DETROIT – Smart USAs suburban Detroit headquarters and dealership opened their doors to me today to see their operation, and I have to say, its a different experience.
There is no massive fleet of vehicles parked in Smart Center Bloomfields lot with various option packages and colors. Instead, there are four Smart ForTwos parked in the front lot, with a few more behind the dealership.
The inside of the modernistic showroom is painted a minimalist flat white, accented with yellow, black and gray to create a clear message: Were different.
Smart has all three of its models on display, but unlike many dealerships, there arent any signs or banners advertising blowout sales, finance rates or down payments. Instead, there are a few sales desks, where the salespeople, er, brand specialists, as Smart calls them, sign customers up to reserve a vehicle online.
And thats how Smart USA is selling these cars. You cant come into the dealership and drive one home. Everything is done online. The dealership is more like a Smart school -- you can come in, learn about the cars and take one for a spin.
If you want a car, the brand specialist takes you to a Web site, where you go through the vehicles options. You then place a $99 deposit.
Smart Center Bloomfields General Manager Joe Ziniti says you then must wait until about the end of the year -- yes, the end of 2008 -- to get your hands on your own little ForTwo city car. Smart already has about 30,000 reservations in hand.