Smart goes all-electric

Government rebates for all-electric vehicles have led to Smart ditching its gas-powered version in Canada, leaving the fun-to-drive EV as the only available option for 2018.

The Swiss security guard was polite but firm. "You cannot park here," he said. "Go away! Go away, ASAP!"

I could hardly have looked less threatening, with a bright green Smart car, but rules are rules, especially here in Switzerland. The little electric runabout was on the sidewalk, after all, posing for a tourist photo, right in front of the gates to the United Nations main complex. I moved the car, ASAP. It wasn't difficult to find another parking space – legally, this time.

He hadn't heard me coming because, yes, the Smart is all-electric and, for the 2018 model year, that's the only Smart we'll be able to buy in Canada

"In 2014, every third car sold in Canada was already electric. That's where market demand was headed, so we made the decision to position the car as electric-only," says Rouven Remp, Smart's product manager for its electric-drive cars. "Things are developing, and we believe that as soon as we get to a certain point, it makes sense to make the switch to position the brand for the future in the right way."

That "certain point" is helped considerably by government incentives. The little Smart EV is not cheap – the cabriolet will cost $31,800 when it lands in showrooms in October. That's roughly $10,000 more than its gas-powered sibling, so taxpayer-funded rebates make all the difference. In Canada, only Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia offer rebates – $8,500, $8,000 and $5,000 respectively – and they cut a chunk out of the premium. The coupe will begin at around $28,800 before rebates, though don't expect to see many privately-owned Smarts in the rest of Canada.

It's no different elsewhere. Smart will also only sell EVs in Norway, where there is no sales tax for an electric car, yet there are huge duties on conventionally-powered cars. It helps that there is also plentiful and cheap electricity available. In Spain, sales shot from 40 electric Smarts a year to around 1,000 as soon as the government offered rebates of €5,300, which is about the price difference between the two powertrains. As everywhere, the spirit may be willing, but it's money that talks.

If you still want a gas-powered Smart car in Canada, dealers may still have some in stock, but they won't be getting any more. It hasn't been selling well in North America, although a worldwide sales record was set last year. Germany, Italy and China are the largest markets, with more than 144,000 Smarts sold between them. As Remp says, the electric version has been gaining in popularity since its introduction in 2007 as rebates make it more competitive; it's helped by its visibility as a rental-by-the-minute in the Car2Go car-sharing program.