Planet Gore

No So Smart

Not even the legendary Roger Penske could make the Smart car a success in the U.S.A.

Penske, the astute Detroit billionaire whose Midas touch has won Indy car races, built a truck-rental and auto-dealership empire, and even staged a successful Super Bowl in downtown Detroit, bailed on his agreement to sell the tiny Daimler Benz product on Monday. Since selling 24,622 units in its 2008 debut year, Smart ForTwo sales have slumped. Even as overall U.S. vehicle sales rebounded in 2010, Smart sales plummeted 60 percent to 5,927.

The news caught no one by surprise.

In truth, the only people who ever thought the Smart would be a U.S. bestseller were the Germans, the MSM, and Barack Obama, all of whom have proven spectacularly out-of-touch with American middle-class reality.

Daimler thought Americans would buy the cute little ForTwo which is ubiquitous in congested, $7-a-gallon gas price European cities. “When the German get an idea, they get stubborn with it,” says Ward’s analyst Bill Visnic. Indeed, Chrysler executive Tom Stallkamp famously fell out of favor with Daimler when he told company brass (during Daimler’s ill-fated ownership of the Detroit brand): “Smart isn’t.”

They should have listened.

But Obama and his media allies still have their fingers stuck in their ears. Washington Democrats are green with envy for Europe’s Democratic Socialism, high energy prices, high-speed trains, dense cities, and tiny “global warming-fighting” tin-can cars. On its way to trying to eliminate the internal combustion engine with fuel-efficiency rules mandating 62 MPG by 2025, the administration has set an interim goal of 35 MPG for all cars by 2015.

The $14k Smart ForTwo gets an average 35 MPG right on the nose. It sports a 1-liter, 3-cylinder gas engine with manual gearbox (for higher MPG — just like Europe!). Green Tom Hanks drove one in The Da Vinci Code!

“It could be the start of what could become a new chapter in American motoring: the modern microcar,” thrilled USA Today.

“The two-seat vehicle that offers 40 MPG are expected to be in demand,” cheered the Detroit Free Press.

“It’s all the talk about the environment and wanting to do something,” hyperventilated a Silicon Valley executive.

Mainstream buyers ignored it.

Read more at TheMichiganView.com here.

Henry Payne — Henry Payne is the auto critic for the Detroit News.

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