition to some other brand, probably Mercedes.

  14. TinyCars4Evr says:

    Almost bought a Smart EV when my commute was only 10 miles one way on city side streets. But then the company relocated me and the commute became 22miles one way, 1/2 on the highway, and the Smart was no longer the smart choice. I wish they offered the Smart Roadster in the USA. It’s a cool/fun looking car. If they could make a Smart Roadster EV with 125miles range, I would seriously consider it.

    1. Schorschi says:

      A 22-mile one-way commute isn’t a problem for the smart ED at all. I drove that distance for three years with a 2014. Loved the little guy. Alas, it was a lease.

      I now own a used Spark EV. What a rocket. Once electric, always electric.

  15. I think everything tries to over think a Smart ED. Yes, it’s teeny, it has a short range and it drives like a go-cart but that’s precisely why I like mine.
    It’s a CITY CAR. It’s not a freeway cruiser. I use it to drive around all week visiting with clients, and running various errands and on the weekend I charge him up.
    Uts a great little 2nd car and I love it!

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