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  1. #1

    [OP] Junior Member


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    Default smart needs to live up to its name

    I donít usually editorialize on sites like this...but today Iím making an exception.
    The smart fortwo is dying, at least in the US. Sales are not recovering, even as other car makers begin posting some pretty encouraging numbers...but the perception (maybe a wrong perception, but a widely held one nonetheless) is that Penske and Daimler are doing little to reverse this. Putting oneís hope in a car demo caravan going from town to town around the country is an exercise in futility. It looks (perception again) like the focus is simply on spending as little money as possible.

    I understand that every business, particularly those under financial stress, need to control expense...but at what cost? This car (at least the fortwo version) cannot survive here by selling only to us crazies who always wanted one. The problem is, anyone who fell in love with the idea of this car has already bought one. Now what? To survive (let alone prosper), the company has to begin appealing to the general population of buyers considering sub-compacts. smart ainít doing that. Kevin Costner was wrong. Just because you build it does not necessarily mean they will come.

    An all-electric version will help. Please get it here soon. smart can easily benefit from all the media noise about the Nissan Leaf and the swarm of similar cars to follow that is legitimizing all-electric operation in the publicís eyes.
    As for the existing gasoline version, which I assume remains in the companyís plans, I am no marketing specialist, but I see what I see. Here are two commonly heard criticisms that I believe are not effectively being addressed.
    - The tranny scares people. Hell, it scares me sometimes, and I love the car. I personally think its a great idea that has not been particularly well executed in the fortwo. The buyers this car will have to appeal to are not, by-and-large, performance drivers.

    They donít want to have to think that far ahead... "Letís see. Should I slip over to manual and downshift now so that when I see that truck heading toward me in the intersection, I wonít have to wait for the transmission to dither around deciding what to do?" There is a remedy available right now. A dual clutch transmission. A DCT can be integrated into the fortwoís design economically. The new Ford Fiesta has one, and it hasnít exactly bloated that carís price.

    - Fuel economy. You have no doubt noticed that we spend a lot of time defending the carís mileage numbers. Why? Because the medium is the message, and people often expect to hear something more impressive. The carís ďextremeĒ size (not always seen as a positive in the eyes of most US car buyers, but thatís OK) implies other extremes people might like a lot...such as...incredible fuel economy. But the critics are right. One might reasonably expect a car weighing less than 1900 lbs, with a three-cylinder engine, to generate more impressive numbers than it does. Yes, I know about what dedicated hypermilers are able to do with the fortwo, but smart knows you canít sell the car based on that. Other sub-compact and even bigger cars are getting mileage virtually as good while carrying around bigger bodies and more weight.

    I canít believe that Daimler (or Mitsubishi or whoever engine supply is outsourced to) cannot keep up competitively with power plant engineering.
    I think there is a particular burden on Daimler and Penske to take the steps necessary to save this car. Either that, or just announce that it was a mistake and pull the plug. But do something. If the internal business culture is getting in the way, change it. Easier said than done, I know, but maybe still necessary. Looked what happened to GM when they did not or could not muster the will to change the companyís culture of arrogance and slowness of response.

    You want to see whatís possible? Look at Hyundai. Yes, they market well, but the real key to their phenomenal success is their culture of fast, accurate corporate response to changing market demand.
    smart....please do what needs to be done......

  2. #2

    Junior Member


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    The problem is that gas prices right now are low - if they were 4.50 a gallon people would be looking it them more. It is still a hoot to drive and kids smile when they see it.

  3. #3

    Junior Member


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    I agree with @Charley Ault . This is a niche' car designed to meet a very narrow market. Diamler and smart know this. They know they are not trying to appeal to people who want a FIT or a Hyundai Genisus.

    I don't disagree about the transmission issue. Although I think you really exaggerated the issue. You know how to drive a smart, gear selection is made just as easy as with any other manual shift. Take Control of it!!

    Solutions for those that prefer the car be fully automated ... yes a Dual Clutch automated manual is one option, as is a CVT. Either can be engineered into the smart. Both credible options.

    If you feel that you are genuinly that upset about the market-ability of your smart when you are done with it, chalk it up to a lesson on buying a niche' car during an energy crisis... This would not be the first time our country has seen cars sold here to meet the demands of this type.

    I like my smart, good milage or not, I bought it for me. When I decide to let it go, if it has depreciated to hell, so be it. It was my choice.

    I hope that you find some true pleasure in your smart some day ... if not, sell it, cut your losses and get back into a more conventional car that suits your needs more specifically.

    Wish you well in 2011.

  4. #4

    [OP] Junior Member


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    Hi Tony,

    I think you misunderstand me. I am not upset with my smart or my decision to purchase it. I believe there are some technical features that could have been designed differently, but any owner can say that about any car. Short of the Bugatti Veyron, there isn't a car out there that is not the product of some cost and design compromises. If I did not want to see this car line succeed, I would not have bothered to post any of what I said.

    Of course the fortwo is designed for a niche market. Every car is. Obviously, some "niches" (Camry, Accord, etc) are bigger than others, but one universal truth is that the targeted niche always has to be at least big enough to financially warrant putting the car on offer in the market...and I am concerned that certain features of the smart unnecessarily narrow the car's appeal to too small a niche.
    Notice that I am not criticizing the concert of the smart. I am questioning some of the technical decisions made by Daimler which (in my opinion) may be killing off interest among potential buyers in the very niche the fortwo was designed to attract.

    Compounding this, I believe, is the failure to market aggressively in the US. It appears that the belief was that the car would sell itself. And it did for a time, among those of us who wanted this vehicle from well before it even went on sale. So now all the true believers have one. Now what? I understand that the Penske organization is not made of money, nor am I advocating some kind of multi-gazillion dollar ad blitz. But whatever Daimler and Penske "knew," I suspect that it did not include sales numbers that have plummeted as smart's have. Lesson #1: Listen to the market, or the market will kick your behind.

    There is an old aphorism that when your only tool is a hammer, all your problems start to look like nails, so perhaps you will excuse me if I am seeing things through my particular lens, but having worked in advertising, I have seen what a "smart" (and not necessarily expensive) advertising or PR campaign can do. Let's face it. The car's image has been damaged to some degree by all the negative, frequently uninformed and outright wrong press from consumer reporting agencies and even from some automotive journalists who ought to know better. Doesn't matter. Look what happened to Audi after their "unintended acceleration" problem years ago. It turns out the car wasn’t guilty of what “everybody” said it was doing. But they took a major sales hit that lasted for years anyway. People believe what they hear, and they're not hearing much to correct their misunderstandings about the fortwo. Consequence: significant numbers of people...right in the middle of the car’s anticipated niche... people who might otherwise consider buying a smart are evidently steering clear of it.

    New smart models are being readied for North America. Good. And the positive press about pure electric vehicles could pave the way for good acceptance of the smart EV. Now that gas prices are rising again, maybe interest in small, fuel efficient conventional powertrain cars will be revived. Smart can only benefit from this. But wishin’ and hopin’ ain’t how this car brand will prosper.
    Last edited by Lionisus; 08-05-2015 at 05:39 PM.

  5. #5

    Junior Member


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    Well jackb, you seem to have taken your thought and the "issue" full circle. Kudos. The US market will NOT support micro cars without a real push to get people into them. The niche' is one that is filled with widening and narrowing circumstances. If gas is under $2.75 a gallon, people are not flustered with their pump price and they will stick with their 20 MPG or less grocery getter or SUV. As gas prices escalate to over $3.50 again, smaller looks much better.

    That being said, you are really not a one man band. I could go back to within 4 or 5 months of when I purchased my smart where I had one on one conversations with the folks at my local smartcenter AND in 2009 I met Dave Schambri at the OutSmart the Dragon event in September that year, where I clearly recall asking him if 1) will they soon begin advertising this car on TV and 2)Will the Roadster ever make it to US soil as a regular production vehicle. The answer to the ladder was a clear no due to the proposed cost to make the Roadster compliant with US safety standards. He did not clearly answer the adversting question, which at the time was "word of mouth".

    The only 'glitch' I see as a stubling block for our smart has always been the tranny. I said before and will again. If they either put a twin clutch that shifts smoothly or a CVT in that propells the car seamlessly down the road, this car would be a hit all over again.

    Sure they can revamp the plastic, put some new kinks and lines in it, play with the colors, maybe even soften the ride by 10%...

    You however can not solely hold Mercedes/Penski's hands to the fire because they have not lavished this car with advertising dollars to put a zillion of them on the road. I don't totally disagree with you. Advertising might have added a percentage more vehicles to the sales... Maybe that is the plan with the recent news of the "Roadster" plans that were recently announced.
    Wish you all the best and maybe smart will see your plea and ask you to do them up a free ad campaign.

    Tony

  6. #6

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    Totally agree 100%!

  7. #7

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    Rochester, MN
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    Interesting. Any car can be improved. For the price its hard to beat a Smart, but only if your interested in the "Cult" type of car. This is not a car to save the world in the US. We dont give them any breaks in the US like Europe. In Europe its all about the Small Size and Space avaliable. In the US we seem confused with what this little vehicle is all about.

    The transmission is made the way it is to make the clutches and the engine last. Service is Oil and some filters every 10,000 miles. This is NOT a mainstream car. Most people comment on how small it is and if I worry about getting smashed in it. "IE RUN OVER" As a micro car it will not ever apeal to a large group of americans. The US smart only recieved the gas engine with more HP, rather than the other options. Me? I would of rather had a diesel rather than the HP.

    It is exactly what I expected. The top rolls down and off I go. It doesnt get any better. Roger P is no longer associated with Smart. Mercedes has taken the roll over for the US marketing.

    Micro Cars have not ever been popular in the US and I dont believe they ever will be, and with the advent of E cars with the H cars, why would they be? Cute, yes, for everyone? NO. Remember that total passenger weight cannot exceed two large men. (540lbs)

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