Hoping to build on its newfound momentum, Smart USA plans to launch a rare TV advertising campaign next month. It will be just the second TV campaign for the Mercedes-owned minicar brand since Smart debuted here in 2008.
Smart also has extended its low lease rates for the 2013 ForTwo models that were launched last week. The leases start at $99 for 36 months with $999 down. The ForTwo starts at $13,240, including shipping.
Smart sales dipped to their lowest level in the United States last year -- just 5,208 units. They peaked at 24,622 in 2008, when the cars were distributed by Penske Automotive Group.
But sales have risen for six straight months. From January through April they totaled 3,028, up 75 percent from the same period last year.
"There is still plenty of runway" for growth, says Tracey Matura, who has run Smart in the United States since Mercedes-Benz took over sales and distribution last July. "We are feeling the momentum and we want it to continue."
Smart sells only one vehicle, the 106-inch-long ForTwo that got a mild freshening for the 2013 model year. A replacement for the ForTwo doesn't come until 2014 and a four-door will debut in 2015.
Marketing is a key reason Smart awareness is up and the marketing will continue, Matura said. "All of the marketing efforts that we have put forth have paid off because people are now recognizing Smart and understanding what the brand is," she said.
In June, new TV commercials will "make you think why Smart is special," she said.
She declined to give specifics about the campaign, but cited nimbleness and 38 mpg on the highway as ForTwo attributes that can be promoted.
Matura said Smart's biggest group of potential buyers is 18- to 35-year-olds, or Generation Y.
The fact that the Smart car is 85 percent recyclable helps. She said Gen Y buyers have a strong environmental awareness.
"They did not know a time when you didn't recycle," she said.
Attracting these younger buyers "is where I see room to grow, along with empty nesters and baby boomers that are right-sizing their lives," Matura said.
There's also potential in fleet sales, especially when an electric Smart goes on sale in the fourth quarter, she said.
Penske, which sold Smart through 75 dealerships, mainly did event and social media marketing of the brand. Mercedes-Benz kicked off a major awareness campaign for Smart last fall with the brand's first TV commercials, called "Unbig" and "Unclutter." The spots, which ran in September and October, touted the car's tiny size and eco-friendliness in a world where things are big and households are cluttered.
Matura said Smart USA also has finished appointing dealers. There are now 88 stores, all with Mercedes-Benz franchises.
Dealers will be added only "if it makes strategic sense," she said.
The Smart dealers have either the separate Smart store that Penske mandated or the Smart Corner that Mercedes-Benz requires, with brand-specific decor and trained sales specialists dedicated to the ForTwo.