Yesterday we heard the news that Mercedes-Benz will take over Smart car distribution in the United States from Penske Automotive Group. The independent dealer network had started distributing the Smart ForTwo in 2008 with a total of 77 dealers nationwide. 

But with Mercedes-Benz only taking-over Smart car dealers who already sell other Mercedes-Benz vehicles, the number of Smart Car dealers in the U.S. could fall to just 58. 

So what does this mean for the newly launched Smart ForTwo Electric Drive, which some commentators had deemed the most widely available electric car in the U.S.?  

Will fewer dealers mean fewer customers for the all-electric Smart?

First Smart ForTwo Electric Drive with Roger Penske and Smart USA president Jill Lajdziak, Jan 2011

First Smart ForTwo Electric Drive with Roger Penske and Smart USA president Jill Lajdziak, Jan 2011

We don’t think so. Outside of a few niche market areas like New York, Oregon and Southern California the Smart ForTwo Electric drive really doesn’t have much of a market anyway. 

Why? The answer lies in its speed, size and price

We’ve driven the 2011 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive  and loved its more instant throttle response over the gasoline version and improved braking and cornering abilities. But as we’ve pointed out several times before, the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive is only really at home in the urban jungle. 

With a top speed of just 62 mph, the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive just can’t cope with long freeway trips, nor can it hope to match the market share its faster gasoline-powered sibling has. 

At a top speed of 62 mph and with poor acceleration beyond 50 mph, anything other than a few intersections in the rush hour is likely to induce paranoid gibbering in a Smart ForTwo Electric Drive driver as large trucks, SUVs and just about every other motorist on the road bears down on the Smart ForTwo’s diminutive frame. 

brabus smart fortwo electric drive 013

brabus smart fortwo electric drive 013

Which brings us to size. Unlike most other electric cars on the market today, the Smart ForTwo Electric features two seats, and a small luggage area. While that may be fine for inner city pizza delivery, city maintenance vehicles and childless couples, most other consumers will struggle to make regular use of its diminutive frame unless it operates as a commuting only or second car in a larger family. 

The price is the real deal-breaker. At around $28,000 there are faster, larger plug-in vehicles like the 2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Chevrolet Volt available for a similar price. By the end of 2011, Ford will join the race for consumers with two affordable plug-in vehicles, the 2012 Focus Electric and 2012 CMax Energi Plug-in Hybrid. 

In answer to our question, we don’t think fewer dealers will mean a reduced electric-car access. Poor design, insufficient top speed and poor advertising will. 

Let’s hope that Mercedes-Benz focuses on selling the Smart Car Electric Drive where it’s best suited: large cities with heavy congestion, imited parking and heavy pollution.