I've been hearing a lot about dealerships closing all across the USA, and I have to say I'm quite concerned. Sales are WAY down, to the point where dealers can't cover their overhead.

Why hasn't Smart USA launched an advertising campaign? Don't they realize that the general American consumer expects to get a great deal of their consumer information from commercials? Especially when it comes to cars? One of the reasons that Honda, Chevy, Ford, Mercedes, BMW and Hyundai are successful is due to their aggressive advertising on TV and radio. Watch a sporting event on television and you're inundated with car ads at every commercial break.

I had to call my insurance company for a claim recently and the customer service representative had to Google "Smart Car" while we were on the phone because she didn't know what it was! And she works for a major auto insurance company!!

I think Smart USA has seriously dropped the ball and have sabotaged their own success in the USA. It would be very disappointing for myself and all the other Smart owners out there if the brand went defunct in the USA and we found our extended warranties are no longer worth anything.

Thoughts?

Tags: advertising, closures, dealerships

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i was concerned as well so i email smart and this was the reply-----------
Dear smart Enthusiast, Thank you for your interest in smart USA. smart USA does not have any plans to close down any of our smart centers. There has been some smart centers who have made business decisions to terminate their smart fortwo business. In such cases we try to establish another smart center with in the same city or surrounding area. If you have any other questions or concerns, please contact us via email or by phone at 1.800.smartUSA. Jamie Thompson Customer Service 1.800.smartUSA
Great comments! The car in the Moral Flexibility is actually a Volkswagen Crossfox which is sold in Brazil. You can find this photo at www.Car-Accidents.com -- it documents this crach pretty well.

Fish said:
People really don't know the smart. You are correct about that. The People who do know what it is often think the car is electric, expensive, unsafe or lacks passenger space. Smart needs to get their cars and displays into shopping malls, stores and other places and let people sit in them. Also, their ad message "open your mind" really puts me off. It could be restated: "you are not open-minded", or "smart: there is something wrong with you". I like the car and would have bought hats, shirts and all the garbage, but hate the message. I think the campaign is just about as bad as the "ad campaign" for the electric car which seemed like an advertisement for a horror movie.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3g7cgUm7o9k

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXDGpkcoJhE

Smart has a huge challenge in the common misconception that every small car is unsafe. The buyer who doesn't study up thinks small=unsafe must mean that the smallest = the most unsafe. The safe and smart website is the attempt to correct this, but it isn't exactly tagged to the top of every google, yahoo, aol and other search. Crashed cars labeled as if they were smart cars often are at the top of image searches for smart car. Then there have been the hoaxes of crashes which feature a car mangled enough that it looks like it might have been a Smart, but is not. With no ad campaign showing the relative safety of the smart, people take this to be the genuine article:

cases in point: look at the wheels...I think this is actually an SUV
http://www.moral-flexibility.net/images/smartcar_accident_02.jpg

and the famous one (I think a prius)
http://i264.photobucket.com/albums/ii162/jpnca/smart.jpg

It isn't just a big ad campaign they need. I think the company needs to expand the use of free and inexpensive media, existing social networks (facebook, myspace etc...tons of people are using those sites and see ads) and work to dispel myths, not in a defensive way, but in a more informational way while highlighting something that really hasn't been part of the ad campaign in the U.S. that I've seen, which is that the smart car is fun.

Many smart car buyers in the U.S., I think the majority, are older. The majority of people who seem really interested in my car at the gas pump have white or gray hair. Their children, if any, are adults and they only need two seats. When they were younger they drove iconic cars like the 57 chevy and the VW Beetle. For them, 40mpg is still great. The smart car is fun. It is the most inexpensive convertible on the market. You can take the car out for the weekend and drive it, when you would have run out of money taking the hummer out for a spin around the block. I think that smart commercials could look a lot like Mountain Dew commercials in the 1990s but perhaps with a wider age range, with less soda and more Smart Car.

The green marketing has probably reached the segment it will reach. People look at the Smart car and think that it is "green". However, for those who seek out and research green choices and conservation as their first priority, Smart really needed the diesel here yesterday. The British commercial about not filling the smart and driving trip after trip after trip after trip made me think, "wow, I really need one of those". To highlight the cost of driving a cobalt (picking on them because they picked on smart) getting thirty something vs. a diesel smart getting closer to 75mpg over a year, or a three year lease would sell the cars for people who like to keep their money. The American consumer expects something as small as the smart to be getting 50, 60, 70mpg or more. The diesel can do that, but it isn't an option here, which makes some people feel cheated -or like not buying a smart and waiting until the "real one" is here...which might not ever happen if the sales of these gas models don't pick up exponentially.

I think the message needs to be that these little cars are fun and will make your life more enjoyable, with all the real information to dispel myths mixed in.
seems to me the fact that people are walking up to you and enquiring about your car is pretty good advertisement. i have multiple people every day commenting on mine. i remember when honda civics were first introduced in the US, there was little to no advertising then as well. i feel pretty good about this cars future, thats why i bought it :)

Julie O'Malley said:
It's going to take a lot more than rising fuel costs to bring Smarts into public awareness... My insurance company customer service rep didn't know what a Smart Car was and she works for Allstate, for heaven's sake. People still come up to me at gas stations and grocery store parking lots and ask me what it is, and I live in LOS ANGELES.

For two years I bugged Dave Schembri (we're friends) to let me narrate the ad campaign. I'm a voiceover artist and I told him I would do it for scale for the first year of the campaign, just to get the word out and help launch it. They should be running commercials during baseball games on TV, the Superbowl and during American Idol. Not everyone in this country likes, wants, or needs an SUV. But if they don't KNOW about the Smart Car, they're not going to show up at the dealerships.

One guy at a gas station was under the impression that they cost somewhere around $40,000 to buy. I was stunned. There is so much mis-information floating around out there and the only people that can set the consumer public straight is SMART.
i agree with your niche thoughts. i bought this vehicle becuase of what it represents. minimalism with flair. i have no interest in being mainstream. i am an independent business person and my entire business is founded upon word of mouth. there are numerous success stories in this country that do not involve mass spending on advertising and marketing to the masses. the major automakers spend lots of money trying to convince people they have a unique product. a unique product will never appeal to the mainstream.

[ART4-1] said:
An advertising campaign would need to be very clever in order to identify the right market and reach out them. The car appeals to me for reasons that don't get captured by mainstream car advertisements. I like its smallness, the satisfying feeling of driving the right size for driving alone. In some sense it is has a unique niche somewhere between a small car and a motorcycle. A car that seems ideal for the city but begs to get out on the open road.

I would be afraid that a mainstream car advertising campaign may focus on the wrong things: such as its mileage (its mileage really does vary!). For me, the "open your mind" motto was the most attractive. There are more than a few people for whom this car can be very satisfying for all of their driving needs. The key word is satisfying -- as in just good enough, why ask for more?
Also add recent episode on March 24th episode of 'Ugly Betty' shown a black smart for a brief moment, bend Betty, in one of the scenes.

Dody West said:
What a great ad, better yet in bits and pieces over and over. So frustrating that Smart is not as smart as you are!

I also believe that this little car needs to get into the movies! A good chase scene (like the real live high speed chase mentioned elsewhere on this website). A scene of changing color panels on the car and driving off in a different color. An accident scene that the Smart handles extremely well (like a real life situation I read about when the policeman was shocked at how well the car survived). Scene driving a Smart in the snow, like my own Smart that, after a snowfall, was totally covered in snow and looked like a snowball until I got in and drove it away with front & back wipers clearing the snow and my road driving blowing snow off the roof in chunks. Cute as hell! I tell you, it's a very charismatic car and one good movie role would likely help sale, I betcha.

Julie O'Malley said:
Here's my idea of a Smart ad: (all of these would be accompanied by appropriate photos and moving images of the car, including slow-mo crash tests)

~
"Let's talk about parking. The Smart car comfortably fits into a parking spot that every other car in America would have to pass up. (show Mini Cooper trying to fit and then leaving, then the Smart pulling into the spot) That's pretty Smart.

How about gas mileage? EPA ratings put the Smart Passion Coupe at 33mpg city, 41 highway. But many real-world Smart drivers are reporting mileage up to 15-20% higher. (show Smart car on lonely highway passing gas station without stopping) That's really Smart.

The Smart is friendly, too. People friendly... I mean, look at it. You can't help but smile. (show 'face shot' of Smart's front grill) But it's environmentally friendly too. For example, only water-soluble paints are used in Smart's production. The body panels with molded-in color are fully recyclable. So long after your Smart is retired from active duty, it's still useful (show new plastic bottles on an assembly line) . That's Earth Smart.

And Smarts are safe; (all through this segment, show footage of driving tests and crash tests, as well as the 'naked' Smart with Tridion shell exposed) With anti-lock braking and automatic cornering brake control systems to keep stopping under control. Acceleration Skid Control (ASC) and Engine Torque Control (ETC) which are designed to help the Smart ForTwo move forward on slippery surfaces. All Smart ForTwos are also equipped with a standard package of passive safety features, like full driver and passenger front airbags and side airbags for head and thorax protection. The steering column will collapse in the event of a serious front-end collision. But Smart's core design philosophy is focused on something called the Tridion Safety Cell. Much like a nut is protected by its hard outside shell, the Smart ForTwo's occupants are protected by a steel housing that combines longitudinal and transverse members that displace impact forces over a large area of the car. So your Smart keeps you safe, even when the other drivers out there aren't.

Smarts are comfortable, too. With plenty of headroom and legroom, you'll never feel cramped or packed in. (show obviously very tall man getting in car and looking pleasantly surprised) Really. But then you'll have to come in and try one to feel it for yourself.

And -- the Smart is affordable. The Smart ForTwo pure coupe starts at about $11,990. (show father with teenage son looking at sticker and smiling) The sporty Passion at about $13,990. That's money Smart.

So be Smart. Come and take a test drive and find out about getting Smart. Because tomorrow morning when you and your briefcase are on your way to work, ask yourself this: What do you really need those other seven seats for, anyway? (show single businessman with briefcase getting into a ginormous SUV, watching a Smart drive by.
I'm glad to hear this. I just bought one, then started reading these comments. I was starting to feel kind of stupid, like a broker feels when they bought a stock and the company went bankrupt the next day.

And, some advertising would really help. I'm not sure what retail business model they're using, but I haven't heard of one that has absolutely no advertising budget.


Tony said:
i was concerned as well so i email smart and this was the reply-----------
Dear smart Enthusiast, Thank you for your interest in smart USA. smart USA does not have any plans to close down any of our smart centers. There has been some smart centers who have made business decisions to terminate their smart fortwo business. In such cases we try to establish another smart center with in the same city or surrounding area. If you have any other questions or concerns, please contact us via email or by phone at 1.800.smartUSA. Jamie Thompson Customer Service 1.800.smartUSA
Even though I've been a party to some of this, I am now getting concerned about the increasingly negative turn this thread has taken. Yes, I'd like to see Smart get smart about their advertising. (At least, do some, and do it cleverly.) However, all this negativism causes a whole lot of fear and helps to lower sales, which in turn makes it harder to keep dealers in business! People are always afraid of something new and we need sales to rise, not lower, so we should not be scaring people away from these nifty little cars. Nor should we frighten those who have already ordered or purchased one. I bought this car knowing that there were few Smart centers around and that it might be a pain in the neck to get service, especially since I'm always on the road. But it has been the ONLY negative and the car has been a positive experience in every other way. I can't remember the last time I've had so much fun owning and driving a car. I love spending less money and less time than everybody else at the gas station. And, speaking as a former designer, I'm delighted to be seen with this smartly designed vehicle.
I agree with Dody. I think too much is being made of this issue and it doesn't help the situation. I was at the Cerritos smart Center a couple of weeks ago for their one year anniversary barbeque. I think they were number one in National sales last month and there were quite a few customers coming in and taking test drives. I hope things will improve and we should do everything possible to promote the smartcar. If smart does decide to advertise, I don't think they will retain an owner/individual who would like to handle smart's advertising campaign.

Dody West said:
Even though I've been a party to some of this, I am now getting concerned about the increasingly negative turn this thread has taken. Yes, I'd like to see Smart get smart about their advertising. (At least, do some, and do it cleverly.) However, all this negativism causes a whole lot of fear and helps to lower sales, which in turn makes it harder to keep dealers in business! People are always afraid of something new and we need sales to rise, not lower, so we should not be scaring people away from these nifty little cars. Nor should we frighten those who have already ordered or purchased one. I bought this car knowing that there were few Smart centers around and that it might be a pain in the neck to get service, especially since I'm always on the road. But it has been the ONLY negative and the car has been a positive experience in every other way. I can't remember the last time I've had so much fun owning and driving a car. I love spending less money and less time than everybody else at the gas station. And, speaking as a former designer, I'm delighted to be seen with this smartly designed vehicle.
I bought my 2008 Passion in April 2008 and just bought a new 2009 Passion for the wife 2 weeks ago. Does that say something about customer satisfaction!

I let everyone who seems interested sit in the car, some I take for a drive. I explain the safety, price, and fuel economy. I should get a commission for all the free press and promotion!

With gas at $3per gallon and 40mpg the car is cost-effective. If you currently drive something that is getting 20mpg, you are effectively paying $6 to drive the same distance the Smart can drive for $3.
Remember the old saying, 'The lord helps those who help,themselves.' I have noticed as you may have, that not all smart centers all created equal. Some have enthusiastic management and brand specialists (much like us owners) and others do not. Witness how many of the smart centers are active on susai. The ones selling more smarts are here and doing what it takes to promote the car. If a salesperson drives something other than a smart for their personal vehicle you lose countless prospects every day. If you don't pump up your sales staff (parts and service too) to be 'sold' on smart, all the facebooks, twitters, and susai's are a waste of time. Every smart center should have a firm connection to a local smart car club, have events locally (like the street tour). Tie into local community events with sponsorships (ie: sponsored by :smart center whoever and smart car club of wherever). Nothing like a crowd of smarties to attract a crowd! Yes, smartUSA needs more public exposure via media, it seems to me to be a chicken and egg problem. I think the associated MB dealers are having a huge learning curve selling a microcar in the US. Business always wants to sell a high margin product and dislikes the work it takes to sell lower margin products. Sadly the price of Gas is going up and the US needs the smart car.

MJB
As of May 21, 2010, MY Smart dealership (Smart Universal City in Los Angeles) closed the doors.

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