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Oracle of Delphi

Smart’s Fortwo aiming for big U.S. sales

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Fortwos come with luxury options like heated leather seats and power steering.

The 8-foot, 8-inch Smart Fortwo micro car comes to U.S. shores in January, and even with gasoline prices well above the $3-a-gallon mark it remains to be seen whether Americans will flock to buy the tiny, two-seater car.

Ranging in price from $11,590 for the base version to $16,590 for a fully loaded Fortwo Passion convertible, the 1,800-pound car boasts 40 miles per gallon — a big draw for drivers worried about high gas prices.

Smart has already sold more than 770,000 Fortwos in 36 countries, and Smart USA is banking on robust sales in the United States. The Smarts on sale here will be made in France and sold through 73 U.S. dealers, including Mercedes dealers and dealerships that are part of the Penske Automotive Group owned by racing icon Roger Penske. Penske is chairman of Smart USA, a division of Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz brand.

Smart says more than 30,000 consumers have put down a refundable $99 deposit to reserve a Smart car. Those deposits do not guarantee sales, but the company is hoping to move at least 30,000 units in the first year, said spokeswoman Jessica Gemmara.

“There will obviously be some fallout from the reservation program because of life changes, or because people move — things like that, but our goal is to fulfill all those orders,” she said at the Los Angeles auto show, where Smart has a large exhibit aimed at drumming up more business.

While small cars represent a tiny portion of the U.S. market, sales are growing, according to the Power Information Network, a division of market research firm J.D. Power and Associates.

Subcompact cars — defined as those cars smaller than compact cars, such as the Ford Focus and Honda Civic — made up 2.4 percent of the U.S. market in the first 10 months of this year, compared with 1.7 percent a year ago, according to J.D. Power data.

Other cars in the subcompact segment include the Chevrolet Aveo, Honda’s Fit and Toyota’s Yaris, the most popular subcompact on the market, which has managed sales of 73,874 units so far this year in hatchback and liftback versions.

Such strong sales are unlikely for the Fortwo, some analysts say. Even in Europe Smart has never been profitable. Daimler announced a restructuring of the division last year, when sales fell to 102,700 vehicles worldwide from 124,300 in 2005.

Not many U.S. subcompact cars sell in the 30,000-unit range. Close competitors like the Kia Rio and Scion xA sold 28,388 units and 32,603 units in 2006, respectively, while the significantly larger Scion xB sold 61,306 units and the popular Mini Cooper sold 39,171 units.

Another key issue is safety, particularly given the Smart Fortwo’s diminutive size. It is significantly smaller even than other subcompacts, so concerns about a collision with a large SUV or truck are likely to keep buyers away, analysts say. At 105.6 inches the Smart Fortwo is 45 inches shorter than a Yaris and 40 inches shorter than a Mini Cooper.

And at just 1,800 pounds, the Fortwo is 500 pounds lighter than any other subcompact, putting its occupants at a potentially significant disadvantage in a collision.

The Fortwo has a steel safety cage and four air bags, including two in front and two on the sides to protect the head and abdomen. It also has standard electronic stability control, which is designed to stop vehicles from swerving off the road, and Smart USA President Dave Schembri says the Fortwo is designed to get four out of five stars on U.S. crash tests and recently got four stars on an equivalent European test. The U.S. government will test the Smart car after it arrives on the market.

Another possible indicator of low demand for the Fortwo is that many city dwellers, considered to be a prime target market for the Smart cars, use car sharing services like Zipcar or rent cars for shopping trips or weekends away. A Fortwo might be too small for such needs with only 8 cubic feet of storage room, compared with nearly 26 in the rival Yaris liftback (with rear seats folded forward).

But demand for the Fortwo could come from unlikely sources, according to Smart’s Jessica Gemmara.

“We’ve seen strong interest in places that surprised us, like Birmingham, Ala., or Tulsa, Okla.,” she said. “These are places in the heartland of America where people tend to own a truck and don’t want to drive a rinky-dink car, but we’ve seen some of the biggest turnouts in these places, and once these people get to touch and experience the car they’re just as interested as (big) city dwellers.”

Link: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21882844/

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man if i see one on the street im just gonna wanna knock it over... i mean.. how hard could it be to tip a smart?

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"We've seen strong interest in places that surprised us, like Birmingham, Ala., or Tulsa, Okla.," she said. "These are places in the heartland of America where people tend to own a truck and don't want to drive a rinky-dink car, but we've seen some of the biggest turnouts in these places, and once these people get to touch and experience the car they're just as interested as (big) city dwellers."

They need a scooter-like vehicle third or fourth vehicle that can be loaded in the bed of their pickups to take it on long journeys in order to put-put around the places they visit.

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Hmmmm...

Made in France eh?

40mpg doesn't seem like a very large jump over current 5-seater subcompacts that get mid 30's (Yaris:36, Fit:34). If I'm going to have to make big sacrifices in usability and drive one of these, I would expect to be rewarded with better gas mileage. But then the base price is attractive. If you don't care about utility, 40mpg for $11k isn't bad.

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But then the base price is attractive. If you don't care about utility, 40mpg for $11k isn't bad.

How much is a CPO Fit? I see one for $12.9k with 14k miles. I see a 2.4l '07 CPO Malibu with 10k for $10.5k. Realistically touch the mid-30s with, far, far, far more usefulness than the smart.

$11,500 for a smart Pure gives you no radio, no a/c, no power steering, and no alarm. All those options bump the price up to $13,295 at which point a decent car is very easily-attainable. A brand-new Aveo LT with everything but a roof is a grand more...and it holds more than two small people. Plus, you can't take a small child in a smart - remember, kids ride in the back, right?

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How much is a CPO Fit? I see one for $12.9k with 14k miles. I see a 2.4l '07 CPO Malibu with 10k for $10.5k. Realistically touch the mid-30s with, far, far, far more usefulness than the smart.

$11,500 for a smart Pure gives you no radio, no a/c, no power steering, and no alarm. All those options bump the price up to $13,295 at which point a decent car is very easily-attainable. A brand-new Aveo LT with everything but a roof is a grand more...and it holds more than two small people. Plus, you can't take a small child in a smart - remember, kids ride in the back, right?

Smart is for those people who show concern for the environment without showing practicality. I mean Greenies.

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>>"the Fortwo is 500 pounds lighter than any other subcompact, putting its occupants at a potentially significant disadvantage in a collision."<<

The only situation where this would NOT be a significant disadvantage is if you ran into another smart. And at the puny sales rates that can be reliably expected, that's not likely. Chevy alone sells more Silverados in a year than smart has sold in what; 10 years worldwide? This is a deathtrap- expect to see a website with accident scene pics of smart cars soon after.

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As usual, the lack of imagination here is astounding.

This is clearly a car of limited use & purpose--with good MPG in a time of $4.00 gas come next memorial day. They want to sell 30k or so, to city dwellers, where parking and innercity commutes are concerns, not locking horns with a Semi on the Interstate...

They'll sell everyone they import--then you'll see diesels, stop-start and other improvements that keep interest in these things relatively strong.

Just because YOU can't see the use doesn't make the car USELESS. There are many obvious points missed by the great unwashed here, but I'm constantly flumoxed by the double standard. ...GM introduces the Solstice, a car that is less useful, less efficient &, other than it'll appearance, has no unique separation from any other product, and GM's a genius for OVER-producing it.

The smart, although an abject business failure, has been refined and MB finally shows some cajones to intro this unique product into this marketplace, and everyone here is now an industry expert--when GM shows the patience and intestinal fortitude that MB has shown for the smart 4 2 (Fiero, ahem)(Electric cars, ahem), then I'll be impressed. Until then, we are again exposing the ugly double standard for anything not immediately understood within the confines of GM's field of vision.

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:rolleyes:

Keywords: Abject failure.

'nuf said.

smart, the division, yes.

the 4 2. Absolutely not.

If 'abject failure' are the keywords you took from my scree, then fine...but I'll assume you understood my drift. MB has unloaded Mitsu & Chrysler in the same timeframe, but kept smart. Somebody was up late researching the psycho-graphics for the brand--just like the reason GM is trying to resusitate Saturn, if you need a GM parallel. Only MB has refused to starve other moneymakers to get there...

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They need a scooter-like vehicle third or fourth vehicle that can be loaded in the bed of their pickups to take it on long journeys in order to put-put around the places they visit.

Won't work for Tundra Owners...the tailgates will FAIL trying to load it in the back!!! :)

I want one with a Hyabusa engine in it! Screamer!

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As usual, the lack of imagination here is astounding.

This is clearly a car of limited use & purpose--with good MPG in a time of $4.00 gas come next memorial day. They want to sell 30k or so, to city dwellers, where parking and innercity commutes are concerns, not locking horns with a Semi on the Interstate...

They'll sell everyone they import--then you'll see diesels, stop-start and other improvements that keep interest in these things relatively strong.

Just because YOU can't see the use doesn't make the car USELESS. There are many obvious points missed by the great unwashed here, but I'm constantly flumoxed by the double standard. ...GM introduces the Solstice, a car that is less useful, less efficient &, other than it'll appearance, has no unique separation from any other product, and GM's a genius for OVER-producing it.

The smart, although an abject business failure, has been refined and MB finally shows some cajones to intro this unique product into this marketplace, and everyone here is now an industry expert--when GM shows the patience and intestinal fortitude that MB has shown for the smart 4 2 (Fiero, ahem)(Electric cars, ahem), then I'll be impressed. Until then, we are again exposing the ugly double standard for anything not immediately understood within the confines of GM's field of vision.

Where was MB's cajones and intestinal fortitude with Chrysler?

Step 1: Share some old Mercedes bits with Chrysler and Dodge.

Step 2: ?????

Step 3: Profit!

Where was that double standard again?

That said I think MB will sell every one of those 30,000 SMARTs but they'll all be concentrated in urban areas. I'm betting the car sharing companies will gobble them up too.

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enzl= >>"As usual, the lack of imagination here is astounding.

Just because YOU can't see the use doesn't make the car USELESS. "<<

I missed where anyone here said the car was "USELESS", tho I did catch mentions of 'dangerous', 'impractical' and 'not much more economical that what's already available'.

Or didn't YOU see those comments?

>>"They want to sell 30k or so, to city dwellers, where parking and innercity commutes are concerns, not locking horns with a Semi on the Interstate..."<<

Yeah- there are no buses, airport limos or careening Crown Vic & sienna taxis in the city. :rolleyes: And if you think people -maybe who didn't have a car before because they're cavalier & continental city dwellers- are somehow going to self-restrict their freedom by NOT going out onto the highway with their new wheels, you're delusional.

>>"They'll sell everyone they import..."<<

Yeah- the 2-seat market is mongo huge.

>>"...when GM shows the patience and intestinal fortitude that MB has shown for the smart 4 2 (Fiero, ahem)(Electric cars, ahem), then I'll be impressed."<<

Will you really? Why can I almost read your post condemming those who might support a GM program that lost millions (billions?) annually for like 10 years, because they are so greatly unwashed & so astoundingly unimaginative?

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Where was MB's cajones and intestinal fortitude with Chrysler?

Step 1: Share some old Mercedes bits with Chrysler and Dodge.

Step 2: ?????

Step 3: Profit!

Where was that double standard again?

That said I think MB will sell every one of those 30,000 SMARTs but they'll all be concentrated in urban areas. I'm betting the car sharing companies will gobble them up too.

I was only refering to smart...but there's a part of me that believes that only way MB was going to save itself was by jettisoning Chrysler. I don't like it, I don't necessarily approve of it from a business perspective, but they made a choice...they didn't wait for the failure of the pairing to be complete. When GM's writing off $37billion (coincidentally, about what MB is rumored to lose in the sale), its an accounting issue.

They need to sell more 4 2's worldwide. Now they will. And you can pick on my choice of language, but ask yourself this: Could Saturn be better off if they had one, Civic-sized competitor, that kicked ass & sold @ a 300k/yr. pace....instead of preventing a couple of Buick sedans, the Zeta's & the Kappa program from proliferating to the other divisions?

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enzl= >>"As usual, the lack of imagination here is astounding.

Just because YOU can't see the use doesn't make the car USELESS. "<<

I missed where anyone here said the car was "USELESS", tho I did catch mentions of 'dangerous', 'impractical' and 'not much more economical that what's already available'.

Or didn't YOU see those comments?

>>"They want to sell 30k or so, to city dwellers, where parking and innercity commutes are concerns, not locking horns with a Semi on the Interstate..."<<

Yeah- there are no buses, airport limos or careening Crown Vic & sienna taxis in the city. :rolleyes: And if you think people -maybe who didn't have a car before because they're cavalier & continental city dwellers- are somehow going to self-restrict their freedom by NOT going out onto the highway with their new wheels, you're delusional.

>>"They'll sell everyone they import..."<<

Yeah- the 2-seat market is mongo huge.

>>"...when GM shows the patience and intestinal fortitude that MB has shown for the smart 4 2 (Fiero, ahem)(Electric cars, ahem), then I'll be impressed."<<

Will you really? Why can I almost read your post condemming those who might support a GM program that lost millions (billions?) annually for like 10 years, because they are so greatly unwashed & so astoundingly unimaginative?

Every initial post was negative...take a look.

I proposed a counterpoint. That's all. (See above for further details.)

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I was only refering to smart...but there's a part of me that believes that only way MB was going to save itself was by jettisoning Chrysler.

Or by, ya know, making cars that didn't suck.

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Or by, ya know, making cars that didn't suck.

These rich-man, poor-man mergers/acquisitions have all had huge integration issues. BMW-Rover followed a similar arc.

The process was broken over there. I'm extremely sorry that the Chrysler situation played out as it did, but my gut tells me that Chrysler's salvation resides in right-sizing & a partnership with one of the 2 French Companies. Not the worst outcome. Definitely not ideal, either.

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It's a fantastic vehicle, for a CITY CAR.

There's already several Smarts here in the Nashua, NH area. One owned by a

real estate angent with a vinyl "WRAP" of their logo on the entire car.

For the record I gotta say there is no way in hell I'd buy a Honda Fit over this.

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Camino:

Better than a motrocycle. That's all I'm saying.

Also I bet this will be safer overall than a

typical older Honda Civic hatchback or even a

new Toyota Yaris. They do surprisingly well in

crashe tests.

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Get ready for calling home insurance for fixing a torn, bruised garage, saying that an avalanche hit the only house in the entire neighborhood.

i have an urge to buy two and use them as bumper cars....
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These rich-man, poor-man mergers/acquisitions have all had huge integration issues. BMW-Rover followed a similar arc.

I would expect that to be the case, however DCX had the entire development cycle to get vehicles like the Sebring and Avenger right. The only family sedan I can think of where less apparent effort was put into it was the last generation Galant.
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