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Smart move: Cheapest electric car comes to Boston in May

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  April 30, 2013 05:15 PM

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Mark your digital calendars: The cheapest, tiniest and most roofless electric car on sale is coming to Boston on May 13.

Three years ago, the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive came here as limited-production European prototype and was offered to a handful of Boston-area residents and businesses on a pricey four-year lease. When I drove one in 2010, the acceleration and measly 60-mph top speed were a painful chore.

Smart has wised up. The new ForTwo ED promises real-world performance -- and at $25,000 before tax credits, the best price among all new electric cars. When equipped with a soft top, this short two-seater can also claim title as the only electric convertible on the market.

As Massachusetts is one of 14 "CARB" states -- those which follow the stricter emissions laws of the California Air Resources Board, designed to promote electric vehicles -- we'll see this little ForTwo months before the rest of the country, said Terry Wei, Smart's U.S. marketing manager.

"We cannot build them fast enough," she said.

For the time being, Smart isn't disclosing its production targets. But unlike rivals Toyota and Fiat, which have restricted their electric vehicle sales to California, Smart is planning a nationwide rollout and expects buyers to jump at the incentives. Even Chevrolet isn't selling its upcoming Spark EV to buyers outside California and Oregon.

Jeff Davis, general manager at Herb Chambers Smart in Somerville, said he's taken "eight or nine" preorders for the car, which has an EPA-estimated range of 68 miles per charge.

"We're not going to sell these for $40,000," he said, referring to the approximate price of the early prototype cars. "Smart hit its peak business a while ago but it is now coming back quite a bit. I think people want to see what the range is, how the car plugs in."

Smart sales started and peaked to about 25,000 in 2008 when gas prices soared to record highs and quickly dropped from there. Last year, Smart sold 10,009 cars after dipping to 5,208 in 2011, the year Mercedes-Benz took over the brand's U.S. distribution and dealer support. At that time, Davis said sales were "extraordinarily low, not even a handful a month," but now that the regular gasoline-powered model leases for $99 per month, monthly sales between the state's two Smart dealerships are now between 24 and 30 cars.

Lease deals will need to be tight to compete with the 2013 Nissan Leaf, which is now offering $199-per-month rates and cut its base purchase price by $6,400 to $29,650. Unlike the ForTwo, the Leaf has four doors, seats five and has a generous cargo boot. It also offers a greater battery range and more luxury features like heated front and rear seats and leather upholstery.

But for running about the North End's unmanageable tangle of one-way streets, the ForTwo ED would be my one and only choice. And while I wouldn't test this theory, maybe Mike's Pastries and the Boston Parking Department wouldn't mind if I left one on the sidewalk while I grabbed a canoli.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
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George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
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