PORTLAND, Ore. -- The bite-size Smart ForTwo may have a European flavor, but the third-generation model coming to the U.S. in September was cooked up using plenty of American ingredients.
All of the key changes to the 2016 model -- the increased width, new transmission choices, and more substantial styling -- were made primarily with the U.S. market in mind, Heiko Schmidt, lead product planner for Daimler’s Smart unit, told Automotive News at the U.S. press launch for the ForTwo.
“The U.S. has always been in the top five markets for Smart,” Schmidt said. “It’s contributing massively to the overall sales goal that Smart has.”
Smart executives openly concede that the ForTwo isn’t suited for every U.S. market. At 8.8 feet long (that’s 4.5 feet shorter than a Ford Fiesta hatchback), the car is tailored for urban areas where drivers prize easy parking and maneuverability.
For the redesigned model, Smart ditched the wonky and unpopular five-speed automated manual transmission in favor of either a five-speed manual or an optional six-speed dual-clutch gearbox made by Getrag.
The manual almost didn’t make it to the U.S. model, but including it allowed Smart to market the car with a lower starting price. The base model starts at $15,400 (including destination), while the DCT adds another $990.
Dealers also resisted a manual. “They never want to see a manual on the lot on the Mercedes side,” said Schmidt, who also oversees planning for Mercedes’ C, CLA, GLA, SLK, S, and SL models. Yet Smart encouraged its 89 U.S. dealers -- all of whom are tied in to a Mercedes store -- to offer the choice. So far, Schmidt said, about 80 percent of orders have been for the optional DCT.
The 2016 ForTwo also grows nearly 4 inches wider than its predecessor, while it is less than a quarter of an inch longer. Schmidt admitted that the comfort was “definitely not a strength” of the first-gen Smart.
The extra width also gives it more road presence. “For the U.S. market it was always important that the car shouldn’t look like a toy,” Schmidt said.
Smart didn’t disclose sales expectations for the second-generation ForTwo, but the company does hope it will surpass the outgoing model. That car shot to nearly 25,000 sales in 2008, thanks to historically high gas prices. After slow sales in 2010 and 2011, it has leveled out to around 10,000 sales a year.