Smart EV coming to Canada next year

- Boutique electric sports-car manufacturer Tesla may have beat it to market, but Mercedes-Benz Canada said that it will lease a handful of electric Smart fortwo models in the fourth quarter of 2010.

That puts in the lead in the race to become the first mainstream manufacturer to sell a fully battery electric plug-in vehicle (BEV) in this country.

At first, the fortwo electric drive was planned for distribution in just eight western European countries and the United States, but a last-minute change added Canada to that list.

Although Mercedes insists that these eSmarts are full production models, only 1,000 will be built. A mainstream ramp-up of the models is planned for 2012, when the eSmarts will be sold globally through the Smart dealer network.

The car's range is rated at 135 km, which Mercedes officials say is a conservative estimate.

The 16.

5 kWh lithium-ion batteries slide in neatly under the car's seat, replacing the fuel tank in both size and function.

The car's electric motor makes 30 kW of power, or about the equivalent of 40 hp, but what really makes it feel fleeter is that the 120 Newton-metres of low-end torque (about 89 lb-ft) is available right from 0 rpm, as is the maximum torque figure in most electric cars.

Many aspects of the eSmart's introduction in Canada are still up in the air, including price, and how Mercedes-Benz Canada will find and choose the car's first customers.

The electric Mini E's similar program in California earlier this year garnered many more applicants than available cars, although Benz seems to be pushing the first eSmarts well up the price ladder in Europe.

There, the car will be available on a four-year closed-end lease deal (so you can't keep it or buy it afterwards) that includes all maintenance and taxes for €700 Euros a month, or €33,600 in total. If Benz goes with current exchange rates, that would work out to be $1,080 a month, for a total of $51,840.

That's a lot of money for a version of a car that now starts at between 16 and 24 large, after freight. Especially one that's already among the most fuel frugal on the road, although the eSmart's electricity costs promise to dramatically lower even those costs.

Smart estimates a full charge in Germany to cost about €2, so looking at the lower electricity costs here as well as Benz's stated conservative 135 km range estimate, you're looking at a major savings in "fuel" cost. For most drivers with 15-30 km commutes, it literally could cost less than a dollar to drive every day.

Those savings likely won't be enough to offset the higher lease price, but as the market has shown with hybrids, there's some willingness to pay a premium for green technology - and it doesn't get much cleaner than zero local emissions.

Can Benz convince enough Canadian early adopters to ante up that monthly premium while still dealing with the range and recharging growing pains likely to come along with it?


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