Come next year, the only Smart Fortwo you’ll be able to buy new in the United States will never need to visit a gas station.
That’s because Smart has made the move to sell only its Electric Drive coupe and convertible models beginning this fall. This will be the last year new gasoline-powered Smarts will be sold in the U.S. and Canada, though they’ll continue in other markets. It makes Smart the second electric-only brand in America, other than Tesla.
According to Green Car Reports, Smart said, “Developments within the micro-car segment present some challenges for the current smart product portfolio,” and going electric-only in the U.S. and Canada made sense going forward.
What that sounds like is that the Smart Fortwo was a niche car in a niche that is only getting smaller. When it was launched in the U.S. in 2008, the Fortwo charmed not only with its quirkiness but also with its economy as gas prices raced up to historic highs ahead of the Great Recession. However, sales cratered as the economy faltered and fuel costs fell back down. Now in the days of relatively inexpensive fuel, all makers of small cars are suffering as SUVs and trucks are what new car buyers want most.
For Smart, at least, there is demand for its electric cars. Launched in 2012, the previous Smart Electric Drive didn’t have the range or performance of many other EVs on the market, but it was by far the least expensive, making it a viable option for drivers who didn’t need a car to travel long distances or have an enormous cargo area.
As we found out last year, despite a redesign and concessions to those who want space and comfort, the new Smart Fortwo is still very much an acquired taste. You either love it or you don’t. And you can either exploit its usefulness in tight urban spaces or you should buy a conventional small hatchback, because the Smart isn’t particularly cheap to buy – partly because of its connection to Mercedes-Benz. And while its tiny turbocharged engine was sufficient around town, it sucked as much gas as the far more well-rounded (yet far more conventional) Honda Civic.
The new Electric Drive, which goes on sale this spring, should make a Smart a more viable option for those who need a city runabout, or a second car that prioritizes efficiency. With an estimated 75-80 miles of range and a 2.5-hour charge time on the kind of charger you’d find in a public garage or a Whole Foods, it’s an improved machine over its predecessor. It’s also likely to be one of the least-expensive EVs again, with generous incentives also available from the state and federal governments, depending on where you live. These incentives have also helped Smart with their own lease deals, as many dealers were able to advertise leases as low as $100 per month for three years – impressive for any car. That lease may be limited to around 10,000 miles per year, but most electric car owners are unlikely to be high-mileage drivers. These are vehicles for around-town errands or short commutes to work.
Sure, the Smart Electric Drive won’t offer the range of a Tesla or even a Chevrolet Bolt, but it likely won’t cost nearly as much as either of those vehicles. The Smart is still a style statement, and while the electric propulsion makes for smoother shifts and a quieter ride, this diminutive car requires some concessions with a small cargo hold, an occasionally bouncy ride and plastic interior.
But then if that didn’t bother you before, going all-in on electric might make Smart an even more attractive proposition.