Smart USA launched a $99-a-month lease offer last week in an effort to boost sales of the microcar brand. Prior leases rates were $159 to $169 a month.
The 36-month, $99 lease requires the same $999 down payment as the previous lease deal.
Mercedes-Benz, which owns Smart, has been trying to give the brand a higher profile since taking over U.S. distribution in July from Penske Automotive Group. Tracey Matura, who became general manager of Smart USA at that time, says the lease offering is one of several ways Mercedes is attempting to revitalize the brand.
Last fall Smart launched two TV spots on national networks and cable. It also revamped the SmartUSA.com Web site and has begun using social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, said Matura.
Seventy-five Smart dealers operated under the Penske group, which distributed the brand in the United States for more than three years. Only the 54 Smart dealers that also had Mercedes franchises were retained when distribution rights shifted to Mercedes-Benz USA. But 33 dealers have been added to the network, bringing the total to 87.
All of the new sales outlets are Mercedes stores. Another six dealers are planned.
The new Smart dealers have dedicated a part of their Mercedes showroom for a Smart Corner. Dealers who built Smart stores had the option of shifting to a Smart Corner or being paid an additional 1.5 percent margin if they kept the exclusive facility. All 54 chose to keep their stores open, said Matura.
Smart sales fell 12 percent last year to 5,208 units, but Matura thinks the brand will get a boost when the third generation of its electric car goes on sale this fall. Tesla supplied the engine for the current car, called Smart ForTwo Electric Drive. Mercedes-Benz will supply the electric powerplant for the new electric car.
Matura said the new electric Smart will have a range of 100 miles, up from 63 miles for the current model. She said the top speed will jump from 60 mph to about 75.