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    The 2010 Smart Fortwo (Daimler).

    by: Michael Zak | AOL Autos
     

    With fuel economy on everyone’s mind in 2008, the pint-sized Smart Fortwo brought its eccentric styling and European flair to the United States looking to tackle a new market. The Fortwo was designed for crowded urban driving and its ability to squeeze into parking spaces and maneuver through dense traffic was unchallenged. Sure, it may have seemed out of place on American roads, but the Fortwo had qualities that many drivers found valuable. Gray-market importers had managed to sell enough Smarts earlier in the decade that it forced DaimlerChrysler’s hand to officially import the vehicle into the U.S., and it looked as though Smart had a promising life ahead of it in America.

    Just two years later, however, Smart’s outlook is gloomy. According to some staggering data compiled by CNW Research, drivers of the Fortwo are dissatisfied with their cars. In fact, CNW says that a mere 8.1 percent of New York City owners -- essentially the Smart’s target market -- claim that they would purchase a Fortwo again.

    To put that statistic in perspective, the next lowest vehicle charted by CNW is the Chrysler Sebring -- at 37 percent. And the current-generation Sebring is arguably the biggest automotive disaster since the Pontiac Aztek. Given that brand loyalty is one of the most important and cost-effective ways to generate sales, the future of Smart in the U.S. looks uncertain at best.

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    Driver Discontent

    According to Art Spinella of CNW Research, the company compiled its data after sending out surveys to consumers.

    “[The] data comes from our monthly Purchase Path surveys (about 18,000 phone interviews per month) as well as brand specific mail surveys. In Smart's case, we used a combination of both, receiving over 1,200 Smart owner responses. One of the standard questions in the brand surveys and most of the Purchase Path interviews is if the owner would replace the current vehicle with another of the same brand.”

    So what has motivated so many Fortwo drivers to grow unhappy with their cars in these surveys? There have been a few factors working against Smart, led by declining gas prices. But poor ride quality and the impracticality of the two-seat Fortwo also play into owner dissatisfaction. According to John Neff, editor-in-chief of AOL Autos’ partner site Autoblog, the Fortwo forces owners to make serious compromises, something they’re increasingly unwilling to do.

    “With gas prices relatively stable and larger vehicles coming to market with better fuel efficiency, not many buyers are willing to accept the Fortwo's size and quirky driving manner,” Neff said.

    The Smart Fortwo has also been panned for having an unrefined “automatic manual” transmission and not delivering the extraordinary fuel economy that some expect.

    Spinella echoed Neff’s sentiments, adding that “the vehicle of choice as a replacement was the Mini or a conventional small car, such as [the Chevy] Aveo, [Honda] Fit, [or] Scion xB, which has far more interior space for passengers and can generally be driven on longer trips at highway speeds with more comfort.”

    Perhaps the most important force working against the Fortwo right now, however, is the fact that the novelty seems to have worn off. According to CNW data acquired from consumer surveys between 2006 and 2010, the majority of drivers of the Smart Fortwo actually bought the car because of its looks and uniqueness, which they deemed more important than its fuel economy, friendliness to the environment, or fun.

    But apparently eccentric looks are not making up for the widespread driver dissatisfaction. Smart did reprogram the transmission of early models that gave car reviewers so much grief, but that’s essentially the extent of the changes made to the car since its introduction. Given that Smart doesn’t have much to add to its sales pitch, sales numbers will continue to fall.

    “Without new products or even significant upgrades, existing customers have no reason to re-up with the brand, and if their wants or needs have changed to require a different type of vehicle, Smart doesn't have anything to sell them. Simply put, the novelty has worn off the Fortwo,” said Chris Paukert, executive editor at Autoblog.

    The Future

    It is widely believed that since its initial launch in Europe in 1998, Smart has never turned a profit for corporate parent Daimler, making the brand’s weak performance in the U.S. particularly troubling. Smart USA has recently undergone a management shake-up, with new president Jill Lajdziak, the former general manager of GM’s now-defunct Saturn brand, taking over at the beginning of the year. In an effort to boost sales, a new leasing program was launched in January. Smart plans to deploy a pilot fleet of electric Fortwos in October, with a stated goal of retail sales in 2012.

    “While the new EV model will generate some buzz, its limited range and practicality will still rule it out from consideration among most consumers. Further, it remains to be seen if the electric model will be priced where Daimler can turn a profit -- or even break-even,” Paukert explained.

    There is another short-term ray of hope, at least according to Neff: “Another spike in fuel costs, which is likely to happen at some point, could see Fortwo sales in the U.S. quickly rise again.”

    After all, the Fortwo did enjoy its only measure of success while gas prices were high. Another shock to the system could have people flocking back to Smart dealerships, potentially buying time for the company to right its ship.

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    1 - 20 of 283 Comments
    vvijeshnair Dec 08, 2010 3:59 AM
    valid thought
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    vvijeshnair Dec 08, 2010 3:59 AM
    valid thought
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    mkhsfjns Sep 01, 2010 5:14 PM
    The smart ForTwo was conceived and German engineered by Daimler for urban European roads, where the VW Beetle, BMW Isetta, MGB, Austin Mini Cooper, FIAT 500, and other mini/microcars were born. It is not intended to replace family sedans, station wagons, minivans, SUVs, nor pick-up trucks outright. It is intened to be an urban commuter vehicle, with more amenities than it's earlier cousins, and with a minimal carbon footprint upon the environment. For those who care about the future of the planet's atmosphere and it's resources, where their children and grandchildren are concerned, the smart is a step in the right direction. It is a step AWAY from conspicuous consumption and heightened carbon emissions. These are complex concepts that a simple consumer product survey and online column are not designed to measure or reflect. The Earth will simply NOT sustain six billion people, who all want to drive oversized, inefficient, fossil-fueled vehicles. The future is coming faster than we realize, but alas, most Americans neither care, nor are even paying attention... "Oh brave new world... that has such people in it!" Shakespeare
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    coryhughes11 Sep 01, 2010 3:08 PM
    sorry "Dont" like there smart, sitting in class so was not really able to proof read...
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    coryhughes11 Sep 01, 2010 3:07 PM
    I love my smart I got that survey it was 20 pages long and I did not want to fill it out there are a few people that done like there smart and apparently they had time to fill out the 20 page survey the rest of us would rather spend the time driving there smartie..
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    sixcurt Aug 31, 2010 5:01 PM
    I have a two seat roadster, Mr. wmathess, that cruises at 90-110 mph at 3000 rpm. It originally cost around $2,500.00 when new. What did your over size, two seater vehicle cost new? I need to stoop a bit to get in and out, but it fits like a glove while driving it. The fun in driving it is well worth the little stoop to get in. I don't need a huge PU truck to enlarge my masculinity, or room for my gun racks in the back window. The only problem I have is getting around the slow moving, conf. flag waving PU trucks that act like they own the road. I just bide my time and accelerate past them when the opportunity presents itself, doff my hat to the driver in his 5 Gal. Stetson Cowboy Hat, toot a hello on my small sounding European horn and quickly leave him in the dust. I probably don't need to spell check this...
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    ronvalkenburg Aug 29, 2010 8:31 AM
    As for you wmathess, I am 6'4" 220lbs and I fit in my 2009 Smart with 2-3" of head room and my knees are no wear near the dash. As for protection, your the typical ignorant American car buyer who does not research anything and only buys what you had before. The Smart actually has more protection then any truck you have, hands down. Oh and your truck exceeds 20MPH WOW thats terrific, my Smart exceeds 40MPH, and what did you pay for the good old American Ford truck, what $30,000+? Our Smart cars are $15k that get double your milage.
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    ronvalkenburg Aug 29, 2010 8:20 AM
    This article is written by a typical HACK who has no knowledge of this vehicle. To say pople are unhappy with specific things with their Smart like the "impracticality of the two-seat..." this is something they should have thought about before they bought ******* not like a hidden feature. The problem with the sale numbers for the Smart is first they to no advertiseing at all, but would not matter because people in the country want to drive the huge SUVs and now gas prices are still low they will continue to. Another HACK in John Neff "the Fortwo forces owners to make serious compromises, something theyre increasingly unwilling to do." Forces people John, what are you talking about, you have the option of not buying the car after you TEST DRIVE IT!!!! No one has a gun to their head to FORCE them to buy it.... Your an idiot!!!
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    theelemdragon Aug 28, 2010 11:14 PM
    Ok.... for starters.... wmathess.... who are you trying to fool? I'm about 6'2" and with the seat back my knees aren't really even close to the dash. A friend of mine is 6'6" and he even drives the car, and his knees don't hit. 5'7 and his knees are hitting? What, is that when the seat is halfway up, or when he's slouched down to the point where his head is in the middle of the backrest? No space for anything? I took a 600 mile trip (Yes.... and it wasn't uncomfortable either) to North Carolina from Pennsylvania.... took a large duffle bag full of clothing, my digital camera with the camera bag and a few lenses, tripod, and a spare pair of shoes just in case.... and also came home with 6 cases of soda.... and i still could have fit a boatload more crap in the car. You ever hear of a LoveSac? I fit a MovieSac into the Smart.... which is said to be roughly 5" in diameter if i remember correctly.... and STILL had room for the driver. So yeah..... quit spouting BS about a car you've probably never even sat in. Or... here's a clue.... TRY IT FOR ONCE! No protection? The Fiesta is safer? Dude.... last time i checked, the Fiesta isn't designed around a roll cage similar to what you'd find in a race car. Kinda like the "Aveo" mentioned in this article.... yeah... it might have nice passenger room.... ******** nowhere remotely safe. and "Ooh... i saw a crash test with a Smart at 70mph... the car was TORE UP!"? Yeah.... ok genius, show me a car that can crash at 70mph and NOT be "tore up". Better yet. Show me a PERSON who can survive a 70mph crash (which i'm assuming you're probably talking about the crash test done by Top Gear where they smashed it into concrete... which was from speed to damn near stop in an instant)... and not be DEAD. Here's a clue.... you won't find one. Why? Because you're more likely to die from internal injury in a high speed crash than you are from an outside force. Or are you talking about that one crash test performed by the IIHS with the Mercedes C-Class i believe? Where they had the frontal offset head on collision, where the Smart bounced out of the way after completely crushing the Mercedes's crumple zones and the windshield on the smart didn't even shatter. Did you know that's also called a NON-STANDARD test, because it's not required by any safety standards to be passed, because such accidents account for less than 1% of the accidents on the road? Seriously..... www.safeandsmart.com you can read all kinds of owner stories about accidents they've been in. Some of which being rear-ended at a stoplight in a Ford F-250, where the Smart could be driven to the dealer to be repaired, while the Ford had to be towed away on a flatbed. Or where one guy dozed off behind the wheel, moved into the side of a semi leaving a huge donut on the side of the car, causing the car to spin out, roll over, slide into a ditch and hit hard enough to shatter the passenger window completely, eventually stopping on it's wheels, and when the police arrived, he was looking for the body.... not even remotely expecting the driver of the car to be alive let alone up and walking around with only a few bumps and bruises and a cut on his head from his skateboard or something. And the road noise is terrible? Now you're just really grasping at straws. It's a car with plastic body panels. They can also be easily removed with just a few screws. You want less road noise? Take the panels off and line it with sound deadening material. Can even remove the seats, and pull out the carpeting, since it's not glued down, and put some deadening material there, too. voila... problem solved. I have no problem with the noise.... so it can't be that bad.
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    nrc333 Aug 28, 2010 12:29 PM
    They need to offer a lawn mower attachment.
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    skipster20004 Aug 28, 2010 2:37 AM
    I am a smart owner and I Love my smart! and i don't know where they got there info from but it was not from smart owners thats for sure! and where dose he come off saying that the Aveo is a comparable car, its a POS! oh and you have to be 5' to drive one? I'm 6' with an 11" Mohawk! and i didn't have to start slumping in my seat or laying it back until it reached 9" tall on top of my 6' tall head! its articles like this that drive sales down because ignorant morons that have probably never even driven a smart, ******* for their own satisfaction. or spam out email pictures of bad car wrecks and say its a smart when you can look at the wheel and count 4 or 5 lugs on the wheel... when the smart only has 3...
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    wau8374716 Aug 27, 2010 11:22 PM
    Great Car / Coffen . 2 for one !!!!!
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    wmathess Aug 27, 2010 9:16 PM
    I know I am a pickup man but I test drove one of these for the heck of it. I took it on the interstate. The road noise was TERRIBLE and you feel like you are walking along the highway. There is no protection. I am 5'11" and with the seat all the way back, my knees were digging into the cheap-ass dash!! My son is 5'7" and his knees were even touching!! With both of us in the car, there was no space for anything else except maybe a wallet and a cell phone! The point I am trying to get across is this is not a "Smart" car. They really should change the name to "Stupid-Ass Death Trap." :D
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    wmathess Aug 27, 2010 8:55 PM
    By the way, I am happy with my 2010 F-150 XLT Crew Cab 4WD with the 4.6L 3-valve V8 that exceeds 20 mpg on the highway! :D
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    wmathess Aug 27, 2010 8:53 PM
    I want to warn EVERYBODY that thinks about getting a Smart. There are much better cars out there. The best-choice for a small car is the Ford Fiesta. It only gets 2 mpg less on the highway and you have a LOT of more room and the car is actually safe. I seen a crash test of a Smart at 70 mph. The car was absolutely TORE UP! There was no chance of survival. The Fiesta is a safe car, even though it's still small. So what do you want, a car with a high quality rating, a 5star crash test rating, and lots of room or a car that seats 2 people, can't go to the grocery store, your knees are up against the dash, you have a 99.9% chance of dieing in a crash over 40 mph, and you get 2 mpg better. Is a Smart really worth it? I think NOT!!!
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    lewazzinaroillus Aug 27, 2010 2:22 PM
    while i won't be as harsh on chasscout as hollowsadist is,...i too have to wonder what kind of moron purchases a 911 and then only takes it out on "weekends" 'cause he's worried about the "plastic and aluminum bits"?!....this guy i pray is just teasing with us,...the 911 is one of the most solidly built cars in the world,...even jeremy clarkson, who hates the porsche 911, has compared it to a german bunker,...so solid is it's construction!...i'm thinking chasscout is in reality a 13 year old boy playing with us,...otherwise, i really would have to supprt hollowsadists nasty indictment of chasscout!
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    normkr Aug 27, 2010 1:38 PM
    Art Spinella is a fraud. CNW consists of him and his computer. I came to this conclusion several years ago after studying his Dust To Dust report, which was generally about the recyclability of various cars. The first peculiarity I noticed was that within each table the numbers were to exactly the same precision. If one number, a percent for example, had two decimal places, they all did. Real data doesn't come that way. Most tellingly he refuses to cite references. Any conclusion based on CNW Research is worthless.
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    coletted59 Aug 27, 2010 10:56 AM
    I purchased a Smart car 1 1/2 years ago so that I could tow it behind my motorhome. I have a beautiful Cadillac ESC also. My choice to drive is my Smart - I love driving it!
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    imbearded Aug 27, 2010 10:20 AM
    I LOVE my smart. Too many Americans have "can't, don't, shouldn't, wouldn't" and limiting beliefs burned into their brains. While you enjoy your SUVs, leave me alone to enjoy my smart.
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    percherondad Aug 27, 2010 7:43 AM
    Many years ago BMW put out a three wheel smart car called the Isetta... It was beautifully engineered and got great mileage.. What ever happened to that car.... perfect for cities... absolutley not for the highway ..
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