Smart touts price as a plus with next-generation EV
Car goes on sale in spring for $25,750
MONTVALE, N.J. -- A new generation of electric car could give microcar brand Smart the momentum it needs until an all-new vehicle arrives in 2015, says Tracey Matura, general manger of Smart USA.
The third-generation ForTwo Electric Drive car could account for about 30 percent of Smart's U.S. sales in a full year, Matura says. The car goes on sale in the spring with a base price of $25,750, including shipping -- making it the cheapest electric vehicle on the market.
The car's top speed and 0-to-60 mph acceleration have been improved and its range goes to about 91 miles from the predecessor's 63 miles, Matura said. It will be available as a hardtop or, for an additional $3,000, a convertible.
Dimensions are unchanged from the gasoline-powered Smart For-Two which has a length of just 106 inches.
Smart sales are up 104 percent through October to 8,309 cars. But Smart is likely to finish the year far below the brand's peak of 24,622 in 2008, the first year the ForTwo went on sale in the United States. Intense marketing, including TV commercials, has given the brand much-needed recognition, Matura said. "When someone is confusing you with a smartphone, you know you have some work to do," she said.
Matura: TV spots boosted recognition.
Mercedes-Benz took over distribution of Smart in July 2011 from the Penske Automotive Group, which did no TV advertising and relied on grassroots marketing. Smart still has low brand recognition. But beefed-up marketing "and putting the product out there with the right dealers," has pushed sales from a low of 5,208 cars in 2011, Matura said.
Smart will continue to sell only one vehicle -- the Smart ForTwo -- until a larger and more modern replacement arrives in three years, followed by a four-seat car in 2016. The electric variant is expected to give Smart the added boost it needs to keep growing sales and to draw eco-conscious buyers, Matura said.
Starting in January 2010, Smart began leasing a limited number of the second-generation electric car in the United States. Only 250 of the cars were available in the United States for a four-year $599 monthly payment. The payment will be unchanged when the new car is available but is considerably higher than the $199 monthly lease deals offered on the Nissan Leaf and Ford Focus Electric.
Matura said the purchase price will be a big lure for the Electric Drive. The larger Nissan Leaf retails for $36,050, including shipping, and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV starts at $29,975, including shipping. Both vehicles qualify for a $7,500 federal income tax credit, as does the Smart EV. The i-MiEV is 144.7 inches long and Mitsubishi touts it as "the most affordable electric vehicle in America," but the advertised $21,625 base price is after federal tax credits and does not include shipping.
To further promote Smart, Matura plans a road tour to about 10 cities in 2013. She didn't disclose details or a timetable but said the tour would offer more than just test drives, hinting "there will be some things Smart people would in interested in" such as culinary demonstrations.
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