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smart car interview with President Dave Schembri

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When we had the opportunity to speak with Smart Car USA President, Dave Schembri, we turned to you, our fellow Treehuggers, to see what sorts of questions you had to ask Dave about their past, current, and future models. Well, we had quite a nice turn out of inquisitive thinkers. So without further adieu...

You asked him, we listened, so now let's turn the mic over to Dave for some answers!

Background Information on the Smart

Preparations for the Smart ForTwo began in the early 1990's with a Joint Venture between Mercedes-Benz and Swatch, the makers of Swatch watches known for their wide array of colorful designs. Nicolas Hayek, the inventor of the Swatch watch brought his ideas for an "ultra-urban" car to Mercedes-Benz.

Mercedes-Benz ended up taking on this engineering challenge with the outcome of designing one of the most innovative cars ever introduced. Full development of the Smart concept started back in 1994 and the Smart ForTwo finally debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) in 1997. The response of the first model was fantastic, garnering more print space and TV coverage than any other car at the show.

Today, Smart remains a vital member of Mercedes-Benz, a Daimler AG Company. Smart USA, a division of Penske Automotive Group is the exclusive distributor for Smart in the United States (headquartered in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan) and Puerto Rico.

Treehugger: I think the Smart Fortwo is an excellent choice for a car. I do not see any of the Big 3 coming up with a car that can compare. My question is how does the Smart Fortwo do in harsh weather, such as below zero with tons of snow?

Dave Schembri: The Smart Fortwo performs very well in the snow. I drive my Smart Fortwo, year round, in Michigan. I know from experience the car handles well. The engine is mounted between the rear tires which provides added traction and stability in the snow. The Smart Fortwo also comes standard with all-season tires that perform well in any season.

TH: I understand the car was redesigned to meet U.S. Emissions requirements, which resulted in lower fuel economy. My question is, in your opinion do you think it is better to tolerate a higher pollution for 60+ mpg (provided the U.S. laws were to change), or to keep the current design of around 40 mpg with cleaner exhaust?

DS: The Smart Fortwo gas powered engine is the right balance between economy and performance. The Smart Fortwo customer expects not only great mileage but also sporty performance.

TH: Mid-30's highway mileage is very disappointing to some consumers considering the platform. Can we expect to see a smart car that gets 60+ mpg highway in the near future?

DS: The Smart Fortwo was ranked as the highest miles per gallon vehicle, outside of the hybrid vehicles, for the past two years at a rating of 41 mpg highway. The Smart Fortwo already exceeds the 2010 government requirement of 36 mpg fleet average.

TH: Will smart ever produce an electric (or hybrid) version of their car?

DS: Daimler is currently testing a fleet of electric drive smart Fortwos in London, England and Berlin, Germany. A limited quantity will be available in select U.S. markets beginning the second half of 2010. Production of the vehicle will be in 2012.

TH: Will you be bringing a diesel to the U.S. anytime soon? Why have you not done what's necessary to meet T2B5 and the diesel here to the USA?

DS: At this time there are no plans to bring the Smart Fortwo diesel to the United States. We see the future of the Smart Fortwo being the electric drive.

TH: Given the criticism of the Smart's semi-manual transmission, what's in the works to improve the unit? Will smart ever offer a manual transmission?

DS: I have to say it depends on who you ask regarding the transmission. Many of our customers like the functionality of being able to drive their Smart Fortwo in manual or automatic mode. Once owners drive the vehicle for a while they quickly discover ways to maximize the shifting and experience. There is no plan at this time to alter the vehicles transmission.

TH: Why was there such a slow roll out of the Smart Fortwo in North America in the beginning?

DS: If you are asking why the Smart Fortwo did not go on sale in the United States prior to 2008 the answer is simple – we were waiting for the right time and that time is now. The Smart Fortwo is the right car in the right place at the right time.

TH: Why did Smart abandon the 4-door Smart version for commuters?

DS: The Smart Fortwo is the only Smart being sold new anywhere in the world. The Smart Fortwo defines the brand and a decision was made to focus on this vehicle.

TH: I have always been perplexed as to why Smart only sells the gas versions in the U.S., especially given the mileage is substantially less with the gas version. At the very least I felt they could be offering the choice to consumers. Was this decision based on U.S. safety or emission rules, cost, marketing, or lack of engine making capacity?

DS: It is important to offer consumers a vehicle that offers outstanding performance at a reasonable price. The Smart Fortwo offers the right balance to consumers. We do see future fuel derivatives offered in the future, the most likely option would be the electric drive.

TH: Given the Smart Fortwo's relatively low price point, how do you see the Smart Fortwo fitting into today's current economic situation? Does it represent a 'green' economic survival technique?

DS: Price is only one attractive attribute of the Smart Fortwo. You have to look at the entire package to better understand the success of the Smart Fortwo in the United States. Certainly the low cost of ownership is one reason for the success. The base model starts at under $12,000. You also have to look at the fuel efficiency, urban agility, environmental friendliness, design and practically for ones lifestyle. When you look at the entire package the Smart Fortwo provides solutions to many transportation issues facing Americans today.

TH: Do you imagine there will be a time where a Smart will be in every driveway in suburban America?

DS: That would be a fantastic scenario and as a society we would be far better off if everyone drove a Smart Fortwo.

TH: Even though Smart canceled production of other models outside the U.S., will there be a larger option available for U.S. consumers in the near future?

DS: At this time there are no plans to build a larger smart model.

TH: What are your thoughts on the many aftermarket body kits for the Smart Fortwo? Is this something that Smart embraces? Would you like to see this turn into a subculture similar to the one that has developed for BMW's Mini?

DS: One thing we have discovered during the launch phase is that our customers are very passionate. The Smart Fortwo lends itself to personalization. Our owners’ cars are as unique as the owners themselves. Beginning in 2009, the Smart Fortwo BRABUS will be available. The BRABUS model offers a sportier appearance and dynamic styling. BRABUS accessories are available at all smart centers across the country.

TH: What is the actual lifetime of a Smart? 100000 miles? 200000 miles? Is there a recycling program in place for a Smart Fortwo that is no longer useful?

DS: The Smart Fortwo, if properly maintained, will offer many years and miles of reliable motoring. While we do not have any historical data in the United States yet, overseas the vehicles perform extremely well. Smart celebrated its ten year anniversary this year. Owners report the vehicles are dependable and have a low cost of ownership associated with them throughout their lifecycle.

.................................

Source.

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The answers were not very good, which I don't like......it reminded me of a politician's answers.

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My first thoughts were that his answers said a lot of words that equaled very little in value or substance. Instead of automated scripted answers he should have used plain talk. Very disappointed and a waste of time for me to have been reading his drivel.After I posted this I had to edit it to add this, another point that irks me was that as far as he was concerned the only accessories worth purchasing were those that put a percentage of 'BRABUS' cash into his pockets. I was very annoyed by his reply on that question.

Edited by Razorback

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Yeah it really was a poor interview.

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Well, I know that we are very passionate about the smart but really, the guy is a business manager, not an apostle.

B :sun:

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No wonder all the fun colours (or colors, so Dave "Chuckles" Schembri will understand) are gone. The problem with the auto industry is analogous to Dave - with proper care and maintenance, too many executives like him continue to be the ones making decisions.Needs a good tickle. Or a dope slap. Maybe both.Ian

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Very dislikeable. If he had been the face of smart when I bought mine, he'd have turned me off permanently. He should have given better explanations than "we think we are doing things right so that's how we're doing them and we think you guys should knuckle under and take it."Very offensive interview.

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He was very positive about the future of smarts, and his vision which was nice. It's great to read excitement in relating the experience in ownership.However, I didn't feel it was right that he avoided answering the questions regarding the diesels not for sale in the U.S. Besides it being common knowledge, it could have been a way to portray himself as being even a little caring. This Q&A was way too dry, too corporate America and didn't appeal to the audience he was targeting. He even said himself that smart owners are very passionate, yet he avoided answering the questions they wanted. Doesn't make sense... but I guess policy is policy.

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