At least initially that’s the plan. Beginning this October, the initial lot of 1,500 will be produced, with about 250 of those allocated to the U.S.
There's definitely a story in the numbers. Even of those 250 cars sent to the U.S., smart USA has decided to place 80 percent of these vehicles with corporate partners and about 20 percent with individual lessees.
Only offered in a few regions
The numbers get even more hopeless when you consider that Smart is targeting several regions/locations for deployment: Portland, San Jose, and Orlando are all part of the initial plan, as well as Indianapolis, where a test program between IPL and Duke Energy will focus around the city's outer ring road and commuters who have a 20-40 mile round-trip commute. Also on the hot list: the I-95 corridor.
Additionally, a handful of vehicles will go to Daimler's Car2Go car-sharing operation based in Austin. And from all the vehicles, unless the owners opt out, charging and range data will be shared with Daimler.
As we reported in a First Drive of the 2011 Smart Fortwo Electric Drive on our companion site The Car Connection, it’s something to look forward to. The ED is a reasonably well-done electric car and, surprisingly, a lot more enjoyable to drive than the gasoline Fortwo.
As rare as a Maybach?
That leaves less than fifty measly vehicles for private lessees, split among those pilot cities. Of these initial Smart Eds, there will be roughly ten privately leased vehicles per region, along with a few dozen being used by industry, green energy companies, municipalities, and educational institutions. So to most Americans, the chances of seeing an electric Smart will be about the same as spotting some of the most exclusive exotics.
The terms of this initial lease sure won't tease your frugal side. With $2,400 down and $599 per month, the ED has a capitalization cost (cost to lease) of more than $31k. Smart’s VP of business development, Derek Kaufman, estimated the vehicle’s residual at about $40k—close to a break-even price for the 1,500, he confessed, though it’s likely he wasn’t including all the costs associated with battery development.
Mass production coming in 2012
Both the exclusivity and the price are bound to change in 2012, when the automaker will begin ramping up mass production of the Electric Drive. Initially the batteries are being supplied by Tesla, but smart plans to use batteries made by parent company Daimler in the mass-produced version. Depending on that, the availability of the batteries, and the number produced, Kaufman predicted that volume production could knock at least $10k off the price—which would plot it right up against the more substantial Nissan LEAF.
That still ain’t cheap. But considering that the Smart could cost as little as one tenth as much in fuel and upkeep costs, it’s worth considering.