Posted by: David Kiley on January 15, 2008
The Smart fortwo is off to the races, so to speak. Seventy-four dealers and more than 30,000 $99 deposits. Smart USA chief Dave Schembri says the company’s research tells them about 70% of those deposits should convert to actual sales.
Indeed, says Schembri, if I want one and go to a dealer, my only hope is that a Fortwo that has a desposit falls through.
Some of the nay-sayers on Smart point to the fact that Smart vehicles will have trouble in the long run competing against more substantial cars that aren’t much more expensive, like the Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit. If the Chinese automaker ever arrive in the U.S., their prices could make life difficult for Smart, as well.
Schembri isn’t worried. “In Europe, Smart buyers don’t really cross-shop other products. All they want is a Smart.”
That’s what comes of unique and iconic design. The car is like nothing else on the American road. Indeed, the car I think it most closely mimics is the post-war BMW Isetta “Bubble car.”
Schembri, a former sales and marketing executive at Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and Mitsubishi isn’t going to need much of his marketing skills at least in the first year. No real traditional advertising. “Viral and event stuff mostly,” says Schembri. Last year, the company did a 50-city tour, showcasing the cars at events like running marathons. They did 50,000 test drives.
A video Smart has been using at events and will likely run in dealerships uses the slogan, “Hello USA. Here I am.”
One of Schembri’s tasks this year is to lobby governments in key cities like New York City, Boston, Washington DC, Seattle and Miami to allow nose to curb parking as they do in most European cities.