Technology First Look

Mercedes: Electric Smart cars will replace gas-powered cars in US

Buyers in Europe – where the tiny Smart car is more popular – will still be able to buy the gas-powered model.

A 2013 Mercedes Benz electric Smart Car is displayed, in New York.
Mark Lennihan/AP
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Mercedes Benz’s Smart car will go all green in the US in 2018.

That year’s model of the two-seat microcar will be available only in an electric version, the automaker said on Monday. It will discontinue the gas-powered version in the United States after the 2017 model, although a gas-guzzling model will still be available in Europe, according to Digital Trends.

Never a terrific seller since it first crossed the Atlantic in 2008, the Smart car has seen its American sales slump to just a few thousand vehicles this past year.

The shake-up from Daimler, Mercedes Benz’s parent company, reflects the shifting US auto market. The discontinuation of the gas version comes as low prices at the pump have boosted pickup, SUV, and crossover sales.

But Mercedes Benz’s interest in the electric version comes as automakers are gearing up for a surge in electric vehicles.

Mercedes Benz said Monday it will have a “dedicated focus” on the electric Smart, which will “play an important role” in the forefront of its planned fleet of electric cars, according to USA Today.

Smart’s shift to electric will start this summer.

“The Smart lineup will consist exclusively of the zero emissions smart electric drive coupe and cabrio (convertible) in the US and Canada," Mercedes Benz said in a statement.

The 8-foot, 8-inch long car will provide 80 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque, with a battery that offers between 70 and 80 miles on a single charge. When it goes on sale, the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive should price in near the previous generation’s MSRP of $25,000, according to CNET’s Roadshow.

While the electric microcar could occupy a niche in the US auto market, its gas-powered sibling wasn’t able to hold onto that position. Ahead of its US debut in 2008, the Smart car received 30,000 reservations, including both gas and electric models. Its sales held steady from 2012 to 2014 at around 10,000 units per year. But that number dropped to an all-time low of 6,211 units this past year.

Mercedes Benz told Automotive News that the electric version comprised 30 percent of those sales “at their high point.”

The company sent Smart dealers a memo about the discontinuation of the gas version: "Developments within the micro-car segment present some challenges for the current Smart product portfolio," it read. "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."

And the world electric car market is poised to take off, say experts.

According to a study by Imperial College London and Carbon Tracker, falling battery prices mean that electric cars could make up 35 percent of the vehicle market in 2035, according to The Guardian. That would be a massive surge from the 1.4 percent it occupies now, according to Statista. By 2050, plug-in cars could account for two-thirds of the auto market.