Smart Charging Up Plans for Electric Vehicle Test Fleet

March 20, 2008

The smart brand is still getting started in the United States but David Schembri, smart USA president, told TheCarConnection, during a New York Auto Show interview, that the company hopes to have a small fleet of electric-powered smart fortwo coupes in the U.S. for tests in about one year.

Parent Daimler AG began testing a plug-in-electric version of the smart around London last summer. An electric-powered smart is preferable to a hybrid, added Schembri said, insisting, "Lithium-ion is the way to go.” "An electric vehicle makes more sense than a hybrid," Schembri added, suggesting that electric vehicles are looking more and more like the wave of the future for carmakers.

Even though Daimler's first test of a plug-in smart used a different battery technology, Schembri indicated the U.S. test-fleet will be powered by the new lithium-ion batteries that Daimler plans to introduce in a hybrid version of the big Mercedes-Benz S-Class due out next year.

Meanwhile, Schembri said the launch of the conventional, gas-powered smart fortwo is well under way in the U.S., initial “hand-raisers” very willing to stand by their original deposits, which in most cases, were placed months ago.

Roger Penske, chairman of the Penske Automotive Group, said during a conference call with analysts last month that smart USA’s 68 dealerships should wholesale between 20,000 and 25,000 vehicles this year, provided it can get enough vehicles.

“We’re really excited about the smart business. We think it’s the right car at the right time,” said Penske, adding he was pressing Daimler AG for more vehicles. “This car has been a great success worldwide,” he said, adding that, “We are encouraged by the positive reaction of the U.S. consumer towards this unique and exciting product, and are confident that the smart fortwo will be a retail success,” Penske said.

Separately, Daimler AG CEO Dieter Zetsche told TheCarConnection, last week, that he probably won’t make a decision on whether to increase production of the fortwo any earlier than the end of 2008. The question, Zetsche stressed, is whether early demand will be sustainable. –Joseph Szczesny, with TCC Team

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