March 24, 2009

Smart car customers becoming hesitant

More than a third of U.S. Smart car customers are leaving orders on car lots, an increase from days when gas prices were high, a company spokesman said.

Smart cars with their thrifty 36 mile-per-gallon rating are now sitting on car lots for an average of 28 days, about twice as long as last year, when gas prices peaked above $4 a gallon, USA Today reported Tuesday.

With the national average gas price currently below $2 per gallon and a recession in full swing, customers who plunk down the refundable $99 deposit are walking away more often.

But certainly we're not seeing a huge falloff, Smart Car company spokesman Ken Kettenbeil said.

About 35 percent of customers are backing away when the car arrives, an increase form the 30 percent who did so in November, the newspaper said.

But, numbers are relative. Smart cars, made by Germany's Daimler, are moving off car lots far faster than the 95-day industry average. More than 30,000 prospective customers have put deposits down on new cars.

The company calls the abandoned cars orphans.

Salesman Joe Dearman in Jackson, Miss., said the orphans are a sales opportunity.

We've got 14 orphans from other dealers. Five sold before they got here, he said.