Say farewell to the smart car, the tiny two-seater Americans never really understood.
Daimler, the German auto giant, said it will stop selling the battery-operated Fortwo model in the U.S. and Canada after this model year. The decision was spurred by "a declining microcar market," said Robert Moran, director of corporate communications for Mercedes-Benz USA, which is owned by Daimler. Moran also pointed to the high costs associated with certifying such a low-volume model.
It's a decision that comes as no surprise to many analysts, given its limited range - about 60 miles on a full charge - and consumers' growing preference for SUVs. Plus, "smaller" doesn't always mean "greener" nowadays, thanks to a generation of SUVs with low gas mileage.
Smart cars "make sense when you have small roads and small places to park," said Jake Fisher, director of Auto Testing at Consumer Reports. "In the United States, where there's plenty of room to maneuver your heavy-duty pickup truck on the way to work, it makes less sense."
Granted, a roomier option doesn't have to be a pickup truck. Smaller SUVs such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 come with lots of trunk and passenger space and a bit of a boost. Think of them as station wagons that are just a little higher off the ground, Fisher said.
The smart car's main selling point was that it could whiz across short distances and squeeze through narrow spaces. Consider Europe, where the miniature models slide sideways and backward into parking spots or through skinny alleys. The American roadscape, meanwhile, is built to accommodate much larger cars and trucks, and parking spots are similarly scaled.
Smart car posted its best domestic sales - nearly 25,000 vehicles - in 2008, when gas prices were high and incomes were down, said Paul Waatti, manager of product analysis at AutoPacific, an automotive marketing research and consulting firm. A decade later, U.S. sales had dwindled below 1,200.
"In that same time period, SUVs have gotten smaller and more efficient," Waatti said. He noted that Toyota's now-defunct Scion brand met a similar fate. Its "city car," called the iQ, disappeared after a few years in the U.S.
In denser, urban areas, Americans also may be more likely to hail an Uber or Lyft ride before buying a smart car and absorbing those maintenance and insurance costs. But for those looking to get behind the wheel, Car2Go - which operates in seven cities in the U.S., plus many more worldwide - may be an enticing option. The company's North American fleet is made up of smart cars and other Mercedes-Benz vehicles. A company representative said Car2Go wouldn't be affected by Daimler's announcement.
Americans' embrace of SUVs has translated into a gradual shift away from sedans. In November, General Motors said it would stop making six models - forging ahead with pickups, SUVs and electric and autonomous vehicles. Ford also announced last year that it would stop selling almost all sedans in the U.S. market.
Mercedes-Benz is building its own electric lineup in the U.S. and Canada with the new EQC in 2020, Moran said. Mercedes is marketing the car as the "first in what will be a growing family of all-electric vehicles." And unlike the small smart car, the EQC is an SUV.
All of which goes to say that you don't have to shrink your car to shrink your carbon footprint.
"The whole 'SUV equals gas-guzzler' equation is pretty much out the window," said Stephanie Brinley, principal automotive analyst at IHS Markit. "It's not just giving up a smart car and buying a Tahoe. There's a lot of space in between."