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.

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