Numbers for Smart's Lilliputian Fortwo are dismal here in the States: from 24,600 units in 2008, sales dipped to 14,600 cars in 2009 and are 60% down to date this year. Furthermore, only 8.1% of metro New York buyers would return to the brand, while San Francisco is marginally better at 19.8%. With virtually no marketing (that I can see), a transmission with quirks that have to be explained, and a $14,000 price tag, something clearly has to be done to rectify the misperceived city car brand.
Penske Automotive Group, which runs Smart USA, will try to improve the situation by putting Smart "in front of the kinds of consumers who are apt to be interested. "As an armchair marketing guru, I'd say that should have been the goal from the get-go; right now, it seems that the brand was built on hyped interest from people who probably thought it was "cute for the wife" or "green" or something even more superficial.
Oddly, Smart USA has just been taking customer orders instead of actually selling cars. To initiate some new tactics, the company has hired former Saturn general manager Jill Lajdziak.
On the agenda is more print, film, and web-based advertising. Also, Smart's Street Team will be back to promote the product, give people test drives, and do size checks. After the Street Team pushed to introduce the brand, it was benched for no apparent reason.
Until now, Smart USA appeared content with sitting back and resting on its European laurels. As we can see, that didn't work, so hop to it guys. After two years of US "sales", Smart will just now begin putting banners on car websites. Really...two years to establish internet marketing? I'm all for city cars in America, but this brand has been so mismanaged that any confidence I had in them is seriously waning. We'll see how their Fortwo electric buggy works out.
By Phil Alex