I was reading through auto news on one of my favorite sites today and noticed an under-the-radar, but perhaps important story.
Background: Smart will soon launch its first vehicle in the US market. A small SUV (think CR-V). They will probably bring a small 5 door hatch as well, but not the miniscule 2 seater.
Story: Smart has announced their business plan for 2007 and out. First up, kill the Smart roadster in 2005. No surprise, but bad for lightweight auto enthusiasts. Next to go will be the SUV project.
So what will be new? The next 2 seater Smart will continue to use the three-banger from the current rear engined model. It will probably be moved to the front (booo!), but the new model WILL be coming to the US as part of Smart’s plan to actually make money.
So how about that, a car company axing their biggest car and bringing their smallest? Is this the next big trend?
I think that weather or not Smart will be sucessful in the US market depends on several things, most notably fuel prices and how they market their cars here.
If fuel prices come down a great deal (not likely, but you never know) consumers will once again overlook very small vehicles.
Marketing will be key, however, and with any luck they will make a big bang with their first offerings. The US market is notoriously cautious of very small cars, and Smart will have to change the perceptions of micro cars to get many sales. A ‘hot rod’ version of one vehicle being offered from the beginning might help the image of small cars being terribly slow and under-powered a bit, at least IMO.
Another factor that I just thought of is the level of “comfort” the Smart offers. Unfortunately, most US drivers are accustomed to leather everywhere, power everything, super stereos, etc. - lots of things that I hope Smart does not tack onto their vehicles, ending up with a Mercedes-Benz-price-range line of vehicles, as I don’t see that attracting more than a few “fad” buyers.
Do you think people will choose a 4 door Kia or a 2 door Smart? Realistically, I think people prefer Kia. Smart is like the new Mini. It’s for people with extra money to spend and extra time for some fun. For it to get widely popular will be very difficult.
Also, for the nature of the traffic in the US, regular 2 seater smarts will be very dangerous, it’s like a pin ball fighting it’s way through a bowling alley.
BTW, I was quite amazed when I saw a smart passing another vehicle without even changing its lane.
Personally, I would not drive a KIA.
The Smart wont be in the econo-box category of KIA and its competitors.
This car will, like the Mini have potential, at first as a market phenomena to spawn a macromarket of which it is the only vehicle. This novelty auto company/product is not unlike DeLorean or Humvee when they where new.
Like many sectors of the design world currently, there are emerging markets provoked by companies with limited but unique product ranges.
Smart recently announced that they were cancelling plans to bring cars to the US. They also axed the Roadster. In fact, the entire division has been a huge cash drain on Daimler, so it wouldn’t be too surprising to see it go away altogether in the near future. Too bad, because they are cool cars.
Daimler is really making some crap decisions lately, and I think this is one of them. There is a (relatively) huge pent-up demand for something like the Smart here. One needs only look at the success of the Prius and Mini to see that.
Thanks for posting those updates. The article I had read did not mention that the SUV intended for the states was being axed. It made it sound like the next generation SUV would be axed.
All German automakes are too cautious in my opinion. BMW bought Rover, then completely redesigned and engineered the Rover 75 sedan twice before selling the company for $14. BMW kept Mini, but redesigned and engineered that car two or three times before release. Hence, BMW will fail to make money on the current Mini. Mercedes did the same with Smart. They should have came out with a slightly crappy Smart Mk I five years before they did release a car.
It seems as though the German makes are so scared that a crap-car will adversely effect their parent brand, that they would rather lose boat loads of money.
Back to my thesis though, have we passed the high mark for SUVs?
Oh, for the guest who doesn’t know smart, check out:
I’m sorry to hear that the Smart won’t be available in the U.S. It is a shame, because the 2 seater is the ideal functional car for Los Angeles. Around here, I see so many people stuck in traffic, alone in giant SUV’s. It seems like more people are emotionally attracted to the aggressiveness and perceived safety of SUV’s judging from the proliferation of pseudo-military H2’s. I am not sure Americans would appreciate the merits of a truly useful compact car.
In general, and that does not mean everyone, it seems the North American market is not concerned with fuel consumption. The U.S. government is. Environmental groups are. I think fuel prices would have to go up to $4.00 USD before North American consumers will really start to check their fuel consumption.
I was reading on commondreams.org today that a recent Pew research poll indicated that 80% of americans think that americans should buy less SUVs. On cars.com, I read an article about how Detroit is trying to tweak current products and marketing campaigns to suit the rise of the gas-frugal cusomter. The report indicated that after August, many SUV sales have plummeted (Excursion down 40%, Tahoe 30%).
I think that Katrina may have been the wake up call to Americans that cheap gas is not a god-given right. This is on top of my recent predictions that the SUV and truck market has peaked. I think Americans, while not buying Fiat Pandas, will be buying smaller cars in the next 10 years. I think they will probably follow their Canadian neighbors into Civics from Accord and Caravans from Tahoes. In other words, not Euro-tiny, but from XL to Medium/Large.
Last weekend there was an outdoor event called the “Alt Wheels Festival” on the grounds of the Larz Anderson Museum of Transportaion in Brookline, Massachusetts. This was the fourth year of the event, but by far the most attended. I am a regular visitor of events at the museum and even I hadn’t heard of this event before. It wasn’t too shocking that it got all kinds of press this year though. That probably played a part in the fact that it experienced a ten-fold jump in attendance.
It’s true. I think people are finally starting to wake up. I’ve even got a friend driving around in an old VW he rigged up to run on bio-diesel. The car looks like hell and smells like wonton soup, but it’s cheap!