Smart USA Delivers First ForTwo Electric Car—Also Available as a Convertible

By · January 27, 2011


Mindy Kimball takes delivery of the first U.S.'s first smart ED—an all-electric version of the diminutive smart ForTwo.

Chalk up another first delivery for an electric car manufacturer in the U.S.—smart USA has delivered the first of 250 nationwide pilot program electric vehicle leases, leading up to a full launch in 2012. The vehicle, a purpose-built electric smart ForTwo—also known as the smart ED—comes in both a hard top and cabriolet configuration, making it the first average consumer-targeted electric convertible on the U.S. market (the Tesla Roadster costs more than $100,000).

Mindy Kimball is a Major in the U.S. Army, a climate change advocate and renewable energy supporter—she is now also the first Smart ED owner in the country. In a ceremony held in her driveway in Washington, D.C., Kimball took delivery from the two most important executives at smart USA: Jill Lajdziak, president of smart USA, and Roger Penske, CEO of the Penske Automotive Group, which owns smart USA.

“It feels terrific to have the vehicles flowing," said Lajdziak in an interview with PluginCars.com. "This is a groundbreaking day for smart in the United States. We are extremely excited to add the smart fortwo electric drive to the smart product lineup, solidifying our position as a key player in transportation electrification.”

The smart EDs are built at a factory in Hambach, France, and then shipped to the U.S. as demand warrants. In 2012, Lajdziak says the company will transition to newer technology as part of its EV roadmap, and at that point the smart ED will be available for sale through the regular retail process. In order to keep their early adopters happy, smart USA will automatically transition all of the initial owners to the new vehicles if they want.

Nationwide Pilot Program With Benefits—But it Comes at a Cost

The first 250 owners are part of what smart is calling "Team 250." This group will be treated to red-carpet access to dedicated smart representatives and will be provided with concierge services, 24/7 roadside assistance, and special events tailored to them. This extra attention is almost a necessity, as the first lessees are paying a minimum of $599 per month for the privilege. Team 250 will consist of individuals, businesses, government fleets and other organizations.

Last year smart USA decided that instead of launching the car in a few select markets, they would open up the pilot program to people across the country. "While we certainly have a focus on some key markets that are really advanced with regards to their infrastructure, we have made the vehicles available at all of our dealerships across the country," said Lajdziak. "We wanted our dealers to have the opportunity to showcase this technology, because until you drive an electric car, you have a lot of questions on your mind. We want the consumers around the country to have the advantage of going to a smart center anywhere and getting behind the wheel and really experiencing electric technology and all the advantages from a consumer standpoint."

Pilot Program Still Has Positions Available—Don't Want to Wait For Your LEAF?

Given that there are only 250 spots available in the program it would be reasonable to assume that they were all already spoken for—but you'd be wrong. According to Lajdziak, smart purposely didn't fill all 250 spots so that people who walked into a smart dealer and test drove the car could have the chance to become part of the program. Lajdziak also indicated that all 250 vehicles will be delivered within the next five to six months. She didn't say how many spots were still available, and it's on a first-come, first-serve basis.

So there you go, if you've been put off by the long wait times for the Nissan LEAF, this may be your chance to get an EV sooner. The smart USA website has more information on where you can get one.

Lead Up to Full Release in 2012—Will the Price Come Down?

Although this first pilot program is extremely limited in scope, smart USA is planning on expanding the launch significantly in 2012. "Ultimately the market will tell us how many units we will produce, but certainly we will have more volume production capacity at that time and we will open it up to a wider audience," said Lajdziak.

In an acknowledgment that the lease price of the pilot program smart ED does not make it competitive with other offerings such as the Nissan LEAF or even the Chevy Volt, Lajdziak did say that they hope the price will come down by 2012—but she didn't provide much in terms of specific targets. "When the vehicle comes out in 2012, it could be a little less, and obviously we'll pass on those savings to the consumer at the time," she said.

In order for the smart ED to truly compete with other modern EVs it will have to come down quite significantly in price—otherwise it will be a very small niche player. But then again, perhaps smart USA is okay with that? They've always been a bit of niche player.

Rising Gas Prices Have Increased Interest in Smart Cars in General

When gas prices started rising back in December, Lajdziak said that they "immediately" saw an increase in traffic in their dealerships and online. "With rising gas prices on the top of the mind for everybody, [the electric vehicle] really is technology that makes a lot of sense from a consumer standpoint," she said. "We know [the increase] is a direct result of fuel prices increasing. It's again back on everybody's mind that they maybe should buy something that's very efficient, and obviously with our segment leading fuel economy of 41 miles per gallon on the highway, we kind of go immediately on the shopping list."

Comments

· · 3 years ago

Don't forget that the Smart ED tops out at 100 kph or ~62 mph. Hardly competitive with the performance of any gasoline car.
Its convenient how the marketing folks forgot this but I'll bet the auto industry reporters won't and will blame the electric drive.

· · 3 years ago

So with the Mini E you give up the backseat for the battery pack, right. The smart ED doesn't have a back seat, so do you give up the front seats? :-)

It's interesting she's in the Army. The military is getting into some interesting green technologies for strategic purposes. They are deploying tents with integrated PV that generates 2kWh for charging communications batteries, HVAC, etc. They say that PV technology saves a lot of money versus moving tanker trucks of gasoline to the troops to run generators.

· · 3 years ago

Hi Ex-Ev1,
>> industry reporters won't and will blame the electric drive.<<
Much in the press are clueless, but not that clueless. There are so many EVs and PHEVs that are available (or soon to be available) that perform well, that one would have to be incredibly out-of-touch to blame this car's performance on the fact that it is an EV. Atrocious aero, and overall poor electromechanical design are the culprits. You can't make a silk purse out of a sows ear. The Smart car gas version is a crummy little car, consuming substantially more gas than the much larger, safer, more comfortable Prius. This crumminess is reflected in its plumetting sales, its poor crash test ratings, etc. To some, it's cute as a bug's ear, but for many, it is just far too short to feel safe in.

A friend has a Chevy Volt, for which he is paying $350/mo on lease. The lease on a Smart would have to be about half of that to make it attractive to a small group of people. ($599??!!)

At least the Wheego makes this look good in comparison. You can't help but wonder what the Wheego people were thinking: all the disadvantages of a Smart car, plus the cheap Chinese clone stigma, minus the Mercedes engineering minus the (admittedly disengenuous "Tridion" safety cage).

Largely because of the car you are driving, even the public at large is starting to understand that EVs do not need to be slow.

· Priusmaniac (not verified) · 3 years ago

The story of the Swatch mobile, now called Smart, is a very sad one. Swatch intended to make it an electric in the first place but Mercedes didn’t want, so it was transformed into a gas car. Today, making it as an electric, would be like rediscovering the EV1 after GM would first have transformed it into a gas car for more then a decade.

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