One of America's quirkiest little automakers is about to carve itself into an even smaller niche.
Smart will stop selling gas-engine vehicles after the 2017 model year, Automotive News reports. The subsidiary of Daimler, which is also Mercedes-Benz's parent company, will only sell electric vehicles beginning in the 2018 model year. Mercedes-Benz spokesman Robert Moran told Roadshow that the company did not make a formal announcement, but it did disseminate its new product strategy to dealers via a short statement.
"Developments within the micro-car segment present some challenges for the current Smart product portfolio," the statement reads. "As a result, Smart will discontinue sales of the gasoline powered Smart Fortwo and Fortwo Cabrio for the US and Canadian markets after model year 2017."
A quick peek at Smart's sales figures shows the writing on the wall. Gas prices have stayed low and demand for crossovers remains high, which leaves the small-car manufacturer looking up at a Sisyphean task.
Its numbers have dipped markedly over time -- sales were regularly at or near 10,000 units from 2012 to 2014, only to drop to a low of 6,211 units in 2016. 2008 was its best sales year, with 24,622 cars sold. Mercedes-Benz told AN that the Electric Drive variants comprise 30 percent of those sales "at their high point."
Smart offers multiple trims of both the coupe and convertible. Its most affordable model starts at $14,650. Equipped with a 0.9-liter, 89-horsepower I3, acceleration has never been its strong suit. Neither has fuel economy, to be honest -- despite its small size and tiny engine, it achieves just 39 mpg on the highway and between 31 and 33 in the city, depending on transmission.
The Smart Fortwo Electric Drive replaces the gas engine with a three-phase synchronous motor that provides 80 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque. Its 17.6-kWh battery offers between 70 and 80 miles of range on a single charge. When the revised 2017 model goes on sale in the US, its price should hover near the previous generation's MSRP of $25,000.
Update, 10:29 a.m. Eastern: Added manufacturer comment.