Roughly a decade after being introduced to the U.S. market, Daimler recently announced that it will stop selling the infamous ForTwo Smart vehicle in the U.S. and Canada after the 2019 model year.
Depending on your perspective, the move shows either the positive momentum of the U.S. economy and significant improvements in automotive engineering efficiencies, or it reinforces the simple fact that Americans will always prioritize comfort and convenience over energy savings when it comes to transportation.
The writing was on the wall for Smart earlier this year when Daimler sold half of the business to China's Geely Holding. The joint venture will retain Mercedes-Benz Design to handle design and styling, but all future Smart vehicles will be made in China. Current Smart owners will still be able to get their vehicles serviced through Mercedes-Benz dealers.
According to various reports, Daimler’s decision was based on sales that continued to drop from a high of 25,000 vehicles in 2008 to less than 1,300 cars last year. When Smart cars were first introduced in U.S. markets, gas prices had hit an all-time high of over $4.10/gallon, compared to average prices of $2.49/gallon in 2018, and those prices reflect a significant increase over the previous five-year stretch.
These lower gas prices, coupled with greater overall fuel efficiency, helped push the SUV trend now dominating U.S. vehicle sales. Industry insiders also point to the brand’s move to a completely electric lineup as contributing to the continued sales slump. They entered a marketplace that has become more and more crowded, but offered fewer driver comforts and full-charge range of only 60 miles.
Additionally, the two-seater is nearly three feet shorter than any other vehicle on the market, but carries an MSRP higher than a Corolla or Chevy Malibu, but with less space and power. In urban areas, the growth of ridesharing services has also lessened some of the convenience-based selling points of a Smart car.
However, just because the brand has left the U.S., that doesn’t mean it has met its demise. Daimler and Geely appear committed to the Smart brand through at least 2022, and have even hinted at possibly expanding into … you guessed it, SUVs.