Smart Ramping Up Fast



As it gets ready to roll its first car into U.S. showrooms, smart is quickly building up its early order bank, noted the carmaker’s boss, Dave Schembri.


In an unusual process, smart began offering potential customers the chance to make no-obligation, $99 “reservations” early this year. Now it is reaching out to those 30,000 handraisers, asking them to convert reservation into an actual order. So far, about 90 percent have followed through, going online to use smart’s digital order form. Only about seven percent have canceled out and asked for their money back, said Schembri.


In the meantime, smart has continued its “very non-traditional” marketing campaign – which eschews traditional TV and print advertising in favor of direct consumer contact. A road tour recently wrapped up after visiting 50 cities and providing 50,000 test drives.


Schembri claimed that 92 percent of those who participated in the program told surveyers they’d consider buying a smart fortwo, which he described as “off-the-chart numbers.”


An unexpectedly low price tag has certainly been working in the maker’s favor. Initial press reports anticipated a starting price of around $15,000, but the French-made two-seaters will launch at $11,590 for the base vehicle, $13,590 for the mid-range Passion model, and $16,590 for the Cabriolet.


Tellingly, those who placed reservations – mostly before pricing was announced – have decided, in large numbers, to upgrade when actually ordering a smart. So far, four percent are opting for the base car, 61 percent for the Passion Coupe and 35 percent are ordering the Cabriolet.


Ordering is an active word, as smart is using an unusual build-to-order model, rather than stocking showrooms with ready-to-go versions of the fortwo. That’s a key part of the strategy, emphasized Schembri, even though he acknowledged that could negatively impact sales. American motorists are especially impulse-driven compared to buyers in many other parts of the world, and are far more likely than not to want a car they can take home immediately. But the smart model will require a typical wait of 45 days for buyers on the east coast, and 60 days out west.


The first smart fortwo will go on sale just after the new year.

Related Articles


Smart: $12K, Starting in January by Marty Padgett (9/5/2007)
Two-seat city car gets low base price.


Smart Develops “Micro” Hybrid by Richard Yarrow (8/5/2007)
Euro-only powertrain boost fuel efficiency.


2008 smart fortwo: First Drive by TCC Team (7/11/2007)
We test the Euro smart on U.S. roads.

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