PORTLAND, Ore. -- The bite-size Smart ForTwo may have a European flavor, but the second generation coming to the U.S. in September was cooked up using plenty of American ingredients.
All key changes to the 2016 model -- the increased width, new transmission choices and more substantial styling -- were made primarily with the U.S. in mind, Heiko Schmidt, lead product planner for Daimler's Smart unit, told Automotive News at the U.S. press launch for the ForTwo here.
"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 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, the second generation sold in the U.S., 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 shipping, while the dual-clutch transmission 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 classes. Yet Smart encouraged its 91 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 dual-clutch transmission.