Mercedes Benz sold 5,432 smart models in the U.S. market over the first nine months of this year, down 32.8% from the same period last year. Exotic luxury brand Maserati sold more units than the brand of tiny cars, even though some Maseratis cost more than $200,000. Smart vehicles rarely cost more than $19,000.
Smart’s greatest challenge — among the many it faces — is competition. Every major car manufacturer has a brand that competes with smart. Several of the best selling cars in the U.S. market are inexpensive, high mileage cars — reasonable alternatives to smart. The Nissan Versa, for example, which has sold more than 110,000 units in the United States so far this year, has a base price of $11,990 and gets around 36 mpg. Most of smart’s competitors also have much larger marketing budgets.
Compact fuel efficient cars have been slow to catch on in the United States. With relatively relaxed gas taxes compared to Europe and falling oil prices — crude oil fell below $50 a barrel for the first time in over five years in early 2015 — there is even less incentive for Americans to favor light vehicles over the popular SUV.