Daimler Works To Relaunch Smart In The U.S. Market

The adage goes that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, but Daimler AG isn’t buying into that. In fact, they’re betting that most Americans haven’t even formed a first impression on the diminutive, urban-focused Smart ForTwo commuter car.

With that in mind, Daimler has big plans to promote the Smart brand in the U.S., including tying it to sister brand Mercedes-Benz during the upcoming Fashion Week in New York City.

Expect to see the 2012 Smart ForTwo promoted in television ads linked to social media events, as well as in more traditional print media advertising. Daimler is even considering discounted financing on Smart ForTwo purchases, which would be a first for Smart in America.

Penske, the original distributor for Smart in the U.S., had a brief period of success with the car in 2008. First year sales totaled nearly 25,000 units, but falling gas prices and the overall decline of the auto industry in 2009 took their toll on Smart. In 2010, Penske managed to sell less than 6,000 Smart cars, which prompted Daimler to take back distribution as of July 1, 2011.

Daimler’s research shows that Smart isn’t fighting a negative perception, but instead is struggling to gain customer awareness of the brand. The media hasn’t been kind to Smart, and most reviews (including our own) are critical of the car’s highway ride and quirky automated-manual transmission. Worse, the Smart ForTwo’s scaled-back size poses a challenge to some American buyers, who tend to equate “big” with “safe.”

Smart buyers have traditionally been middle-aged males living in the suburbs, which goes counter to the Smart’s urban-focused design. When the Smart ForTwo is relaunched in the U.S., expect Daimler to target a younger, urban audience, emphasizing the Smart’s park-it-anywhere sensibility as well as it’s 33 mpg city fuel economy.

New subcompact rivals, including the 2012 Fiat 500 and the 2012 Scion iQ, should help draw buyer attention to the segment. A new Smart isn’t due until 2014, so Daimler has no choice but to proceed with marketing the Smart as it exists today. The question remains: can a media campaign alone revive the Smart brand in the U.S.?

[Auto Observer]
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Comments (2)
  1. to me the biggest hurdle for the smart car is the dynamically opposed image of this tiny little car and the less than comparable fuel economy. 33mpg for a car this small isn't good. Its safety reputation seems to me quite good actually, but combined with some negative reviews on road worthiness and that transmission issue...and its not so economical price...its just not that attractive a vehicle for the compromises needed to own one.

  2. @Luc, you hit the nail on the head. There are cheaper and more practical cars (like the new Nissan Versa) that come close to getting comparable fuel economy. The Smart is the ideal choice for a very narrow range of urban consumers, who have so far all but ignored the brand. More exposure for Smart will help, but it won't solve all of the brands' problems.

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