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Struggling with Smart Shortages


We’ll find out next week whether the little 2008 Smart fortwo coupe wins honors as the World Green Car of the Year. But a successful nod at the 2008 New York Auto Show could actually compound the problems being faced by the Mercedes-Benz sibling brand.

After a slow and painful ramp-up that cost its parent, Daimler AG, billions in losses, the French-made Smart is suddenly running on all cylinders. That’s ironic, as its surge is directly hinged to the long-delayed launch of the two-seat fortwo in the United States. With a preliminary order bank of up to 30,000 customers, Smart is already struggling to meet demand. Actual deliveries have slowly been ramping up from the 1,400 cars handed over to customers in January.

Smart officials would like to get their hands on more fortwo coupes and convertibles. But, for now, Daimler is answering, “hold on.”

“We have to learn how sustainable demand is,” cautioned Daimler CEO Dr. Dieter Zetsche, during an exclusive conversation with The Car Connection. “If we see it is sustainable – which is likely – we would have to decide what to do next.” The options include:

• An additional shift added at the Smart plant, in France’s Alsace-Lorraine region;
• An expansion of that plant;
• An all-new assembly plant.

It would likely be the end of this year, or early 2009 before a decision is made, added Zetsche, on whether and how to handle demand for the Smart fortwo.

A large share of the credit for Smart’s strong start goes to Roger Penske, the racing legend and business entrepreneur, who actually operates the automaker’s U.S. distribution network.

Ironically, Penske almost never got his chance. Daimler has tried numerous times to develop a marketing plan for North America, which it has always seen as critical to Smart’s viability. Short of sales targets, the German company was forced to order a draconian turnaround plan in February 2006 that left the minicar brand with just one model – updated just in time for the U.S. introduction.

After fighting to save the brand, Zetsche is clearly pleased to see the brand being so well-received in the U.S., telling TheCarConnection, “If we didn’t have the fortwo, today, we’d have to invent it.”
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Comments (22)
  1. 1,400 is ridiculously small. Especially viewed with the very fortunate for Smart $4 a gallon gas and diesel prices.

    TOyota and Honda alone sell 200,000 small and medium sized cars in the US alone every MONTH

    The Smart's ambition apparently is to sell no more copies than the far more attractive MINI, which also gets about 40 MPG but is far superior in every way except parking in tight spaces..

    The Smasrt is nothing more than a commuter car. Two people without kids cannot rely on a Smart alone, there is no room even for one person's luggage, let alone two! And you will never be able to take two friends to dinner for 4.

    The Smart is only for wealthy and spoiled suburbanites with six car garages, the smart will be used by the idle wife to go shopping, or by the kids to go to high school perhaps.

    I am NOT impressed.
     
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  2. I pass the dealership on Telegraph Rd in Bloomfield Hills MI twice everyday and see a fairly large inventory of these small cars. I am wondering if they are not moving that well in Detroit as it appears they are in other cities, or is this a holding inventory of Smart Cars since the headquarters is in the same area as the dealership.
     
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  3. FAIRY TALES CAN COME TRUE!

    IT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU!

    ROLLER SKATES FOLKS!.
     
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  4. "I pass the dealership on Telegraph Rd in Bloomfield Hills MI twice everyday and see a fairly large inventory of these small cars. I am wondering if they are not moving that well in Detroit as it appears they are in other cities,"

    It would be natural that they move far less in Detroit and especially further out West than in congested East coast and CA urban centers. If they gave the same no. of Smarts to sell to the Detroit dealer as they gave to the NY and CA dealers, they are sure not very bright, nor have they even begun to do their homework.

    In addition, the Smart is a Horrible Highway car, with its tiny wheelbase the ride is extremely choppy and annoying, and with its light weight, it is far less comfortable than most other cars, if not all of them.

    And as far as the MPG, it sucks Big Time, it gets a mere 36 MPG on PREMIUM fuel, an extremely POOR performance for such a tiny car with an even tinier engine!

    They should sell the DIESEL version, that gets up to 70 MPG!
     
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  5. I am glad the SMART FOR TWO is here. Its an alternative to whats avalible that consumes more gas. Yes a Hybrid gets better gas mileage but look at the additional thousands you would have to pay to get one. You would have to have the car for 5-6 years depending on your driving habits for you to see the savings compared to getting a SMART for only 11,590 and start to save immediatly.
    I understand some want a car for more than 2 people. Well give it time SMART will address that and possibly come out with another great model but for 4 or more people.
    Think of it as a motorcyle on wheels. They only can hold 2 but thats why people don't typicaly only own a mortorcycle.
    Hands down the SMART is the car of the future and will be here for a while. Hybrid and Electric smarts are in the works as we speak just give it time.

    Marlon Soley
     
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  6. Yes - give us the diesel version!
     
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  7. I just stopped by the Smart Dealer in PA, and they too had a lot of cars on the lot. But what you don't know is each car had a owners name on it, and there is almost a years waiting list to get one. I reserved mine in August and I can't wait to get the call to pick mine up at the dealer. The cars you see in the lots are reserved for a buyer trying to get finiancing for it and will soon be picked up. You just can't go get one, you have to go to the dealer and reserve it or visit the smart web page. It cost me $99 to reserve it back in August.

    Or you could go on Ebay and buy one at about $5000 more then the owner payed for it.
     
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  8. " Marlon S Says:
    March 14th, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    I am glad the SMART FOR TWO is here. Its an alternative to whats avalible that consumes more gas. "

    NOT TRUE! Look it up! There are PLENTY of EXCELLENT 4- and 5-seaters that consume even LESS gas than the Smart, and they are NOT expensive hybriids! And if you get the excellent Honda FIt, or even the Toyota Yaris, you will also have Monumental Reliability!

    "Yes a Hybrid gets better gas mileage but look at the additional thousands you would have to pay to get one. You would have to have the car for 5-6 years depending on your driving habits for you to see the savings compared to getting a SMART for only 11,590 and start to save immediatly."

    FALSE comparison. You should NOT compare it to any hybrid, but to the several cheap non-hybrid and RELIABLE Hondas and TOyotas that also get 35+ MPG!

    "I understand some want a car for more than 2 people. "

    No. even if you just need a car fro ONLY two people, the Smart still sucks, because it has no place to put their STUFF to go on a trip.

    Even if you are some loser loner, you cannot possibly put all your stuff on a road trip on the passenger seat.

    "Well give it time SMART will address that and possibly come out with another great model but for 4 or more people."

    What are you talking about? FIRST, the Smart has been around for 10 YEARS now, and SECOND, it ALREADY sells a 4-person BS mobile, which is an UGLY AS HELL, NON-Smart, RE-Badged, effing MITSUBISHI!

    And of course it has been a major league FLOP, even in Europe, where therer are FAR superior Four and five seaters with same or better MPG

    (and of course the fake SMart 4-seater loses all, 100% of the parking advantages of the Stubby 2-seater!)

    Think of it as a motorcyle on wheels. They only can hold 2 but thats why people don’t typicaly only own a mortorcycle.

    Motorcycles do not get a bloody 36 MPG but 86 MPG! And NO, the tall and mnarrow SMART has NOTHING in common with an AGILE motorcycle, and if you falsely believe it does, and try to take a tight turn in a Smart fast, you are toast!

    "Hands down the SMART is the car of the future and will be here for a while. "

    CLUELESS NONSENSE!!!!!! Even in EUROPE, it has been around for 9 years and losing $ EVERY YEAR because for its outrageously High price you cna buy an excellent 5-door 5-seat hatch from several other makers!!!!!!!

    "Hybrid and Electric smarts are in the works as we speak just give it time."

    A Hybrid Smart is already on sale in EUrope, but it is as underwhelming as its fuel-wasting gas version.
     
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  9. "Or you could go on Ebay and buy one at about $5000 more then the owner payed for it."

    That would be the Height of Stupidity and cluelessness. Talk about throwing your hard-earned $ out the window for an execrable toy, that can't even get 40, much less 70, (as the discontinued 2-seater Honda Insight $18k hybrid WITH a trunk) MPG!!
     
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  10. While I do not endorse his posting style, Thor's points are all 100% true.
     
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  11. Thor, get a life. And be sure you check your facts before you post. Yes, I own a smart and am getting 48mpg out of it. I have a relative that has a Prius that is going to TRY to sell it because the batteries need replacing and they are several thousand to replace. Most people will buy this car for commuting to work and home and will usually be alone. I cannot count how many times I see people driving huge SUV's and they are the only person in the car. In Europe the smart was losing money due to the slack sales of the forfour, not the fortwo as you think you know. Yes, I would much rather be in the fortwo than on a motorcycle. Definitely safer and dryer. My friends motocycle only gets him 46 mpg. Even he is wanting to get a smart. Looking at how you post, you must be a kid or teenager. What a waste of words that have no facts.
     
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  12. Thor has his opinion, but not many facts.

    Fuel mileage, while it could be better, is around 40 to 45 mpg.
    There is a fair amont of storage space behind the seats (over the engine compartment),
    Smart no longer sells their 4 seat version,
    Not all people buy a car just because it can carry four people,
    Not all people buy a car because it is the cheapest
    With the low center-of-gravity, wide stance, standard stability and traction control cornering is very stable. Crosswinds do make the car a little twitchey, buy not unlike most small cars.
    Winter traction and stability seems to be fine with proper tires
    The major gripe from most new owners is getting used to it's electronicly shifted and clutched manual transmission. It is a little odd, but you get used to it.

    This is why they make different cars for different people.
     
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  13. oldbike Says:
    March 14th, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    Thor has his opinion, but not many facts.

    Every single one of Thors's facts were CORRECT.

    Fuel mileage, while it could be better, is around 40 to 45 mpg.

    "It Should be MUCH better, but the OFFICIAL EPA average MPG is 36, NOT 40 to 45. YOUR "facts" are WRONG, not Thor's.


    "There is a fair amont of storage space behind the seats (over the engine compartment),"

    No there is NOT! There is not nearly enough storage for a Chidlless couple to go on vacation!!!! And if you add a roof rack on the already tall and narrow Smart, it will really suck on the road, and esp. in corners!


    "Smart no longer sells their 4 seat version,"

    YOUR above fact 100% vindicates Thor's very poor opinion of that POS! SMART should NOT assume consumers are idiots and try to sell them a 4-seater Mitsubishi, and an ugly-as hell one at that, as a "Smart"! The CONSUMERS spoke, and that atrocity is TOAST!

    "Not all people buy a car just because it can carry four people,"

    If it is their ONLY car, it should at least carry Two people PLUS their stuff, and the Smart does NOT. If they are RIch, and have five other cars, they can Afford to buy a 2-seater Ferrari or... Smart! But that's only a Insignificant FEW people, so who cares????


    "With the low center-of-gravity, wide stance, standard stability and traction control cornering is very stable. Crosswinds do make the car a little twitchey, buy not unlike most small cars."

    "Low" is in the eye of the beholder. And its very short WHEELBASE is what kills it on long trips. It is a CITY, COMMUTER car, for people that have many other cars. NOT for people, like most people, who can only afford ONE car.



    "This is why they make different cars for different people."

    The SMART will be an insignificant NICHE vehicle, that may not make any $ in the US (not with the free-falling $ for sure!) and will soon have to pack and go in defeat.

    Toyota and Honda will lose no sleep over the smart.

    They sell 200,000 Accord-civic-fit-yaris-camry-corollas a MONTH, vs the Smart's 1,400 (!!!) and falling.
     
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  14. "Band Says:
    March 14th, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    Thor, get a life."

    Spare me the personal attacks. This is NOT about ME.

    "And be sure you check your facts before you post. Yes, I own a smart and am getting 48mpg out of it."

    We sure should be grateful that you bought the SMart and not another POS 10 MPG SUV, in which case you would have made gas even more expensive for all the rest of us too.

    "I have a relative that has a Prius that is going to TRY to sell it because the batteries need replacing and they are several thousand to replace."

    FIRST, it is FALSE to compare the Smart to ANY Hybrid, let alone to the Prius. Apples and Oranges. But last time I checked used prius prices, all over the US, they were very, very high and the rumors about possible high costs of bateries etc seem to have little effect.

    " Most people will buy this car for commuting to work and home and will usually be alone. "

    Even if they live alone, and have no friends they socialize with, they at least have girlfriends, and the Smart is not possible to accomodate two people plus stuff on vacation. Should they each take one smart? Beats the MPG argument then!

    " I cannot count how many times I see people driving huge SUV’s and they are the only person in the car. "

    I fully agree, but AGAIN, this is the wrong comparison. They do NOT have to buy a SMART, unless parking is a huge pain fgor them, which is the case only in a few US cities. They can buy a Honda Fit, a Yaris, a COroilla or a Civic. And have far better reliability than with any GERMAN car!(trust me , I know!)

    "In Europe the smart was losing money due to the slack sales of the forfour, not the fortwo as you think you know. "


    NOT TRUE at all!!!!!!! SMART lost $ from the beginning and all the 8 years it was on sale (1st gen), LONG BEFORE they brought out the miserable 4!

    "Yes, I would much rather be in the fortwo than on a motorcycle. Definitely safer and dryer. My friends motocycle only gets him 46 mpg. Even he is wanting to get a smart. Looking at how you post, you must be a kid or teenager. What a waste of words that have no facts."

    You do not have CLUE ONE who I am, and more personal attacks and namecalling will NEVER win you any debates. That's why you are a sad loner, by your own admission, and the SMART is enough for you.
     
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  15. SomeONE is feeling a little threatened by this car! I love how passionate the haters are!

    Thor said:
    Even if they live alone, and have no friends they socialize with, they at least have girlfriends, and the Smart is not possible to accomodate two people plus stuff on vacation.

    I have a smart and there is PLENTY of luggage space for a very long trip for two.

    Those so inclined, do yourself a favor and get your name on the waiting list. You will love your new smart as much as I love mine!
     
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  16. Boogiedown Says:
    March 17th, 2008 at 9:17 am

    SomeONE is feeling a little threatened by this car! I love how passionate the haters are!

    any more false charges? NONSENSE. It is th esmart owners that are so passionately LYING about the POS they bought so they do not look like damned fools!



    "I have a smart and there is PLENTY of luggage space for a very long trip for two."

    This is the most LAUGHABLE LIE I have ever heard, and the thing is, you are a damned fool to say it, BECAUSE somebody can CHECKJ IT OUT with the FACTS and the DATA and go TRY IT and find out your ludicrous lies for him or herself!

    There is no cargo space in the SMART for even ONE person's luggage, let alone TWO!

    And as for taking this thing on a HIGHWAY trip, with its tiny wheelbase and low weight, good luck... it will NOT be comfortable, you cannot cancel the laws of PHYSICS! (and I did not say anything about its alleged safety...lol)

    As I said, it is a VERY SMALL (and selling in very small numbers) niche vehicle, for the spoiled housewives to go shopping in, or for commuting, provided you have 2-4 other REAL cars in your garage.
     
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  17. I know I'm late to the party, but I actually agree with Thor (minus the anger). After a recent visit to Italy, its clearly understandable why Europeans drive these, and city dwellers for sure. In Europe everything is cramped. Even in US cities, there is plenty of room (comparably). However, my 2006 MB E-500 4-Matic gets 19 city 24 highway mpg. SMART gets 36. Not sure I see the sense for traveling purposes especially for safety. I totally see it for commuter living and would consider a micro as a 2nd car, again for back and forth for short jaunts.

    With gas going up, and probably never coming down, I predict more of these cars will be sold than is currently predicted. I suggest FORD and GM get their excellent European cars ready to send Stateside. It would behoove them to establish a track record too by offering them ASAP. Toyota's Yaris, not a big stateside seller currently, is establishing a track record as are other Asian companies. Does this sound like 1973? Why buy a newbie, when you can own the original, and proven car.
     
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  18. " xjug1987 Says:
    March 17th, 2008 at 10:50 am

    I know I’m late to the party, but I actually agree with Thor (minus the anger). After a recent visit to Italy, its clearly understandable why Europeans drive these, and city dwellers for sure."

    But are you aware that even in Europe, whose old cities and narrow roads and tighjt parking spaces and $8 gas, it would be the ideal place to sell the SMART, it failed miserably and lost money all its life (at least for the 8 years until a year ago or so)? Then what hope does it have to make any $ in the US, or sell any serious numbers?



    "With gas going up, and probably never coming down, I predict more of these cars will be sold than is currently predicted."

    I agree that the timing was very fortunate for SMART, but as for 'more than predicted", I seriously doubt it, because of te fact that Automotive News, the "Bible" of the auto industry, predicted 2,500 sales in Jan 08, but the actual sales no in Jan for the Smart was a mere, really low, 1,400, for the entire US with the usual 15-17 million annual sales.

    " I suggest FORD and GM get their excellent European cars ready to send Stateside. "

    Fully agree, and esp. the DIESELS. Last time I drove past a Saturn Dealership, they had plenty of brand-new Saturn Astras 4-door and 5-door compacts, but I doubt they will do very well, they are way overpriced and their MPG is too low for their small size and engine.

    "Toyota’s Yaris, not a big stateside seller currently, is establishing a track record as are other Asian companies. Does this sound like 1973? "

    The new Yaris is quite fuel efficient for a non-hybrid with ample room for 4. The reason it still does not sell as much as the corolla or the civic is that it is way too small for the needs of the average American family, and for a couple grand more they can buy a corolla or civic.

    But I do expect a change in the sales nos, and a flight from the larger best-sellers (Accord Camry and Altima) to the smaller ones (Civic Corolla and Sentra, or even Yaris Fit and Versa)
     
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  19. I also own a smart and have cross shopped the other two mainstream cars you guys are referring to. The Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit both would have cost me thousands more than what I ended up paying for the Smart. As with fuel ecomomy, i am getting around 40 in mixed driving. granted it is not as good as Hybrids, Yaris, Fit or Versa, this is a completely different type of vehicle. While the Yaris, Fit, and Versa can all be primary vehicle, the Smart is not intended to be a primary vehicle for a family. The car is marketed towards singles and as a second car. I happen to be single and have it as a second car. My primary car is a 2007 Mercedes Benz CLS550. That car only nets me about 16 MPG, while the Smart is getting me around 40. I use the Smart to commute to and from work, to run errands and to go grocery shopping. The car actually has a surprising amount of room considering the overall size of the car. I took it to Palm Springs along with my girlfriend and our weekend bags and we did not have any luggage in our lap. Living in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, it is the ideal CITY car for people who want to drive something that doesn't blend in with the crowd. It has its own style and flair which doesn't appeal to everyone. But that's why its considered a niche vehicle and absolutely will not sell in the manner that people are comparing this to the Toyota's and Honda's out there. The car is all about its Style. Since driving the Smart, I have had people ask me if they could take a picture of the car, various other questions, thumbs up from other drivers, curious looks from everyone and some who just want to see the car. The gas station fill up's will never be the same... now some of my friends and co workers are looking into the car for their second car to offset their big SUV's.
     
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  20. We should be grateful to all those that buy 36 MPG (EPA Official) SMARTS and not 10 and 12 MPG SUVS they do not need. If they did, they would make gas even more expensive for all of us.

    Having said that, Prospective buyers of SMARTS should act RATIONALLY and go BEYOND the "cuteness factor" to INVESTIGATE if the car has what they need AND if it drives as they want it to, esp. ON THE HIGHWAY.

    But even if you should not compare to Hondas or Toyotas, if style is your game, you can choose the MINI and have not only room for 4 and their stuff (esp. if you choose the new SW clubman), but also Far Far better handling than the SMART.

    But why does somebody with a recent model very expensive MErc CL 550 worry that the yaris and the Fit would cost a few thousands more than the Smart? (Actually, while the BASE rock-bottom SMART is only $12k, even the most necessary options bring it to $15k easy, and the Yaris is sure not much more than that.)
     
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  21. Let me weigh in on a couple things, if I may. There's been a lot of passion in the debate, so far, and some errors, as well.
    First, under Dieter Zetsche's command, smart made some major cutbacks, in a desperate turnaround plan, two years ago. Among other things, all models but the fortwo went away. (And the updated version of the 2-seater that is now on the market.)
    In my conversation with Zetsche, last week, he made it absolutely clear, "There will be no other smart models." Never, well, that's a long time, but certainly nothing anytime soon.
    The new model is a big improvement over the original, better looking, better dynamics, significant improvements in safety.
    But I must admit to being disappointed in several things: the mileage, while reasonably good, is certainly not the game-changer some had hoped for with the Gen-2 fortwo. Part of that is due to the very mediocre transmission, which gets an almost universal drubbing from critics.
    And I would very much like to see a serious diesel powertrain in the line-up...soon.
    Driving dynamics are better, as noted, but the short wheelbase does create some problems, particularly on the rough roads of Michigan.
    This is an around-town cruiser, folks, not a long-distance traveler. Anyone who would want to take a load of luggage for, say, a drive from Detroit to Traverse City or Chicago, is a glutton for punishment, and probably the type who will just back a duffel bag, anyway. For local driving and commuting, it's a very solid choice, though if you're planning to haul a week's load of groceries and make a stop at Costco, you might want to take something bigger.
    The pricetag is significant, especially considering the current Euro/dollar exchange rate. But, yes, there are bigger vehicles in the price range, some of them delivering nearly as good mileage.
    Overall, let's get to Thor's point about rationality. Since when does that rule in the automotive arena? Maybe it should a bit more, but most of us make our purchases based on a bit of logic and a lot of emotion. If the fortwo clicks for you, and you think through the trade-offs, it's a reasonably good option. But definitely don't buy it on emotions alone.
     
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  22. First of all, I do care about money... meaning the Yaris that i was looking at was stickered for 15,600 while the Fit was a few hundred dollars more. I do not need a back seat and do not need four doors (re: Honda Fit), I did do my homework and was already aware that the Smart was going to get mid thirty's in the city. I also knew what it was going to drive like because when they did the tour in Las Vegas, I went ahead and test drove one and loved how it drove. Granted I have driven the Smart on the Highway a few times, my main commute is city driving, meaning city streets. I have no need to go on the highway and try to avoid it as much a possible due to horrid drivers on our highway's especially in Los Angeles. Being Single, I do groceries about once a week and only get hat i need. It always seems to fit in the back.

    Also, just because I have a newer Mercedes, it doesn't mean that I would throw money away on a whim. If i ever need to haul anything, both my girlfriend and my father drive full size trucks. And if i usually want to go on a trip that I would be driving, I always rent cars. Its easier and less of a worry for me especially when i want to keep my primary car in perfect order. I didn't buy the car for the cuteness factor... I did buy the car because it was unique and it turned out to be exactly what i needed. As with the comment on the Mini... The cheapest Mini is about 19,000... and if you want anything on it, everything costs a lot of money. For that price i would go for the mini if I wanted to spend a lot more money and my choices are in the league of the GTI.

    And not everyone wants or has to lug 4 people 100% of the time. I honestly hate having to lug more than one person. When it comes to driving its my alone thinking time. For me when I need to have more than two people I usually take my other car. Granted if i ever get married or decide to have kids i will trade the Smart in for a more sensible family car... Corolla, Civic, Jetta, or if i wanted to go more luxury IS250 or C-Class...

    After everything is said and done, the Smart is polarizing... its either love it passionately or hate it passionately... there doesn't seem to be a middle ground on this car.
     
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