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Here’s Why I Think Smart Failed in the US

In case you haven’t heard, Smart (which I know is stylized with a lower-case "s," but I’m going to keep capitalizing it) is exiting the U.S. market after about a decade of selling tiny little city cars — but not that many of them.

I think there are a lot of reasons why Smart flopped in the States. For starters, there are obvious challenges any time you introduce a brand new name in cars to a new market. Just ask Scion. You need to build name recognition from scratch and make sure your market has not only heard of you, but wants your products. Now, this is an area where I think Smart actually did pretty well. Ask just about any American if they know what a "smart car" is and they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about.

The trouble was with the second half of that equation: making people want to be customers of your new brand. Everyone knows what a Smart is, but not that many people wanted one. We Americans tend to like large vehicles for our large, long roads and sometimes our large bodies. We simply don’t have all that much use for a diminutive hatchback like a Smart when bigger, better, similarly priced cars exist.

We also need to address the fact that there are better, more affordable, more useable subcompacts out there. If you’re an American who does want a tiny hatchback, you could get a bigger, more versatile car with a back seat and similar or better pricing and fuel economy. The Smart fortwo simply wasn’t that competitive of a car in the States. The only compelling reason to buy one was if you specifically really wanted a Smart. For my money, I’d rather have something like a Honda Fit or Ford Fiesta than a Smart.

This brings us to another issue with Smart — the fact that the whole brand was only one model. Sure, you could say the fortwo and the fortwo cabriolet are technically separate models, but they’re the same car with a different roof. Fiat and Mini are other Euro brands that are predicated on one model, that model being a tiny hatchback. Both of those are having serious struggles in the U.S. as well, and they also both diversified a bit by offering more models, including crossovers. I can’t help but wonder if Smart’s fortune in the U.S. would’ve been different if there was a little Smart crossover in the fashion of the Mini Countryman or Fiat 500X, but with a distinct Smart aesthetic.

At the end of the day, Smart’s problem was the fact that it was a brand with only one model and that one model just wasn’t very good. It was too small, the engine was weak and the ride was harsh. It was a car that’s not good for highway use trying to make it in a country with approximately 164,000 miles of highway. So farewell, Smart. You’ll be missed by some, but most won’t even notice that you’re gone. Find a smart for sale

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  1. It failed for 2 obvious reasons:

    1) In 99.9% of US cities a tiny car is not needed from a maneuverability/parking perspective and thus is not more practical. 

    2) It did not get significantly better gas mileage than its larger competitors. 

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Eric Brandt
Eric Brandt is an author specializing in Oversteer content, new car reviews, and finding the best car, truck, and SUV deals each month. Born and raised in Wisconsin, Eric can often be found exploring the north woods on his 1983 Honda Gold Wing when the weather allows it. Father of four, husband of one, and unapologetic minivan enthusiast. Eric mastered driving stick by having a 3-cylinder Chevy... Read More

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