Smart to duck the networking bullet?
Monday, May 12th, 2008
Ian Schafer looks around online for ads for the Smart car and finds none.
… it seems that that support would logically come from some tech-savvy, highly-connected, vocal groups of people that use the web to find each other. So if the Smart car is so smart, where’s the love of the people that it needs to succeed? Where’s the embrace of the (measurable) medium that can jumpstart a revolution?
As a driver of a ’92 V240, I know horsepower from horsemanure, but DO read the Sunday NYTimes, where the car got trashed.
As Smart tries to jump on the Mini’s bandwagon, some myths need to be addressed. First is that the Smart has been a smash success in Europe. In fact, Smart has been a small but weighty millstone around Mercedes’s neck, never reaching sales expectations and posting more than $3 billion in losses over a decade.
The second myth flows from the first: that the Smart is arriving to show America how small cars should be done. But the Smart isn’t the sophisticated runabout that people might expect.
Sure, the Smart is cute, if you enjoy cars from the Weebles school of design. And it’s ridiculously easy to park. My only pleasure came from slotting the Smart into spots that would have discouraged a St. Bernard.
But the Smart’s diminished size brings diminishing returns. From supermarkets to metered spaces, American parking slots are sized for the biggest cars and S.U.V.’s. Because you can’t straddle the lines at the mall or double up at meters, the Smart offers no advantage there.
The Smart’s only edge is its ability to park motorcycle-style by backing or nosing perpendicular to the curb. Oops, strike that: New York’s parking department said that move is off-limits unless signs specifically allow angle parking for all cars.
Compared with suburb-dwellers, the urban single or family is also more likely to rely on one do-it-all car. That means the versatility to carry friends, escape for a weekend and deal with cargo.
That’s where the Smart gets really dumb. For roughly the Smart Passion’s well-equipped price of $15,510, one could have several pint-sized models ‘ the terrific Honda Fit or Nissan Versa come to mind ‘ that are sportier, hold twice as many people, up to six times the cargo and get nearly the same mileage. (Fold the Versa hatchback’s rear seats, and there’s 50 cubic feet of storage, compared with just 7.8 cubic feet for the Smart).
So maybe Mercedes is intentionally avoiding the instant avalanche of cruelty that advertising in a networked marketplace might bring. If networking multiplies success, does avoiding networked media stifle or at least postpone failure?