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smart: E-mobility in the urban environment.

Move, share, care.

  • 1. December 2016
  • E-Mobility
  • Photo: Daimler
  • Text: Walther Wuttke
  • Illustration: Coen Pohl

Why electromobility is the future and how the smart car can be used as a parcel drop-off point. smart CEO Annette Winkler on the brand’s strategy.

SMART IS THE ONLY AUTOMOTIVE BRAND TO OFFER ITS RANGE OF MODELS WITH CONVENTIONAL AND ELECTRIC DRIVE. WHY IS ELECTROMOBILITY SO IMPORTANT TO SMART?

Annette Winkler: The very first smart was always intended to be an electric car. And as the most practical car for city driving, the smart will become more geared towards electromobility in the future. If we rely on people to make personal efforts to combat the worsening environmental situation in cities such as Stuttgart, we have to offer them something they can get excited about. This form of mobility has to be affordable, however. In Germany, the electric smart costs less than €18,000 after the subsidies have been taken into account. I am also increasingly seeing that many people, especially young people, want to give something back to the city. With the electric smart, they are giving the city more space, less noise pollution and cleaner air. As a result of all this, we are focussing very heavily on developing electromobility. The combination of carsharing, cars that take up less space on the road and electric drive technology will be strategically important in the years to come. That is also because more and more cities are saying that they want to promote carsharing, but with electromobility.

WHAT DO YOU THINK NEEDS TO HAPPEN IN ORDER FOR ELECTROMOBILITY TO MAKE HEADWAY IN GERMANY? HAVE YOU SEEN AN INCREASE IN DEMAND SINCE THE GOVERNMENT INTRODUCED THE PURCHASE SUBSIDY?

There has to be a better balance between vehicles, infrastructure and price. With the smart ed, we are on the right track. The investment in infrastructure must not only come from the public-sector organisations, but also from private investors and employers. Charging stations have to be installed outside apartment blocks or places of work, for example. We are seeing a growing interest in the smart ed online, but people need time to make the change.

 

WHAT MAKES THE SMART ED STAND OUT FROM OTHER ELECTRICALLY POWERED VEHICLES?

For a start, its unique look. It is only 2.69 metres long, or 3.49 metres in the case of the four-seater model. Its manoeuvrability and its acceleration feel even sharper with the electric drive. If I want to travel by car in the city instead of by bus, it is simply the best form of transport. And, on top of that, I can have a clear conscience, and I can be certain of finding a parking space easily, even in the city. Finally, the little city car also has a certain likeability that is difficult to put into words. It just makes driving more fun.

' The electric smart could become a catalyst for the adoption of electromobility throughout the Group. '

Annette Winkler, CEO Smart Automobile

THE BATTERY RANGE HAS NOT INCREASED IN THE NEW MODEL. WHY IS THAT?

As a matter of fact, it has increased slightly. But let’s remember, we are talking about the smallest car on the market here. The space for the battery is limited. Our customers tend to drive short distances in urban areas and have consistently told us that the range of our smart electric drive is sufficient. It was also very important to us to offer a quick charger that is affordable. This technology had previously cost around €2,500 but will be considerably cheaper in the future. As a result, it is possible to charge the battery up to 80 percent in 45 minutes; you have 50 kilometres of charge after only a quarter of an hour. That said, we do of course need to have the appropriate charging infrastructure in place.

DOES THE QUICK CHARGER COME AS STANDARD?

This technology is an optional feature. The quick charger will be available this coming autumn. In the spring, the smart ed will also be available at the dealerships in Europe.

 

WILL BATTERY LEASING STILL BE AVAILABLE FOR THE NEW SMART?

No. It was a good idea to help initial customers to overcome their reservations about driving battery-powered cars. Instead, we are now offering an eight-year warranty for the battery and there will no longer be any additional costs for battery leasing.

 

WHAT EFFECT DID THE COLLABORATION WITH RENAULT HAVE ON THE SMART ELECTRIC DRIVE?

We developed the platform together on the basis of our basic car. At the production facility in Hambach, where the two-door model is manufactured, we just had to add a work station to the line for installing the battery. The same was done in Novo Mesto in Slovenia, where we make the four-door model. We supply the battery from Kamenz and the motor is installed at the Renault plant in Cléon.

 

WHEN WILL SMART SWITCH FULLY OVER TO ELECTROMOBILITY AND MAKE COMBUSTION ENGINES A THING OF THE PAST?

Unfortunately I don’t have a crystal ball, so I cannot predict how quickly electromobility will take hold in the 46 markets where smart is represented. At both our factories, we are able to manage production very flexibly according to demand. The smart will certainly be available with both combustion engines and electric drives for a while yet, but the subsidies for electromobility will accelerate the adoption of battery-powered models.

' We are looking for cities that are especially suitable for the smart electric drive because they are particularly green. '

Annette Winkler

YOUR CONCEPT OF “SMART CITIES” WAS VERY SUCCESSFUL. WHAT IS NEXT FOR “SMART CITIES” AND WILL ELECTROMOBILITY PLAY A PART IN IT?

Our starting point was the success of the smart in Rome. To date we have sold 120,000 smart cars in the Italian capital. Because of the small dimensions of the two-seater compared to the average vehicle, Rome is able to gain around 150 kilometres of extra parking space every day, and traffic jams are also becoming shorter. This formed the basis for the “smart city” concept. There are now 37 “smart cities” and the network is being expanded even further. The dealers have to be particularly committed and willing to invest in their own smart teams, because smart’s success is based on the passion of all the people involved. These dealerships then receive start-up funding from us so that they can employ specialists as salespeople who virtually live and breathe smart. In Nanjing, for example, we have increased sales of the smart from 70 to 1,000 in no time at all. There are now nine “smart cities” in China. What’s more, we offer our “smart city” dealerships mobile drive stations which can be used to organise spontaneous test drive initiatives. After all, it’s the driving experience that makes the smart so popular with customers. We now want to extend the concept to include electromobility and are looking for cities that are especially suitable for the smart electric drive – cities that already have the infrastructure in place or are particularly green. The electric smart could also become a catalyst for the adoption of electromobility throughout the Group.

 

AS A MOBILITY SERVICE PROVIDER, IS SMART PLANNING ANY OTHER SERVICES BESIDES CAR2GO?

The car2go technology allows cars to be located, unlocked, locked and started up using a smartphone. Now that we have this technology, it is possible for us to offer all kinds of new services. For example, we are working with DHL on a project in Stuttgart and Cologne that is currently in the beta launch stage. This will enable the smart car to be used as a mobile drop-off point for orders from Amazon or other online retailers. This can work in reverse as well, meaning that returns can be collected from the car. Another scenario might involve letting the dry cleaners know that my clothes can be delivered to my car when they have been cleaned. This can be done by providing a transaction number that allows the car to be unlocked once and then locked again using a smartphone. We are also starting private carsharing in Cologne. Using this initiative, I can invite any number of people to share my smart with me. I let them know on a reservation platform the times when the smart is available. The whole thing is like “Airbnb on wheels”. I can also use the internet platform to offer to collect the car, wash it and return it once cleaned. We want to develop a whole bundle of services around the smart that create a new way of combining the smartphone and the intelligent car.

' I can invite any number of people to share my smart with me. '

Annette Winkler

When the city becomes smart.

From the outset the smart brand has stood for intelligent city cars. It is therefore only a small leap for the brand to designate urban areas that particularly suit the two-seater as “smart cities”. A “smart city” is characterised by high traffic volumes that result in a lack of parking spaces, narrow streets, an environmentally aware population and a creative scene that is willing to choose a different path. The smart is a car for a people-centric city, not a car-centric one.

The idea of “smart cities” has its roots in the two-seater’s success in Rome. With 41 smarts per 1,000 inhabitants, the Italian capital currently has the highest concentration of smart cars in the world. The concept of a car made only for the city is becoming popular in more and more urban centres. The automotive brand has so far designated 37 major cities on three continents as “smart cities”. Targeted sales and marketing activities are helping to increase the number of smart cars in these markets. The dealerships involved in these activities are supported accordingly and the sales people are given training. The aim is to make the potential customers as excited about the smart cars as the people trying to sell them. People are given the opportunity to test drive a smart car at mobile driving stations, for example. The success of these activities is not measured in market share as would usually be the case, but in “city share”, i.e. in the number of smart cars per 1,000 inhabitants.

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