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By Bengt Halvorson
We caught up with Winkler this past week at the Detroit Auto Show for five quick questions on all that and more:

When can we expect the new Fortwo in the U.S., and what’s the reason for its delay here versus international markets? Did safety or compliance have anything to do with it?

We will present it [the 2016 Smart Fortwo] at the New York Auto Show, and later in the summer it will come to dealerships. The reason why we are later here than Europe is quite simple: the double-clutch transmission. The U.S. is one of the markets where we decided to have a double clutch because of our customers. There were complaints about the transmission, and so we thought we have to come directly to the launch with it. This will come to Europe in April, around the NY Auto Show, and at present there are some months yet needed for testing.

Safety had nothing to do with it. I think the safety is already today at a very high level, with the tridion. We started with the tridion, but with even more high-strength steel. There are a lot of systems now—a cycling assistant, and a front collision, a lane departure—so the safety level is even higher.

Looking ahead to the next several years, what are your sales goals for Smart? Or what would success look like?

We don’t report predictions in numbers, but we are expecting considerable growth specifically in certain U.S. cities where we know that Smart fits perfectly. It’s not only rational—like density and parking spaces—but it’s also the culture, that you have this open-minded culture. And those cities, like San Francisco or Portland—we have them in China, we have them in Europe—we have 80 percent of our U.S. sales in only four cities. And focusing on these four cities, we will accelerate.

In the U.S., that’s Portland, San Francisco, San Jose, and San Diego. Everyone understands why, directly, without saying more. And if I were to say for Europe: Barcelona, Munich, Vienna, Rome, Milano, Paris. Same thing; all these are cities with high traffic density and this ‘cultural’ approach.

Across all these cities, we see more saying, “I don’t need a big car to show them that I’m different; I want to show it with a smaller car.” All this fits together.

The Electric Drive has been making up about one quarter of all Smart sales in the U.S.—and a significantly greater proportion in some markets. With the debut of a new gasoline Fortwo that’s more appealing to Americans than before, do you expect the Electric Drive to maintain its share and remain as popular?

A new generation version [of the Electric Drive] will come in 2016, so in 2015 it’s very hard to predict what will happen. We will have the new car, but we will also still have the current generation with the Electric Drive this year. I think that Electric Drive is perfect for our cities here, perfect for urban mobility, where people go shorter distances. The acceleration is great; it’s very smooth.

Also in the States, there’s this environmental...feeling, that we need to contribute to a better environment, to a better nature. I receive letters from young people saying, “Thank you for offering that car, I feel better when I drive it.” And I like that very much.

This year we will build both generations in parallel, and it’s not just for the Electric Drive. We are not having the new generation yet for the U.S., or for China. In the factory, that’s amazing. On one line you see the current car, the new generation, and the Electric Drive. We are very proud of that.

The price of fuel has fallen dramatically in the past six months. Does that at all influence how you position the Fortwo in the U.S.?

We felt in the past a direct impact on sales results. But last year was the very best year for Smart in the U.S., despite this. So there is something changing. We invested a lot in the brand... But there are more people understanding the concept, too.

What’s the status of the Forfour for the U.S., and will you be offering the next-generation Electric Drive in multiple body styles?

We will bring both an electric Fortwo and Forfour to Europe. In the U.S., we’ll bring the electric Fortwo. And then let’s see.

For the Forfour, we are investigating. That micro segment in the U.S. is rather small. Our job is to have profitable business cases. For the Forfour we’d need additional investment. We would like to if the segment evolves in a positive way...we could imagine bringing it.
:)

Five Questions: Smart CEO On U.S. Details, Fortwo Electric Drive
 

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Discussion Starter #2
From her "later in the summer" comment it appears we won't have to wait until November for the 453s. Wallace asked on smartusainsider.com when they would start taking orders and got the usual "don't have that info yet" response. :)
 

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" . . . we have 80 percent of our U.S. sales in only four cities, that’s Portland, San Francisco, San Jose, and San Diego."

Or, to paint a different picture that explains dealer (hesitancy towards) expansion - the rest of the U.S. sales (48 states) account for only 20 percent . . .

That glass appears half empty?
 

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I plan on placing the first order for a 453 (as soon as the order bank opens).

Once, I do that, I will post on here to let everyone else know so they can also place orders.
 

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That micro segment in the U.S. is rather small. Our job is to have profitable business cases. For the Forfour we’d need additional investment. We would like to if the segment evolves in a positive way...we could imagine bringing it.
I think this statement is rather ignorant. The small cat segment has been steadily growing and they're already late to the party.

Evidence?

Pretty much every well received vehicle (i.e. not cats like the Mitsubishi Mirage) that's not dying off soon or was just released did sell in significantly higher numbers than the fortwo last year. Many of which actually had sizable growth when compared Year over Year.

I mean come on: 59k Honda Fits, 39k Chevy Sparks...even Nissan somehow moved 38k of the polarizing Juke!

 

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She's addressing two things - the forfour in general and the forfour ED. And the true micro car segment is rather small - in my mind only two cars on that list qualify, the Fiat 500 and the smart fortwo (the iQ is history.) Not a huge market, and adding the forfour, electric or gas, has to make business sense to Mercedes. :)
 

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I plan on placing the first order for a 453 (as soon as the order bank opens).

Once, I do that, I will post on here to let everyone else know so they can also place orders.

I'm in...

I placed my order in 2007 within the first minute of the first day of order availability. Mine was the first smart delivered in San Diego. Hoping that history will repeat itself. :D

Proud to be a fanboy!!
 

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OK so that is code speak for her banking on the 453 (including the rykä interior) appealing to people living in San Francisco...and San Jose, San Diego, and Portland. Someone needs to clue her in on her parent company not moving to the left coast but to a small unimportant city called Atlanta.

Last year "was the very best year" for smart despite falling gas prices?
That's not surprising. Coincidentally; last year was also the year the new 453 (including the proxy interior) was revealed.:smartlogo:


*Wow Neon, MINI could only move 2082 Pacemen in 2014 ? That's about as low as Scion iQ
 

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She's addressing two things - the forfour in general and the forfour ED. And the true micro car segment is rather small - in my mind only two cars on that list qualify, the Fiat 500 and the smart fortwo (the iQ is history.) Not a huge market, and adding the forfour, electric or gas, has to make business sense to Mercedes. :)

You make a good point. But one can argue that the Forfour would be liberally cross-shopped with smaller vehicles in the size categories above it. The smart philosophy is that you can maintain the virtues of many larger vehicles with a smart, while enjoying the unique advantages that are only available with the smart. A conquest marketing program would not simply cannibalize within its own segment, but also reach into adjacent segments.
 

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OK so that is code speak for her banking on the 453 (including the rykä interior) appealing to people living in San Francisco...and San Jose, San Diego, and Portland. Someone needs to clue her in on her parent company not moving to the left coast but to a small unimportant city called Atlanta.

*Wow Neon, only 2082 MINI Pacemen ? That's about as low as Scion iQ:jawdrop:
From the sounds of it, yep! 80% of smart's sales come from those 4 cities. That's pretty sad when you think about it. That's just one very tiny region in an entire country where smarts are sold.

They moved 10.4k smarts last year. That means roughly 2.2k smarts were divided up between Kamaal at the LA location and every other smart center across the country.

Divide that by the rest of the existing dealers and that's what, under 50 per month? :eek:
 

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yeah Neon, I used to count how many times I would see another smart on the road down here in Orlando area. Now it's hard to have a day when I DON'T see another smart on the road. Just yesterday; I was driving around the VA parking lot looking for a spot, and saw another fortwo doing the same. Then coming home; I was first at a stoplight right next to another fortwo. Comparatively speaking; these fortwos are selling like halvah.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
We'll see on the forfour. Mercedes-Benz certainly remembers their experience with the previous forfour and the roadster and will want to have an excellent business case before adding another model in the US. Once the 453 ED arrives, assuming it sells as well as the current model, they should be in solid shape. At that point they may revisit the forfour, but I'm not holding my breath. :)
 

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Considering how badly MB is getting beaten up in the auto press for the "cheaper" CLA - fit, finish, ride, etc. - my guess would be the chances of the FourFour are slim. The reputation has suffered enough!!

Any word on how the electric B-class is selling??

-Barry-
 

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If you want to sell more cars in cities other than the four mentioned you might want to have stock in those cities other than a few white and silver ice Pures. I took my smart in for the 10K service and stock was almost non existent as were sales people. There was only one ED and that was only because it was returned after a special order. If I wanted to buy one and I came to the dealer I would run away thinking that I would not find what I want and if I did could they take care of it.
Plenty of choice on the west coast but if you want to buy one there you have the cost of extra shipping to contend with and they play games with you on the sales taxes.
 

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Plenty of choice on the west coast but if you want to buy one there you have the cost of extra shipping to contend with and they play games with you on the sales taxes.
While some may have a different story, our 2015 ED came from the left coast, shipped 2,500 miles for $600 and no sales tax games?

Net, net, a quicker, friendlier and better car deal than I could get in my own NC ZIP code?

Seems that the factory plus out of inventory to Non-CARB states requires vanilla colors and few if any options?
 

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If you want to sell more cars in cities other than the four mentioned you might want to have stock in those cities other than a few white and silver ice Pures. I took my smart in for the 10K service and stock was almost non existent as were sales people. There was only one ED and that was only because it was returned after a special order. If I wanted to buy one and I came to the dealer I would run away thinking that I would not find what I want and if I did could they take care of it.
Plenty of choice on the west coast but if you want to buy one there you have the cost of extra shipping to contend with and they play games with you on the sales taxes.
Your description fits that dealership as far back as 2010 at least...:(
 

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Here's a tidbit. Apparently about 70,000 smart 451s have been sold in the USA and about 17,000 in Canada ... and that's on top of something like 10,000 450s in Canada. (MikeT would have more accurate numbers as he is the authority on this, maybe he can chip in with precise numbers.) Per capita these sell probably double the rate they do in the USA, maybe more.

In my travels, I usually see three or four other smarts every day in the Toronto area. Most of the M-B dealers here are also smart centers.

But ... It is likely a Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver phenomenon.

The smart forfour would probably do okay here ... but if I had a choice in the matter, I would take a Renault Twingo with their upcoming sport model! (Looks better)
 
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