October 25, 2015 - 12:01 am ET
Annette Winkler, head of Smart, wants to pair the microcar with the smartphone.
After all, it's the extra conveniences Smart can deliver to drivers in large cities that ultimately will win more buyers for the brand, Winkler says -- not an extra 5 hp or another derivative.
Her vision has Smart ForTwo drivers using their phones to find parking spaces -- including those too small for other vehicles -- in crowded cities. They would take a photo of the spot and share it via Smart's free smartphone app so other ForTwo drivers would be able to find it using the app's navigation services.
Smart is making that vision a reality with its new Cross Connect app, expected to be released to the public in November.
More perks are under consideration. Using the app to share a Smart car with friends is one possibility Winkler is exploring.
"The portfolio is full of ideas," Winkler told Automotive News at the Frankfurt auto show last month. "So there are many, many, many possibilities where we think we'll improve the life and situations in big cities for our customers."
Smart already has special parking benefits for its owners in certain cities. In San Francisco, 600 parking spaces are set aside for Smart cars, Winkler said. Portland, Ore., also has Smart-designated spots. The Cross Connect app, which the company is releasing in the U.S. in conjunction with the redesigned 2016 ForTwo, will help drivers find those spots, plus the spaces that other drivers flag via the app.
"What is the problem in big cities if you are with your car?" Winkler said. "You feel stressed, no parking space, it's rush hour. Then you are led to an available parking spot and all these services where you will win time. Time is, for many people, the biggest luxury in the world."
The Cross Connect app, which also handles navigation, audio and phone functions, will work with iPhones and certain Android devices.
A development version of Cross Connect was available during a recent press drive for the 2016 ForTwo. Several reviews described the app as "buggy." But one reviewer called the system "promising," and another said it was a "clever move to integrate smartphones."
More features are likely to be added to the app in the future, Winkler said. She suggested another could be notifying drivers of available car wash discounts for Smart cars -- half price, for instance, because the vehicle is smaller. Such discounts exist today in some markets, she said, but they are very local.
"I can't do that from Stuttgart for the whole U.S.," Winkler said, "so it's more in the hands of our dealers."