Smart cars may come to the U.S.

In another thread someone asked why, 20 years ago, we had a gasoline-burning car (the Chevy Sprint and Suzuki and Geo versions thereof) that got 50 mpg, but we can’t seem to manage it today. I replied that Americans like power. The Sprint got great mileage and was rather comfortable for its size. A perfect car in the city and on flat roads, but challenged when it came to long grades.

According to CNN, the Smart may be imported to the U.S. The article quotes a spokeswoman for Smart, who says the car can get over 70 mpg on the freeway. It’s smaller than the old Sprint, and only has two seats. But I can imagine it being popular with commuters.

Aren’t they already here? I see them whizzing around downtown around here and in San Francisco. We’ve got a company downtown that sells their own brand of electric vehicles, but I believe they are selling the SMART cars as well.

I’m not sure how true this is as I have never laid eyes on a real SMART car, but I would go look at them if theyever get here. The only caveat that there has to be a 4-seat version, kids you know. Even though I won’t vbe keeping my 100 mile a day commute job forevr, it has made me very aware of gas mileage. 50 MPG on the highway would be a dream.

And the reason car companies don’t build or sell many cars that get 50MPG is that people didn’t buy them. I think that must be a very basic tenet of economics. Something like “If you build it they will come”. Wait, “If they want it, the Japanese will build one better and more quickly, the Europeans will already have one but it’s French and looks really weird, and the German’s version is awesome but it costs $50K.”

Or something like that.

Trouble is with Smart cars (which I admire and like in many ways) is everyone else - if you’re in your Smart car and you have an accident in which the other vehicle is a Hummer or some other such monstrosity, you’re just going to be a smear on the road.

There is a model called the Smart ForFour - it isn’t quite as cute as the ForTwo though.

Yeah, and to me anyway the “two seats” thing – avoiding all that useless space and weight – is kind of the point. I have 1 or 2 people in my car 99% of the time it’s driven and I’m not that worried about the other 1% (which is pretty much only when it’s my turn to drive to lunch at work).

The question is whether I’d have the stones to commute to work on I-95 in the thing.

I’m sure there are some in the U.S., but I suspect most of them are bought in Canada and imported privately or by independent dealers as used vehicles.

You commute to work with your kids? There are times when I need to carry more than one passenger; but nearly all of my driving is solo. I mostly use my motorcycle. If I have to carry people, then I’ll use the Jeep.

Smart Cars are surprisingly resilient. (Former?) Doper kferr, a very tall chap, drives one, and he put some crash test photos online - the metal car was a crumpled heap, the Smart retained its shape. But I think a Hummer would pretty much smear any small vehicle.

I think the main problem with using Smart cars in the US is that they’d cause other drivers to run off the road from laughter. If you’ve never seen one in the flesh, imagine the smallest sub-sub-sub compact you’ve ever seen, then cut the front half off, and that’s your car.

The Smart Roadster is a gorgeous little thing though, all turbo-charged 698cc of it!

The ForFour model has been axed, unfortunately (production to stop at end of 2nd quarter 2006) It’s a nice car but has no USP - lots of similar four-seaters available.

Today I heard a road safety expert talking on the radio about the latest research that indicates that you are most likely to die in a collision in either a small car or a large 4 wheel drive (SUV). A listener rang up to harangue him about the fact that Europeans manage quite safely in their small vehicles. The professor made precisely your point, that the small vehicle has to be compared with the “national vehicle fleet” to see what you will hit. He said modern “small” cars are outweighed 50% by the **next smallest ** group of cars alone, and this is bad news in an accident. Apparently the average Oz car is bigger than the average European.

Safety wise, I’m not really concerned about collisions with other vehicles. I drive a Subaru Impreza and I wouldn’t trust it in any two-vehicle collision much more than I’d trust a smart car.

The “safety” of that Subaru comes from it’s manouverability factors: all wheel drive system, and anti-lock break system. The Smart car looks slightly top heavy, too. I’d need to see how it handles in safety tests before committing to one.

Heh. Smart cars in the US? I think there would be some major mental barriers to overcome. They are actually spacious inside, but they are TINY - you can park one sideways in most european-size parking bays. In US terms that means they are probably about as long as a mid-size car is wide. You could probably fit one into the flatbed of a big pickup like a Ram 3500 or similar. Driving one around the Escalades and 18-wheelers in the US would be scary.
Also the wheels are quite small and rather unforgiving of poor-quality road surfaces. I seem to remember that Manhattan has third-world quality road surfaces - if that’s common in most US cities they wouldn’t be comfortable to drive around.

They are still damn cool though - perfect for crowded narrow streets.

I kind of think they’re cool looking, but why drive a car that someone else (or a couple of someone elses) can pick up and walk away with? I seem to remember stories from my dad about that kind of thing happeneing with VW Bugs and Nash Metropolitans.

I’ve never had a chance to drive it, but I love the idea of the car.

But what do you guys make of this article? It says:

The value there is significantly lower than values quoted everywhere else. Is the Americanized version less efficient than others?

We just returned from France. We did a lot of driving in the Lorraine region, and we saw the Smart Car factory. Out in front, right next to the freeway, the factory has a glass tower stacked with all the models of Smart cars, and the tower looks sort of like a kid’s monumental toy car case. It was as cool as all get-out - I wish the photo I had taken while driving past had come out better.

Yeah, the Smart car would be an ideal commuter for me or my husband, too. If I could fit a few grocery bags into it, it would be fine for my errands as well.

According to Smart’s web site the most economical current Fortwo models consume 4.7 l/100 km = 50 mpg (gasoline)/3.8 l/100 km = 62 mpg (diesel). That’s as per EU fuel efficiency reference cycle.

Presumably the ‘Americanized’ version is based on a more powerful engine than the most economical one available.

The 2007 Fortwo model will be a few cm longer; perhaps they’ll make use of that to change to engines that are a bit larger (i.e. run a bit slower)

Well, there’s no moose in Baltimore, so you should be safe. :wink:

For those of you who don’t get the ref. When the car was first unvieled back in the late 90s, a Swedish mag put it through a “moose avoidance test” (i.e. swerving to avoid an animal) and the car promptly rolled over like an SUV with a flat tire. They’ve since corrected the problem.

Are there any studies that show that manouverable vehicles are less likely to get into accidents? It seems to me that only small subset of accidents can be avoided by having a car with good performance. I have been rear ended in stop and go traffic a few times manouverablity would not help in that situation.

Even the cops have given them a spin in Europe, although I don’t know if the car was adopted by the City of London police after the trial mentioned in the article.

I had a chat with a mechanic about smart cars last time I got my car serviced (it’s a Mercedes place so they do smart cars) and he said that, yes, you get great MPG but there’s a serious design flaw so that after two (or three - I forget) years the exhaust manifold – which the turbocharger is built into – is pretty much bound to fail.

And they’re not cheap
There’s a picture of the tower teela mentioned here.