Going electric-only doesn't make sense in certain markets.
The American arm of Daimler's smart brand will sell exclusively electric cars by the end of the year. The shift is hailed as a step towards an idyllic, emissions-free future by executives, but not all of the company's dealers are on board.
"Electric smart vehicles make sense in certain markets, but don't make much sense in other markets. So it might make some sense for some dealers to become service-only dealers," Ken Schnitzer, the chairman of the Mercedes-Benz Dealer Board, told Automotive News.
Currently, 83 Mercedes-Benz dealers across the United States also sell and service smart-branded cars. The company's top brass understands why certain dealers want to walk away from the brand, and it's asked them to make a decision by the end of the month.
Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Dietmar Exler told the trade journal that dealers who operate in markets where electric cars are popular -- like New York and California -- have welcomed the brand's new direction.
The gasoline-powered fortwo is relatively popular in big European cities, but it's largely failed to gain traction in the United States. Annual sales peaked at 24,622 in 2008, the year the diminutive city car was introduced in our market. Just 6,211 cars found a new home last year, and this year looks even worse.
The fate of the smart brand in the United States -- and, arguably, globally -- depends on whether the fortwo electric drive finally meets expectations. However, the two-seater might be a tough sell because it starts at $24,550 before shipping and incentives are factored in, which makes it nearly $10,000 more than the outgoing gas-burning model.
Photos by Ronan Glon.