In Detroit: New Smart Electric Offers EV with Lowest Price

By · January 17, 2013

Heiko Schmidt, Smart's product manager, with the 2013 Smart Electric Drive

Heiko Schmidt, Smart's product manager, with the 2013 Smart Electric Drive. (Photo: Tom Moloughney)

Smart’s display was the most EV-centric at the 2013 Detroit auto show. Four Smart Electric drives were on view and most of the area was decorated with information on the new version of the Electric Drive. I spoke with Tracy Matura, Smart general manager, and Heiko Schmidt, Smart's product manager. They were both very optimistic about this next generation Electric Drive.

The 2013 Smart Electric Drive will have a $25,000 price tag, so it will fall comfortably below $20,000 after incentives—making it the most affordable EV from any major manufacturer. It will also be offered as a convertible making it the only EV with a ragtop. The convertible version will cost $28,750.

The Smart Electric Drive is offered with a ragtop.

The Smart Electric Drive is offered with a ragtop. (Photo: Tom Moloughney)

I can’t imagine that Smart makes money selling these cars at that price. Schmidt declined to comment on profitability. “Profit wasn’t the main target,” he said. Draw your own conclusions.

Adjustable Regen

One Smart feature that I really like—and wish was offered on other electric cars—is paddle-controlled regenerative braking. The strength of the regen can be adjusted to the drivers liking by a paddle on the steering wheel. I’ve always advocated adjustable regenerative braking, and I believe Smart got it right.

Different people like different levels of regen so why not make it adjustable? You can also dial back the regen so it’s off when driving on highway trips and use coasting to help extend the range.

The batteries are packaged under the car, and they don’t intrude into the passenger compartment. They are thermally conditioned with an air-based system and can be preconditioned while plugged into either a 240v or 120v supply. You can set the preconditioning from the car or via a smartphone application. I also like how they packaged the 120V charging cord. It’s neatly hidden in a compartment in the rear hatch door, so it takes up no space.

Price, Power and Range

Schmidt told me the car will first launch in ZEV markets in the spring, and within a few months after that will be available across the United States. He assured me it wasn’t a low production compliance-only car. Unlike the previous versions of the Electric Drive, this latest one will be available in the full variety of colors offered by Smart.

Smart packaging of the 120V cord set.

Smart packaging of the 120V cord set. (Photo: Tom Moloughney)

Here’s the bad news: the 2013 Smart Electric Drive has an EPA rating of 68 miles per charge, which will undoubtedly hurt its appeal. It is only available with 3.3-kW charging, and no DC quick charge option. So even though it has a relatively small 17.6-kWh battery, it’s going to take about six hours to fully charge even when charging on 240v.

The 74-hp electric motor takes the car from 0-60 in 11.5 seconds—quicker than the gas version, and about twice as fast as the previous version. The car has been available in Europe for a while, and Schmidt told me sales in Europe have been very good. However the gas version has always done well in Europe and was never really embraced in the U.S.

This clearly isn’t the car that’s going to revolutionize the EV market, but is a good enough performer with a low price point. It could be a good choice for people with short commutes and who really want an EV— but can’t afford anything else.

Footnote: VW Cross Blue

Volkswagen introduced a new mid-size SUV PHEV, the Cross Blue. Dr. Rudolf Krebs, Volkswagen's EV chief, recently said, “We want to become the leader in electrification.” But there are no solid production plans for the Cross Blue. Hopefully, a positive reaction to the vehicle in Detroit will change that.

Personally I’d really like to see the Cross Blue get the green light because it's an interesting package—besides the fact that it looked eerily similar to the new Jeep Grand Cherokee. The Cross Blue concept uses Volkswagen's 190-hp 2-liter EA288 TDI diesel engine to power the front wheels along with a 54 horsepower electric motor. The rear wheels are driven by a 114-hp electric motor. Volkswagen claims a 0-60 mph time of 7.2 seconds, which makes sense, even for a big vehicle, when considering its combined 516 lb-ft of torque.

I believe PHEV crossovers and SUVs like the Cross Blue will do very well in the U.S. market.

Comments

· · 1 year ago

Hey that Convertible is cute... So what if it has Exev1dvr's "Glacial Standard Charging". For the price it almost makes me want to trade in my Roadster, hehe.

Seriously, the one advantage of 3.3 kw for the manufacturers besides reduced cost is that the small single phase arrangement can be used world wide, without requiring a redesigned 400 volt unit for Europe, which would be required at higher power levels. They just get rid of the detachable 110 volt thingy and put a 220 there.

· · 1 year ago

Bill you can get three or four of them if you trade in your Roadster! Seriously though, the under 20K price does make it within reach for some people that otherwise couldn't afford an EV. It's not going to work for everybody, but the price alone gives it a niche. I was promised an opportunity to drive one soon, so I'll follow up with driving impression once that takes place.

· · 1 year ago

Tom, thanks for the report! Along with the Leaf S this car will put more affordable EV's on the road.

Any word on the heater and/or the defroster and/or heated seats in the Smart Electric Drive?

Neil

· · 1 year ago

Tom, what happened to the optional fast on-board 22kw charger they were offering in June according to Laurent Masson's article ? I believe it was around $2600. (Sorry if it double posts)

· · 1 year ago

I think these little EVs are great. They are one way to put EVs into the affordable range of ordinary people. If you really want an EV, you should be able to afford one of these even with a modest income considering they are less than $20K after incentives.

I don't think they will be huge sellers though. They are not going to start selling big until gas prices go up and people feel the pinch. At $3/gallon, people will stick to gas. Prices need to be closer to $5/gallon and higher to get people to start moving away from gas.

The 3.3Kw chargers are fine. Sure, the 6.6kw chargers are better but they are much more expensive and thus raise the car price.

· · 1 year ago

Don: I asked about offering faster charging as an option and was told it will not be initially offered but that if enough customers ask, they could add it as an option.

· · 1 year ago

In Europe you can buy with the battery in property or rental to cheapen the purchase still more. And there is already a waiting list 9 months to buy this car.

· · 1 year ago

Neil:
You can probably find the answers you are looking for about heated seats etc on the Smart UK site, as they are on sale here now.
I would check it myself, but the site is a bit irritating to use, heavy on fancy flash animations with solid data hidden.

· · 1 year ago

I really like the adjustable regen - all EV's should have this, for sure. Free wheel coasting is the best way to use the kinetic energy you've "invested" in the moving car, and once you learn how far you can coast, you accelerate far less, and you still can use regen when you need to slow down.

Neil

· · 1 year ago

I confirm the availability of a 22-kW charger in Europe, but this is a €3,000 extra! I guess they thought Americans were not ready to pay big money for such a small car.

As always, the EPA rating is conservative. I've heard people getting more than 68 miles.

· · 1 year ago

"I asked about offering faster charging as an option and was told it will not be initially offered but that if enough customers ask, they could add it as an option."

Whatever happened to market research ?

· · 1 year ago

Seeing as there are no fast chargers in NY State, I necessarily can't drum up too much enthusiasm for them. I don't quite see the business plan for them in the first place. I'd think you'd have to pay about $100 per charge to make them profitable considering how likely they are to be used anytime soon. The money would mainly go to paying the monthly demand charge on the newly enlarged electric service required.

· · 1 year ago

I have been a "Smart" fan all along but didn't like the old shifter. Now this will be an interesting choice as my Volt lease begins to run out.....

· · 1 year ago

"I'd think you'd have to pay about $100 per charge to make them profitable considering how likely they are to be used anytime soon."

Agreed Bill. Add up the cost of the unit, instillation, maintenance, the electricity charge and demand fees and there is no business case for them by them selves. There has to be another revenue generator. I could imagine a highway convenience store or fast food restaurant making money on the "captured customer" while they have them hostage for the 45 minutes or so while their car is charging, but the fee for charging alone won't even make the station operator break even for years if ever.

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