By on September 14, 2007

8232_large.jpgAs the Smart ForTwo prepares for its U.S. debut, its manufacturer is busy spinning their mini (not MINI) marvel to the U.S. press as the ultimate green machine. “America has never been more ready for a car like this,” Smart’s U.S. Prez David Schembri told CNN, after ticking off a list of issues including urban congestion, the cost of gas and general “economic concerns”. America maybe; the American media most definitely. After posing the obvious left-leaning question– “Can a culture that prides itself on big houses and jumbo sport-utility vehicles really fall for a car roughly the size of a golf cart?”– Lake accompanied Schembri for a spin in Smart’s SUV toe-jam through the mean streets of Manhattan. She pronounced the Smart “zippy” and, setting aside any pretense of journalistic objectivity, ejaculated “oh this fabulous.” All in all, Schembri would have to agree. 

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36 Comments on “U.S. Media Hearts Smart...”


  • avatar
    AGR

    The initial market success of the smart in the USA if similar to Canada will be phenomenal, with pent up demand.

    Once the novelty, pent up demand, everybody that wanted one got one subsides it will be interesting to see how enduring and lasting it will be.

    They are cool cars, and the ideal city short commute cars, very roomy for their size.

  • avatar
    Kevin

    Sure, who wouldn’t want a $2,000 car? People will lap these up at that price. I mean, it is a $2,000 car isn’t it? At least, it looks like it should cost about $2,000.

    Now, if they overprice it at, like, $3,000, I can’t imagine anyone buying it, but as long as they keep it competitive with other golf carts these’ll sell great.

  • avatar
    86er

    What is the Golf Smart car crashing into?

  • avatar
    shaker

    I guess that explains the relatively poor gas mileage — crashworthiness. Wait… that other car looks like a Brilliance!

  • avatar

    86er

    What is the Golf Smart car crashing into?

    S-Class Merc. Watch the video here.

  • avatar

    I drive a 1st gen Xb, I like small cars but i don’t get the smart car. There are alot of traditional small type cars that get good mileage and are usefull but the smart seems extremely limited versus the plethora of small cars that are finally appearing

  • avatar
    dean

    One of the problems with the Smart car is that it is expensive for what you get. A Yaris or a Fit is less money, still gets good mileage, is almost as easy to park, and has a whole lot more versatilty. Not too mention a couple extra seats.

    This makes for a niche vehicle with a very small niche. Most Smarts I see around Vancouver are covered in graphics and are used as company and promotional vehicles.

  • avatar
    Orian

    I like the Smart, but it’s just too small for me, and I imagine many others.

    About the only places I can see this really being a hit are the major cities where it could be beneficial to having a micro (it’s too small to even be labeled mini) car. I sure as heck would not want to drive this on any freeway in the US.

  • avatar
    glenn126

    I’m the “unofficial TTAC automotive historian” and if past TINY-car sales efforts are any indicator at all (and I suspect they will be), this car will sell to Americans about as well as the –

    American Austin (1930-1934) Butler PA
    American Bantam (1938-1941) Butler PA
    King Midget (1947-1969) Akron OH
    Keller (1948-1950) Alabama
    Davis (1947-1949) CA
    Crosley (1939-1953) Cincinnati OH
    Airway (1949-1950) San Diego CA
    Citicar (1974-1975) FL
    Playboy (1948-1950) NY

    The only 2 seat car which ever saw anything like reasonable success in the United States, was the British (contract-built) Nash Metropolitan, later just Metropolitan, with little Austin engine; at one point in the late or mid 1950’s it was the 2nd best selling import after the VW Beetle – but it was a very DISTANT second place.

    The Metropolitan was sold from about 1953 through 1961.

    So while it’s not a complete certainty that the SMART car will be a flop – I’d call it a 90% certainty.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    My grandfather loved to buy cars. When he was in his 60s and I was a boy, he owned lots of exotic (at least for middle America in the 1950s) machines, including an MB 190SL, a Karmen Giha, and the Borgward Isabella. One of the toys he owned — his regular whip was a Cadillac DeVille — was the Isetta mini car. It was the shape, and size of an egg. The door was the front end. At the age of 10, I thought it was cool. At the age of 60, I am astounded by how dangerous it probably was. Fortunately, we were never in an accident.

    More Info

  • avatar
    rpn453

    Thanks for the video clip, Robert.

    I wouldn’t feel safe driving a car that small in North American traffic. Unless you get hit by a motorcycle, you lose in any accident. It’s not nearly as safe as Smart markets it to be.

    Here’s another interesting crash video:

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Well — the Smart is safe, it is reliable and durable, it is highly economical. You can fit about three in a garage made for one SUV.

    It’s a lousy drive, but since when do SUV and truck owners (who constitute the majority of US drivers) care about driving pleasure and dynamics? It’s a third car for commuters, no more and no less. Why get all excited about the relatively high price — isn’t that best left to the market?

  • avatar
    oboylepr

    It’s just too darned expensive! (well in canada anyway).

  • avatar
    AGR

    When smart was launched in Canada there was high initial demand for the cars, the most popular being the Passion version at over 20K.

    Few folks will get a base Pure at the base price, they will upgrade to a Pulse or a Passion.

  • avatar
    prndlol

    These micros have been in Canada for three years now and they’re all over Toronto. Even the city has some on its parking enforcement fleet. You’ll get used to them, and even eventually bored by them.

  • avatar
    86er

    Thanks for the video clip, Robert.

    I wouldn’t feel safe driving a car that small in North American traffic. Unless you get hit by a motorcycle, you lose in any accident. It’s not nearly as safe as Smart markets it to be.

    Here’s another interesting crash video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bimK4kNJ84

    Good lord that isn’t the interior is it? Shades of Pee Wee’s Playhouse…

    I want to see the video where it’s pitted against a Suburban or Crown Vic.

  • avatar
    confused1096

    This thing would be a smash if it were about 10,000. As it is a loaded top model can be around 20K. I can get a Focus wagon for that. The entry level Smart is on par with a Versa or Aveo. Most people are going to opt for a real car at the same price point.

  • avatar
    fellswoop

    Are there firm-ish numbers yet for what the USA-spec version of this vehicle gets for MPG?

    I do love this car, but then I commute by moped-scooter in a congested city.

    I need this car to be very popular, so I can a used one in a couple of years and slap a Hayabusa or GSXR-1k engine in there and hoon-out mega-style.

  • avatar

    fellswoop: Are there firm-ish numbers yet for what the USA-spec version of this vehicle gets for MPG?

    From an article in the (San Jose) Mecury News (August 2007):

    Fuel economy is an obvious plus with the Fortwo. Smart expects it to top 40 mpg overall, although the final EPA numbers won’t arrive until late this year or early 2008. It requires premium gas.

  • avatar
    AGR

    A Passion Coupe starts at 13,590 in the US that is an excellent price.

  • avatar
    f8

    AGR:

    “A Passion Coupe starts at 13,590 in the US that is an excellent price. “

    Not really – a base model Civic coupe starts at $14,800, which isn’t that much more – considering that for just an extra grand you’ll get a full-sized car, suitable for many more things – such as roadtrips, driving around with friends, transporting things. Civic also has twice as much horsepower, handles a ton better (Top Gear has a hilarious video of Smart’s cornering abilities – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfguxvWPRZE), and is just as safe (if not more so).

    Smart could be useful to people living in cities and looking for efficient transportation, but then public transportation would work just as well in most cases. For those that commute to work and go places on weekends, Smart isn’t a great choice over a normal car.

  • avatar
    mikey

    On a cold lousy day with a half ased snow/rain coming down,I,m heading to Ottawa.I,m in a bit of a hurry and at 115 klms in a Grand Am GT Im pushing the envelope.
    What comes by me on the inside lane, but a young girl in a smart car. The dad in me cringes,slow her down honey, I’m thinking.She goes by me at 75- 80 mph.I hope she got to where she was going.
    America and Americans don’t want this car believe me you stand a better chance with a motorcycle.
    Buy a Honda or used Toyota if you must[I can’t believe I wrote that]
    Don’t put your loved ones at risk with this rolling coffin on wheel barrow wheels.

  • avatar
    Kevin

    Four years ago a very large pick-up truck came flying into a gridlocked traffic jam without slowing. He plowed into my Civic from behind, a little off center, pancaking my entire back end and setting me spinning round and round. I came off without a scratch off course.

    If I’d been in a Smart, I’m pretty sure I’d still be flying through the air and spinning. Possibly I would’ve achieved orbit.

    “Steel cage” or not, hard to imagine coming off unhurt when 5000 pounds of metal going 50 mph makes initial impact about 12 inches behind your head.

  • avatar
    mikey

    As glenn126 points out this car will be a flop.

  • avatar
    tankd0g

    The Smart has a few problems, it’s not a highway car, and America is a nation of highway drivers. The city dwelers who only need to get around within a city, have been taking public transportation their whole lives, they aren’t about to drop 15-20 grand on a car that bearly carries more than they can in grocery bags. I have seen a few of these on the highway here in Canada and on one occasion is was pouring rain and I watched that thing get tossed around like a rubber ducky in the bath tub as big trucks nearly bowled it over with their spray. It did manage to maintain 110km/hr, but it probably shouldn’t have. Ironically in this country the car is more of a status symnbol than a practical alternative. “Look at me, I make so much money I can waste it on a golf cart that costs as much as a new Civic, and I have a new Civic sitting at home also.” The rational that it will pay for itself in fuel savings is a bit of a reach too. Since you can’t really take it on long trips you don’t rack up the milage in it, therefore ROI takes a lot longer than you think.

  • avatar
    tankd0g

    In safety, I find it interesting that all these showy tests are front end impacts into walls or other cars. The very nature of the Smart’s nanny assistance system should prevent that type of crash happening, you can jerk the wheel with all your might, foot planted to the floor and the thing will not roll over. You are far more likely to be hit broadside or rear ended in one of these. And there is a convertible version of these things. Will the thin air between your head that the truck bumper coming at it save you? I will give them points for the nanny assistance. These cars are so controled by computer that the driver is essentially ballast. That is why you see people driving at seemingly ludicrous speeds in bad weather because it “feels” safe, that is until something happens that even the nano-second reaction time of the control system can’t deal with due to the laws of physics.

  • avatar
    tentacles

    A small, German ass-engined, rear wheel drive 2 seater with DeDion axle suspension (like a Lotus Se7en!)? All it needs is some curvacous Pinafarina or Bertone sheet metal and it’s pretty much all our automotive dreams come true, but 4 out of 5 ain’t bad.

    Why, yes, I am a Jalopnik reader, how could you tell?

  • avatar
    Pch101

    One thing that should be remembered is that the Smart car is not a success in Europe, either. The whole division is a money loser, and the lineup there has been pared down due to declining sales.

    The city dwelers who only need to get around within a city, have been taking public transportation their whole lives, they aren’t about to drop 15-20 grand on a car that bearly carries more than they can in grocery bags.

    I think that European city dwellers are in the same boat. Many European cities have excellent or at least decent public transit, while fuel is costly and parking difficult, so for these potential buyers, the car creates a lot of cost without a lot of benefit. For the suburbanites who aren’t close to a train and insist on driving, they run across the same highway driving issues as do Americans, with the Smart coming up short.

    I just don’t see much market for a Smart-sized vehicle anywhere outside of Asia, where the desire for car ownership is so strong that they will drive anything that they can park, even if the practicality of driving is actually below what it would be to take mass transit. If there’s no market for it in Europe, what makes anyone believe that more than a few people here would want one?

  • avatar
    rpn453

    Ryan, I’m sorry that the discussion pisses you off, but it’s true. Even a Honda Fit is over 50% (850 lb) heavier than a Smart. You’ve probably never been in a major accident, so I can understand why you would consider fuel savings to be more important than personal safety. I felt the same way before I was hit. Fortunately, when I was hit head-on at 60 mph our vehicles were similar in size (2800 lb) so we both came away with only compound leg fractures. Obviously, the safest road would be one where every vehicle is the same weight and bumper height. I hope we move toward that ideal someday, where you could be driving a larger vehicle only if and only when it’s actually necessary, but we’re not there yet so you have to protect yourself. Calculate the fuel savings, then compare that to your other operating costs and decide if it’s worth it. I encourage you and everyone else to drive a Smart car; the more there are in use, the safer I am on the road and the more resources we’ll have left over. By the way, I drive a Mazda3, so I’m picking a slightly-below-middle ground in the safety category. If I get hit head-on on the highway by an SUV or pickup, I accept that I’ll almost certainly be killed. If I get T-boned by an SUV or pickup in city driving, I’ll likely be seriously injured or killed. The only people I have any significant likelihood of killing in an accident are those in really small cars, such as the Smart and the Geo Metro, or motorcyclists. Everyone has a certain level of risk that they’re willing to accept when they drive, but the Smart is currently beyond that level for me, as are motorcycles. I just don’t trust the other vehicles on the road enough for that.

    Sincerely,
    Paranoid Idiot.

  • avatar

    I can’t wait for the stretch limo version. It’d be twelve feet long.

  • avatar
    Ryan

    @ rpn453: I don't know if this counts as major enough, but a year and a half ago, I was t-boned by a Chrysler 300 (I was driving an old Ford Escort, so the weight difference was about 1500lbs), so that's gotta count for something. 

    Unfortuantly, the Smart highlights a certain problem – is our society at all able to consider vehicular downsizing without another gas crisis? Furthermore, what good does it do us to immediately declare a car unsafe just because it’s small? That “bigger is better” mentality is the reason we’re overrun by SUVs, and part of the reaon a Smart seems like such an unrealistic proposition. As I said, in a crash, a larger car would have a clear advantage, but I’d feel about as safe in a Smart as I would in something about the size of a Toyota Yaris.

  • avatar
    f8

    “Furthermore, what good does it do us to immediately declare a car unsafe just because it’s small?”

    That’d be the laws of physics that would make us declare that, actually. Large, heavy car vs ultra-small, ultra-light, crumple-zone-free clownmobile equals a splatter on the road in the rough shape of said clownmobile. This isn’t exactly rocket science.

    And I wouldn’t blame everything on the “SUV drivers” as everyone seems to be so quick to do. A Town Car or an older Buick driven by a heart-attack-prone elderly person will do just as good of a job of reducing a Smart to nothing as any SUV would. Any older American car will do that, in fact. A light truck will do the same thing, and there are lots of those around.

    As far as your Yaris comment – Yaris actually had crumple zones, as did its successor, the xA. Smart has nothing to cushion the impact at all, which is contrary to the crumple zones designed into most modern vehicles. It may be a valid approach to automotive safety, but I sure as hell wouldn’t buy one and test the theory on myself.

  • avatar
    Vega

    I just can’t stand all this “deathtrap, rolling coffin etc” ignorance. These cars have been on the market in Europe for almost 10 years now, and crash statistics show no sign of a bigger risk driving a Smart compared to other small cars. And no, contrary to what some Americans believe driving in Europe is not restricted to tiny cars in rustic medieval cities. Last time I was on the Autobahn I saw tons of 40t rigs and heavy Vans.

    A Yaris may have a longer crumple zone but ut also has a big inflexible engine block before your feet.
    In addition, the video some mentioned shows a Smart crashing into a barrier at a speed way above crash regulation standards. This would get you killed in anything below an S-class.

    I agree that the Smart is not the first choice for a 500 mile road trip but it is still possible.

    This car has been built to toughest crash standards. The shell is incredibly rigid, the interior survival cell is very spacy (leg- and headroom), even the seatbacks are massive and act as an integral part of the safety system. If I had to hit a wall at 30mph I would rather sit in a Smart than any cheaply built pickup with inflexible chassis rails and cheaply constructed seats with headrests that cannot be adjusted high enough.

  • avatar
    AGR

    smart have a double floor to augment the rigidity and crumple of the car. The tires that protude at each extremity are part of the crumple zones of the car.

    The seat back are metal to protect the occupants in case of a severe collision from the rear.

    The Tridion safety cell is very rigid to protect the occupants of the car.

    A smart is not the ideal highway vehicle, primarily its track is narrower, and its susceptible to cross winds. Driving on the highway once the driver gets used to it, is not a big deal.

    If you would own a smart and an SUV which one would you use do do errands or short commutes?

  • avatar
    rpn453

    The Smart that the U.S. will get is actually stretched 8 inches (all in the front) compared to the previous model, so it does have a little bit of a crumple zone now. I don’t know if all Smarts will be like that or only the U.S. market ones.

  • avatar
    f8

    Vega:

    These cars have been on the market in Europe for almost 10 years now, and crash statistics show no sign of a bigger risk driving a Smart compared to other small cars. And no, contrary to what some Americans believe driving in Europe is not restricted to tiny cars in rustic medieval cities. Last time I was on the Autobahn I saw tons of 40t rigs and heavy Vans.

    There are large cars in Europe, of course, but not nearly as many as there are in the States. Is most of the traffic on European roads made up of large sedans, SUVs, and huge, tall trucks like Dodge Ram/F-150/Tundra/Titan/etc.? Because that is what I see on Californian roads every day. A Smart in Europe doesn’t have nearly the same chance of colliding with a very heavy, very tall vehicle as it does in the States. And rigs have little to do with anything – any car will suffer extensive damage after a collision with a semi.

    Smarts may be very safe (they have to pass inspections after all), but I doubt they will be perceived as such (at least initially). Lots of money and time will have to be spent by Smart’s team to convince Americans that these cars are safe in a collision, and that’s still just one aspect of it.

    We’ll see if Smart becomes successful here in the States, but I have to say that its lack of useful space for anything other than A to B transportation (and for only two people), lack of power, and gas mileage that is only marginally better than its regular-sized competitors is already making it look pretty bad, even if it was the safest car in the world. Combine that with the fact that it’s priced to compete with cars that have more room, power, and actually come from well-established brands that are known to be reliable, and it’s honestly hard to see why anyone would buy a Smart. It doesn’t even have the looks to back it up – it just looks goofy.

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