The Smart booth at this year's Detroit Auto Show features more than the iconic Fortwo. There is the For-Us pick-up concept, of course, and the Smart e-bikes that we first saw in Paris in 2010. New Smart USA general manager Tracey Matura said that this is all intentional, because all these things allude to an important question that Smart is trying to ask in the new auto industry.

"I've had people ask me, 'Why a pick-up?' and my answer is, 'Why not?" Matura told AutoblogGreen. "That's kind of what Smart's about: why couldn't it be? It's the same thing with cars. Why do they all have to be big and long and everything else?"

It's the same thing with cars. Why do they all have to be big and long and everything else?

Matura is voicing the mentality that prompted her and Smart to launch the brand's first-ever national advertising campaign in the U.S. in September last year (a second commercial came at the end of October). The "Unbig" commercials came about after Smart's transition from the Penske Automotive Group to returning to the Mercedes-Benz USA fold. The Unbig campaign was a combination of Smart's internal beliefs about what the brand represents and outside agencies, with the core message being to rightsize your life. "The beautiful thing about the Smart is that, yes, it's a car, but it's more than a car. It's a lifestyle, it's a mindset, it's whatever you want it to be," she said. "The Smart makes a statement about the people who drive it."

The same thing applies to the e-bikes, which will go on sale in Europe this spring. Matura made it sound like they may come to selected North American markets in the not-too-distant future. "Again, why not?" she said, "Smart can be many things, including an electric bike." It can also be a short-term rental. Matura said that Car2go, which isn't directly tied to Smart USA other than through Car2go buying the cars from Smart USA, does a great job of introducing a lot of people to the cars and give them a positive experience with them. "I think we help each other." she said, adding that it's just one more way the brand asks, "Why not?"

smart fortwo unbig tv ad

Matura said that it's hard to measure the exact impact the Unbig ads have had in the 200+ days the new Smart has been in business, but there were at least somewhat effective, "We can measure results on the dealership floor, and we did see that those drove traffic and interest." There were more dealers to visit, too. Smart currently has 87 dealers in the U.S., up from 75 that Penske had (the 54 Mercedes-Benz dealers that were Smart dealers under Penske remained Smart dealers, an important decision because many Americans don't know that Smart is part of Mercedes-Benz). Matura said another six dealerships are in the works and that Smart is willing to add more when it makes strategic sense; there is no predefined target number – 100, say – that she wants the brand to hit. Anyway, those 87 dealerships sold a total of 5,198 Fortwos in all of 2011, and over half of that number happened under M-B's new leadership. So, even though sales are still low (and decreased from 5,927 in 2010), there was noticeable momentum in the latter half of 2011. "We think there is a lot of runway, if you will," Matura said.

smart edSome of the upcoming sales will be of the third-generation Smart Electric Drive. The new electric vehicle will be faster, quicker and have a longer range than the second-gen ED. Daimler leased around 250 of the second-generation EDs in the U.S. and the learnings from that program and the first generation (which was not available in the U.S.) are being put into effect in the third generation, which is scheduled to arrive in the fall of 2012. That's a bit later than we originally heard it would be here, but Matura downplayed the delay, saying that as long as she's been involved, the timetable has always said to bring the Smart ED to North America in the fall of 2012. Europe should get the car in May or June of 2012.

How will the next-gen ED be better? Range has been beefed up to around 100 miles (the second-generation could only go for around 65 miles), an improved 0-60 time and, most importantly, the top speed is now 75-78 miles per hour. While range anxiety did come up in the discussions with Smart ED drivers, Tracey said, top speed was always a bigger complaint. The second-gen ED's top speed of 60 miles per hour was just barely acceptable, and drivers repeatedly mentioned that going faster would be nicer. With all of these improvements put into place for the third-gen ED, Matura said Daimler "sees great potential with that car in the United States, for sure." Another welcome change is that the third-gen ED will be available for both purchase and lease in North America and that every U.S. Smart dealer will have the opportunity to lease of sell the third-generation Smart, right from the beginning of when the car becomes available here. That's actually what some people have been asking Smart since the ED was made available for lease only here in the U.S.: Why not sell it?


I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.


    • 1 Second Ago
  • 16 Comments
      Dan Frederiksen
      • 2 Years Ago
      while you are at it, ask why not light and aerodynamic. why not something intelligent instead of that pickup.
        Nick
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Dan Frederiksen
        It is light and short for city driving. Making it aerodynamic would require a longer body, which would make it heavier and thirstier in the city..
      DRstrangelove
      • 2 Years Ago
      And we're the customers who laugh and walk away.
        PR
        • 2 Years Ago
        @DRstrangelove
        And say "Why Not buy something else..."
          JeremyD
          • 2 Years Ago
          @PR
          sorry PIPA not PITA
          PR
          • 2 Years Ago
          @PR
          Something else that doesn't have share its name with "Erectile Disfunction"
          JeremyD
          • 2 Years Ago
          @PR
          Stop deleting my comments ABG! ABG censorship is worse than SOPA / PITA. I didnt even say anything bad, just agreed with PR...
      Nick
      • 2 Years Ago
      They just need BETTER STYLING. I'd love a sharp, efficient mini-car. Smart's design is toyish.
      PR
      • 2 Years Ago
      With all the joking aside, the ED version does solve two of the Smart's worst problems by completely eliminating them. The lousy transmission is eliminated. And the lousy gas mileage for its size is eliminated by not burning any gas at all. So this is a step in the right direction for Smart. The big question now is whether or not the 100 mile range is the EPA rating, or just the number they are throwing out there. If it is a 100 mile EPA rated range, then Smart have found a minor market difference that they may be able to exploit.
        Spec
        • 2 Years Ago
        @PR
        They'll still get crappy numbers though since the aerodynamics are not good. But that said, it is a crash-tested and approved little chassis. So it will probably make a decent little city car EV.
      throwback
      • 2 Years Ago
      Smart's problem with sales can be traced to how the cars drive. I had my $99 down on one, until I drove it. The transmission is just unacceptable in a modern car. I liked everything about the Smart excpt how awful it is to drive. Improve that and you will see some sales increases. Also, not everyone can live with a 2 seater, a new forfour is badly needed.
        EZEE
        • 2 Years Ago
        @throwback
        'liked every about the Smart except how awful it is to drive.' :D Sorta like, "I love everything about my stereo system, with the exception of how the music sounds."
          throwback
          • 2 Years Ago
          @EZEE
          So true, that's why I didn't put down any benjamins. But, I thought the build quality and material quality was good for the price. The Convertible top is a slick piece as well and being RWD is a big draw for me. The world has enough FWD cars. The car begs for a good manual transmission.
          Nick
          • 2 Years Ago
          @EZEE
          Yeah the tranny sucks horribly, it killed it for me too.
      EZEE
      • 2 Years Ago
      As a pickup truck owner (a compact, flex fuel, ULEV pickup so no one scream), I will refrain from offering an opinion, but as an honest question - all answers welcome - what would one use this for, and are there enough people to make it viable?
      • 2 Years Ago
      Suzuki Mighty Boy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzuki_Mighty_Boy ~ 47mpg
    • Load More Comments