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