Special Coverage

Greater L.A. Auto Show

LOS ANGELES – Smart USA takes the wraps off its limited-edition Fortwo models from German tuning-house Brabus GmbH at the 2008 Los Angeles auto show.

The Brabus coupe will start at $17,990 when it goes on sale in January at U.S. Smart dealerships. A cabriolet version begins at $29,990, says Dave Schembri, president-Smart USA.

Schembri says the auto maker expects to retail 1,000-2,000 Brabus models next year. They feature a sportier suspension, larger wheels and tires and a body lowered by 0.4 in. (10 mm) from the base Fortwo to enhance appearance and handling.

The 3-cyl., 70-hp engine employing the Fortwo also powers the Brabus coupe and cabriolet models, but Smart says the timing of the shifts from the 5-speed automated manual transmission is improved and will be most noticeable in stop-and-go driving.

The Fortwo’s outward appearance is tweaked in Brabus dress, with special Monoblock VII alloy 15-in. front wheels and 17-in. rear wheels; Brabus emblems on the fuel door and front and rear of the vehicle; and rear-skirt cutout to accommodate dual chrome-plated tail pipes.

Interior styling features include brushed-aluminum pedals, velour floor mats and heated leather seats as standard. The Brabus coupe and cabriolet are available in black and silver only.

Schembri says customers who already have reserved the Fortwo will get first crack at ordering the Brabus models starting in January.

Despite the economic downturn in the U.S., and the recent drop in fuel prices, Smart’s order bank is 30,000-units strong, he says. Cars take 10 days to reach consumers once they are delivered to dealers.

“If (fuel economy) was the only reason to buy this car, we might have concern. But fortunately people buy this car for a number of reasons,” Schembri says.

About 70% of Smart’s 21,000 owners use their vehicle as a second or third car, he notes. Buyers range in age from 27 (the age of the first Smart Fortwo buyer in the U.S.) to a couple in their 50s who last month purchased the 20,000th Fortwo.

Regarding future Fortwo variants, Schembri says bringing a diesel version from Europe is not being studied. Rather, efforts are directed toward a plug-in all-electric version. Smart parent Daimler AG has 100 Smart plug-in EVs in fleet use in London right now.

Schembri also says Smart USA is exploring a turbocharged option for the Fortwo. However, it is foremost concerned with keeping its product offerings “simple.”

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com