Say goodbye to the Smart Fortwo cars that have come to symbolize the popular car-sharing service car2go.
The company said this week it is swapping out the squat Smart cars in favor of roomier, more up-scale Mercedes-Benz models in Seattle. The roll out actually began earlier this year, when car2go switched out 200 of its 750 Smart cars in favor of Benzes in January. Today, car2go has 550 Mercedes-Benz vehicles on Seattle streets, and by the end of the year, the Smart cars will be removed from the Seattle fleet entirely.
With that change, comes an increase in price, kind of.
Today, the Mercedes models currently cost 45 cents per minute, compared to 35 cents for the Smart cars. Car2go is not raising prices on the Benzes, but the fleet changes mean all car2go vehicles in Seattle will cost 45 cents per minute.
The move also comes amid increasing competition from ReachNow, the BMW car sharing service that launched in Seattle in April 2016. Since its launch, ReachNow has focused on roomier vehicles, including the MINI Cooper four door, the BMW i3 and the BMW 3 Series. It now has 700 vehicles in Seattle, up from 370 at launch.
When the switch is complete, all 750 car2go vehicles in Seattle will be either 2018 Mercedes-Benz CLA four-door sedans, or 2018 GLA five-door SUVs. The company is re-jiggering its vehicle fleet in numerous markets, and earlier this month announced plans to shift to all Mercedes-Benz cars in Portland.
Chris Iuvancigh, general manager for car2go Vancouver, told GeekWire that the decision to shift to Mercedes models comes from customer feedback and the tech prowess of the Mercedes-Benz cars. Customers who use the Benzes tend to take longer trips and have indicated that they prefer the experience.
The new vehicles work better with the car2go app, which has been updated countless times in the five years the company has been in Seattle. The app is much quicker to unlock the Benzes than the older Smart cars.
In an email to customers Wednesday morning, car2go noted that “as much as we’d love to continue to offer a smart option, unfortunately, we can’t.”
“smart no longer offers combustion engine vehicles for North America, and the available smarts are no longer compatible with our service structure or technology,” car2go said in the email. “If in the future conditions change, we’ll certainly look into reintroducing a smart option.”
Seattle is car2go’s top market in the U.S., with more than 100,000 members joining since it came here in late 2012. Drivers have put a lot of miles on those vehicles, more than 19 million in total, according to the company.
“What it comes down to is the vehicles that we had in Seattle, the Smarts, were starting to age, and it was just really time to move on from them,” Iuvancigh said. “Every city launched at different points, with vehicle usage at different levels, and the existing Seattle fleet needed a change. It was time for them to go, so it just seemed like the best fit at that time.”
Though the Benzes provide a more luxurious ride, the Smart cars did have some advantages. Chief among them, their small stature allowed them to fit into tighter spots that wouldn’t be doable for a normal sized car, an important perk when looking for parking in crowded downtown core areas.
But car2go says the technology in the new Benzes helps bridge the gap between the tiny Smart cars and the newer, larger vehicles. The cars aren’t that big to begin with, and each Mercedes is equipped with blind spot sensors, adaptive braking and a backup camera to make it easier to fit in small spaces.
“Yes, they are larger than the Smart,” Iuvancigh said. “I think you’ll still be able find a parking space generally, and the new features should allow you to squeeze in.”