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Why Smart is ditching the gasoline-burning engine in the U.S. and Canada

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Alex Kalogianni/Digital Trends
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This move shows that Americans are flocking toward high-riding crossovers, leaving small cars in the dust.

Daimler’s Smart division has confirmed it will soon stop selling gasoline-powered cars in the United States and in Canada.

The decision hasn’t been made public yet, but a Smart spokesperson told Digital Trends that dealers were recently informed of the looming changes by Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Dieter Exler. “Developments within the micro-car segment present some challenges for the current Smart portfolio,” he summed up in a letter, which Smart sent us a copy of. “As a result, Smart will discontinue sales of the gasoline-powered Fortwo and Fortwo Cabrio for the U.S. and Canadian markets after model year 2017,” he added.

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Industry trade journal Automotive News reports production of the U.S.-spec, gasoline-powered Fortwo is scheduled to stop in April. Numerous unsold examples — including a handful of 2016 models — are still sitting on dealer lots nationwide so supply won’t be an issue. Meanwhile, the new hardtop and convertible variants of the Fortwo Electric Drive will begin to arrive in showrooms this summer.

The newest battery-powered Smart car uses an electric motor that zaps the rear wheels with 80 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque. A 17.6-kWh lithium-ion battery pack provides up to 99 miles of driving range. That’s not much, but the company points out few Fortwo owners use their car on long trips.

The news hardly comes as a surprise. While the Fortwo is popular in big European cities like Rome, Paris, and Madrid, it has largely failed to catch on in the United States, where demand for small cars is low at best and gasoline is relatively affordable. The brand peaked in 2014 when it sold 10,453 vehicles in the United States, but sales dropped to 6,211 units last year. To make matters worse, 2016 should have been a good for Smart because it was the all-new, third-generation Fortwo’s first full year on the market.

The decision to ditch the gasoline-burning model only applies to the U.S. and Canada. Buyers in Europe will still be able to order the Fortwo with Renault-sourced three-cylinder engines, including an entry-level 1.0-liter unit rated at just 60 horsepower, and a turbocharged 900cc mill tuned to provide 90 horses.