Serving as product manager for the new smart electric drive is an electrifying experience. We caught up with Rouven Remp at the models’ global launch in Paris.
We’re at the “Mondial de l’Automobile 2016” in Paris, hall 5 of the vast trade fair complex. At the smart booth, the new smart electric drive models smart fortwo, smart fortwo cabrio, and smart forfour take pride of place. A clear sign and message that is underscored and emphasized by Daimler CEO Dr. Dieter Zetsche at the brand’s Paris press conference. To him, smart plays “a vital role in the Daimler electrification strategy.” His statement also highlights the importance of Rouven Remp’s job. As product manager for all smart electric drive models, he has his eye on every single detail of the locally emission-free city car: from selecting the distinctive and exclusive “electric green” paint job all the way down to associated marketing approaches. The smart electric drive will be available as smart fortwo and smart forfour starting March 2017, and as smart fortwo cabrio in early summer of 2017.
The new smart electric drive sounds like the ideal city car: agile, compact, and locally emission-free. So, does this herald a new era of urban mobility for the brand?
Rouven Remp: Actually, at smart, this particular era started quite a few years ago. The smart was originally designed to be an electric vehicle, and our first electric drive saw the light of day in 2007, powering a test fleet of 100 cars in the streets of London. The second generation of smart electric drive vehicles followed in 2009; it was sold in 18 countries and also joined the car2go carsharing roster. This made smart the first German manufacturer to include an electric car in their regular range. Then, the third generation of smart electric drive models, i. e. the direct precursor of our latest range, arrived in 2013 and was sold in 30 countries. It paved the way for mass-market distribution and we’re now building on this development with the new smart electric drive models.
smart is the first and only brand to offer electric versions of its entire, previously combustion engine-powered, fleet. Does this electrifying approach in any way affect or change your work as a product manager?
Rouven Remp: Not in terms of internal organization or brand handling. At smart, we knew from day one that we would continue to offer both types of drives, a combustion engine and an electric drive. Yet we certainly anticipate a market shift towards electric vehicles in terms of market share.
To what extent do you expect to see the electrification of urban traffic?
Rouven Remp: Speaking of future urban mobility, I don’t think there’s any realistic alternative to electric vehicle use. And while this might happen faster in some markets than others, I expect to see some very strong momentum in metropolises, especially in connection with car2go carsharing.
When you look at the different models, the smart fortwo electric drive offers the smallest turning circle while the electric smart fortwo cabrio is the only electric convertible on the market – and the smart forfour electric drive provides plenty of space for urbanites. Just how important is it to offer just the right car for different urban lifestyles?
Rouven Remp: It’s very important because people will not automatically change their lifestyles when they drive an electric vehicle. And they don’t have to since these smart electric drive models mean you don’t have to do without. On the contrary: We give people more flexibility. More and more cities around the world offer electric vehicle drivers perks like free parking and use of bus lanes – these are real benefits in busy cities and slow-moving traffic. For the past ten years, we’ve also had special tax breaks and, in Germany, a state-sponsored environmental bonus for electric cars.
As a product manager for electric vehicles at smart, Rouven Remp and his team consolidate different sales functions and develop a marketing plan. The latter encompasses customer target groups, expected sales figures, pricing, and advertising measures flanking the launch of the smart electric drive models. One of Remp’s biggest challenges? How to get as many people as possible to enjoy the impressive experience of driving an electric car for the very first time.
To date, very few people have even had the chance to drive an electric car. How would you describe the experience?
Rouven Remp: It all starts with a true wow effect. Unlike a regular combustion engine, you don’t actually hear or feel any sounds or vibrations when you start driving. Only the display lets you know that the engine is actually running. When you then accelerate and experience this quiet, but powerful drive, I’ve never known anyone not to exclaim: “That’s amazing – it really touches something inside me!”
So, how do you plan to spread this experience to as many customers as possible?
Rouven Remp: We will only be successful if we can take the experience beyond the showrooms. We need to let customers take the cars out and try them as part of their everyday routines. Depending on their regular routes and driving habits, people can then decide whether they want to charge their smart electric drive at home from a regular socket or via a more powerful wall box that almost halves charging times. I’m sure that that’s how we’ll ultimately convince people.
With a reach of 160 km (100 miles), the smart electric drive easily covers regular urban commutes – and then some. How did you calculate average car use and routes?
Rouven Remp: On average, drivers cover 35 kilometers per day. In a metropolis like Paris, this would easily take a few hours, so our radius of 160 kilometers should be plenty for most users.
With just a few small exceptions, the smart electric drive design reflects that of the brand’s conventional models. Why didn’t you opt for a more radical approach?
Rouven Remp: Basically, each generation of smart is already designed for the electric drive, so when the latest model generation was released in 2014, it already featured the necessary modern touches. The result communicates that the e-drive is just as much part of the characteristic smart look as the compact shape, the tiny turning circle, and all the other advantages smart offers in urban driving environments.
So, which measures help to make charging a smart easier and faster?
Rouven Remp: Many people already have a charging option at home, but in inner cities – where most people live in shared apartment blocks – this can indeed be tricky. Therefore, more and more employers provide charging solutions, as do locations in semi-public space, e. g. near fast-food restaurants, supermarkets, gyms, or shopping centers. The momentum is tangible and clearly picking up speed.
Let’s say you have a day off and could pick the perfect smart electric drive model to explore a city of your choice: What would be your ideal electric urban road trip?
Rouven Remp: I would zip through my favorite city, Hong Kong, in a smart electric drive fortwo cabrio – from Victoria Peak, towering over the city center, all the way down to the Financial District. The convertible‘s open roof lets me experience the futuristic skyline up close, making me part of the cityscape. Then, I might stop for a coffee. By the way – we already have a smart electric drive testing fleet on site: The latest generation will be on sale in Hong Kong from early 2017.
How will the smart electric drive change the smart brand?
Rouven Remp: The brand will stay true to its pioneering role in e-mobility. At the same time, smart will continue to evolve since it will increasingly be perceived as an e-mobility brand. At trade fairs and in customer conversations, I notice that things are starting to change. And it’s our duty to stay ahead of the curve and offer electric versions of our vehicles. With their obvious economy and practicality, the smart electric drive models are a perfect match for clean urban driving.