September 01, 2006
Smart Car Quest Proving Dumb
DaimlerChrysler introduced the hugely fuel-efficient, tiny Smart car in 1998. The Seattle Times reported earlier this summer it had yet to make money for the company but a top exec felt a new Smart two-seater U.S. sales initiative planned in early '08 would draw customers who question the status quo and seek individuality. More recently, the Times reported that Green imbibers gathered to quaff organic beer and wine, nosh and schmooze Greenly at a Kirkland Smart car showroom. But Forbes columnist Jerry Flint, a former senior editor for the magazine who's been writing on the auto industry since 1958, says the Smart has been a big money loser and is a lousy ride. Flint notes several years ago, a top DaimlerChrysler exec told him Smart losses had reached $3 billion. Flint adds since then DC took another $1 billion write-off on the line; and sales have stayed close to half initial production capacity even though Parisians and Romans love it. A new partnership to market the car in the U.S. via Roger Penske's United Auto Group is savvy, Flint says, but sales will still be a tiny fraction of the U.S. market and the Smart is scary to drive.
No doubt, there will be lots of publicity in New York and Los Angeles, featuring celebrities in their politically correct little cars. But the Smart is too small for the U.S. The present model is just 98 inches long. In contrast, the Mini is 144 inches long; a Chevy Impala is 200 inches. I have driven a Smart, and it can get scary. Entering a freeway with a Smart is not a pleasant experience, and you don't want to be alongside a Chevrolet Suburban when the driver suddenly decides to change lanes.
Nonetheless, if you're moving into one of the new 296-square foot condos being built in Seattle, a Smart could be just the thing, socio-politically. Myself, I'll stick with my Honda CRV, thanks. It actually has room for children, and can just tear up those Forest Service roads.
Posted by Matt Rosenberg at September 01, 2006
03:57 PM | Email This
1. It does look like a scary ride. And besides that, it's goofball ugly. Looks like someone chopped a SUV in half, put the rear wheels back on and is calling it a car. I'd sure hate to be in even a fender-bender in that one.
The key is going to be pricing and that is why it will likely fail.
If a base model were sold at 5-6k the car would sell like hotcakes. However the effect would be to cannabilize lots of other vehicle sales- thus it would take a kia type of vendor to enter the market and this cannot be allowed if the detroit crowd has anything to say about it.
So instead it will come in with a ridiculously high sticker price - far exceeding the kia rio which gets 35-40/gallon and can be had for under 8k.
Too bad, I'd love one of these things- note the resurgence of the suzuki samurai as a fun rig to get around in and to off road with...I'd take the smart car since a motorcyle in the rain is just no fun.
Smart Car IS smart for ancient euro-hamlets that fit even when a Renault Clio won't (what I rented in Tuscany). Didn't see any on the Autostrata. In this country it's pretty much a joke/novelty. If you look closely at the photo you'll see the clowns inside.
Goofy looking as well but kind of like dating a fat girl, lot's of fun but you wouldn't want your buddies to see you.
4. I would encourage ALL politically-correct LEFTIST PINHEADED KLOWNS to purchase one of these little hummers and drive it on Hwy. 101 from Shelton to Pt. Angeles.
Ohhhhhh, and don't worry about the whooooosh sound the logging trucks make going 70 MPH around every corner......it certainly will not blow y'all into the trees. My guess is this little POS will easily clear the 100 ft fir trees and land safely in Hood Canal!
Do they float?
My folks got caught in a slowdown approaching a loopety-loop onto I-5 a few months back. The 18-wheeler behind them, distracted by some little kids running unpredictably about near their family's car broken down on the side of the road, didn't see the slowdown in time a slammed squarely into them at about 30 mph. Being in an F-250 that almost takes a stepladder to get into, they were shaken, but not stirred. In one of those little things, though? Pfffft!
Nothing says, "I love you" like 6000 pounds of steel.
It's not that bad, I've been driving one for 4 months now, and getting 40+ mpg, which is nice with my 40 mile per day commute.
It looks small, but it weighs over 2000 lbs, which is more than the old VW beetles and rabbits. It's solid, stays on the road in wind, goes fast enough, and I never have a problem finding a parking space.
No idea why this is political though, I don't think there is a party preference for these kinds of cars. In my opinion, the Smart is a perfectly decent commuter car. It's safer than the older cars too, full air bags, crumple zones, ABS, all the current safety equipment.
7. You see this size of car in Japan a lot -- but nobody is crazy enough to take them on the freeway. People in Japan are much better drivers too.
8. John, how did you get your hands on one of these and get it licensed here, since it isn't being offered in the U.S. yet?
9. DCX has lost over $2 billion on the Smart, and was disinclined to import to the US until ZAP forced their hand. At a probable selling price of near $30k strictly a "statement" car, although those who have a miserable cross town commute will like it. Frankly if more commuters ditched their SUVs for smaller vehicles it would be a fine by me, especially as I ride a motorcycle to and from work. Being a libertarian on transportation choices I really don't care what you drive, but I would say dismissing the Smart because you think it is too small is bit troglodytish. I do believe if we bought every rider on the Sounder trains a Smart (or two) every year the net savings to the taxpayer would be huge... Incidently, read Autoextremist or The Truth About Cars for a little better viewpoint on the auto industry rather than Jerry Flint.
10. I just saw one parked on 8th Ave NW in Ballard this afternoon.
I've seen a few of them around. Folks are probably self importing. I don't doubt that they meet all U.S. requirements before shipping. Better yet, maybe John will let you know how he got his.
Agree and disagree. Bigger than a motorbike, yes. Your bike is safer because of its manuveurability(sp). I will bet you twenty bucks that I can roll a Smart without much effort, even with the wheels placed at the far corners as they are.
It's not you or the rest of us that have made this a political thing, it's the greeny environazis. If, as you say, it's is just practical for you, so be it - but please be safe my friend.
12. I see where ZAP has been marketing these at U.S. standards. The price? $25,000+ . Like organic food, liberal "solutions" always seem to cost more money.
13. A neighbor here in Puyallup bought one in Fife 2 days ago for around 26K. She said it has a Mercedes engine and it is being imported by Damler-Chrysler.
She's correct, it's a Mecedes product, I believe the powerplant is produced in Sweden to spec. FYI- advertising in Europe boasts- NO PARTS MADE IN USA. Take that political statement for what it's worth.
Such an environmentally friendly $26,000 vehicle. Why, with stellar MB engineering, it just may be possible that fat fannies, such as Mayor Nickels, Ron Simms, Jim McDermott could actually drive these things. If the Good Lord is with us, either a log truck, a Semi loaded with goodies destined for Wal-Mart, a soccer Mom, or just a Conservative bloke like me-with a dreadful SUV, will run over this utter piece of k++p on I5 in the general purpose lanes, and not even notice it. Thump thump, squish, oops, a milk carton.......
Move on......nothing of note here......
Good riddance, bad rubbish......on to the NRA meeting......
I think I'll leave it to the romans and parisians, and just keep my Hondas, thank you.
PS--Why is Nickels driving one of these things??
17. oops--s/b, why ISN'T Nickells driving one of those things?
Smart is one of the most fuel-efficient internal combustion cars in production, it?s also one of the most cost-effective advertising concepts available.
It is literally an acclaimed work of design and art.
Almost half of all Smart cars sold in Europe are used for advertising purposes. Even after 8 years they still get attention, and Europeans still advertise with them!
It would be one of America?s most cost-effective cars to repair.
The currently available Smart cars are acquired directly from Europe. All cars are modified to U.S. standards required by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency. The cars comply with all government agencies and come with certification & compliance documentation.
Gray market Smart cars range in cost from $25,500 to $35,500 depending on the model and options.
Weight 1609.7 lbs
0-60 mph 18.3 seconds
Top Speed 84 mph
Engine Configuration Inline (Rear)
Cylinders 3 Turbocharged
Displacement 698.00 cc
Horsepower 61 BHP
Length 98.4 in
Width 59.6 in
Height 61 in
Wheelbase 71.3 in
19. I saw these wonderfully personal cars in Austria in 2000. While it's small, alot of people were driving them. I'd buy one because I am a defensive driver...always checking mirrors and left and right.
61 BHP?! Can it make up the pass? I had a Honda Civic HX which got 33 mpg, until I came to Washington. I had to put it in 2nd gear just to get over the pass, and I don't mean just to accelerate, I had it in 2nd gear from the bottom all the way to the top. I burnt up about 5 gallons of gas doing that. Mini cars are good for people that drive less than 6 miles a day and don't go anywhere, but it's not good for pick up kids, pick up groceries for those kids, going to the mountains to ski or hike, carry a kayak, etc.
At $25K+,the size, and horsepower, the only market it's good for is single people, living in the city, that doesn't like to do outdoor stuff, lives close to work, and has enough money to buy it. By my guess, that demographic counts for 0.5% of the population in Washington.
Max: If fuel mileage savings of, say $300 a year, and driving some roller skate of 1600lbs, is of value to you, hooray for you.
Personally, a rig of 3000-4000 lb that has some degree of success against a semi, a Greyhound, or another SUV, is well worth the $300 of gas to save my life.
Apparently, as far as far as you are concerned, your life is not worth squat compared to $300 of gas/year. So environmentally concious-a wonderful hero you are. Save ANWR.....
Good for you; your sorry liberal rear end is not worth $300 to me either. Go for it, dude....
Squish, splat, oh well, another dummy bites the dust.....
23. after i put those fake bull nutz on the back and those girlie shilouette mud flaps, I'll be ready to drive that baby up & down the streets of Winthrop, yelling 'Yee-Haw!'
What's the point of this silly post? How are Hummer sales going?
My point - keep politics out of the market. If Smart sinks, it won't be the first car to bomb.
And if people want to live in real small condos, leave then alone.
Considering the size of the parking spaces in the new condos sprouting up, this should be a requirement of all new condo residents so they don't take up all the street parking. This is a huge problem in Ballard. The condos come with at least one spot, but the space is designed for a Corolla or smaller. So all the big SUVs are out on the street which can make getting around Ballard a bit of a challenge at times.
And just so you know political kookiness isn't just on this side of the pond, there was a block of "luxury residences" being built in London and the parking spaces were specifically designed for a smart car so the firm could advertise that each unit came with at least one parking spot. The permit police would only allow so many levels of parking. And it is also interesting to note that the bigwigs in London zip about in large autos just like they do here because they are far too important to take public transportation.
I think Al Bore and Mayor Nickelbag should each get one of these and get rid of all of their other vehicles, including private jets and yachts. How many global warming conferences do you think these dunderheads would attend if they had to drive across country in one of these?
Also, as other commenters have noted, you do not see these peewee cars on the Europeon highways. I suspect many people over there have one just for city driving because of the narrow roads.
26. cute--maybe for your kid's paper route; what does this thing do on a winter sleet-glazed Seattle hill? can it get over any of our mtn passes? being on the receiving end of more collision effects, i wonder if your auto insurance is higher on one of these; in the end, it's all about physics;
27. I want to see it when an SUV hits it. A few more libs off the voting pool....but I guess even dead people get to vote in this state....
296-square foot "condos"
98 inch long "cars"
Isn't this just so typical of the liberal mindset... put everyone in little boxes.
29. Thor is a pure economic thinker! I agree; let the market decide and keep politics out of it. Don't force companies to sell it, and don't force people to buy it. If a company thinks they can market it and make a buck, then let them. This is capitalism at it's best. Heck, I thought "organic" food was a lame idea and now Whole Foods is doing well. Although, it's funny it started in Texas, home of the Longhorns!
I'm amazed at the closed mindset I'm seeing here. Did I stumble onto DU by mistake?
I thought that forced conformity was a lefty thing, but if these comments are any indication groupthink is alive and well.
No one is making anyone drive a smaller vehicle than they choose...if you don't like the Smart, Yaris, Fit, Corolla, Civic, etc...DON'T BUY THEM!!!!
Something like a Smart makes all the sense in the world for Seattle. Has anyone here ever tried to park below the QFC on Broadway? Something that size is perfect.
Horses for courses...most suburban families have at least two vehicles, some three. Count motorcycles, and I have four. If I'm running errands and don't need to carry a lot, my Honda MC is perfect. If I need to haul something, out comes the Explorer, with or without the trailer. But if I'm running to the hardware store for some bolts, I'm not hooking up the trailer...Hello? Is this registering?
Small though the Smart may be, I'd still be safer than riding my motorcycle. There are some people for whom a car is just another appliance, and if they live in Seattle they could do a lot worse.
If you have four kids to haul and go nowhere without them, DON'T BUY A SMART!!!!
Jerry Flint is wrong when he says there is no market here...look at the success that Toyota has had with its Scion brand, and the Yaris...Honda is building a plant here in the US to build the Fit, another car everyone said was too small, because they were sold out for this calendar year...back in March.
If anyone wants to drive around in a 6000 lb pickup, and it makes you feel safe, go for it...of course, you don't expect me to listen to you whine about gas prices, right?
Anyone here more than 35 years old remembers the way Americans used to talk about "Jap" cars, right? Many of you sound the same way now...you have become your parents...no, scratch that, you've become your eccentric Uncle Herb who drove the Rambler, and before that it was a Packard...
Catch a clue, please.
31. At $26K, it should definitely be called the "Dumb" car. You could get a Honda, that holds more, seats more, and is still equal or more fuel efficient, for far less. And, it will last far longer.
32. wait--i think we used to toss these with milk jugs & stuff into the "pit" for target practice; so---Thaaat's what my AR-15 was chewing up!
Max, do you drive one of these cars?
and to south county: Truly, if I spend $26k+, I need a car that can hold the family and have decent, useable trunk space. Thus, this car does not suit a lot of people's needs, esp. at that price. If some business wants to hire someone to drive it around with a big advertisement on it, that could make sense. But for a family or hauling any kind of gear, it's not useful at all.
34. Wiser to drive a motorcycle. At least you can maneuver quickly out of the way and a late second bale off is available.
35. I love my CRV....and my 2500 square foot home in the suburbs.....
36. finally a cool looking car ,something different instead of all cars looking exactly the same .. The cost should be around$ 12,000 then and only then would they sell millions of them. I am so tired of the gas guzzeling suv's being driven by people with big egos but little _______.!!!!
37. If the price was right I might think about buying one......I'd hang it off of davits behind my SUV and call it my "Captain's gig"!
The Smart Car makes me think of the BMW Isetta of the late '50's. Powered by a BMW motorcycle engine, the tiny, egg shaped Isetta had one door, which was the entire front of the vehicle. Like the Smart Car, BMW claimed the Isetta could do 85mph, (maybe down a very steep hill with the wind behind it).
As kids we occasionally watched Isettas attempt to climb the relatively benign grade of the street we lived on. They would struggle mightily, coughing and sputtering. Inevitably the driver would give up and turn around.
39. Hah! I had a buddy who had one! Ah, the torment that he took over that thing!
At last, technology has produced a modern vehicle that matches the performance of the 1968 VW Van!
Weight 1609.7 lbs
0-60 mph 18.3 seconds (downhill, wind assisted, Mexican for lunch)
Top Speed 84 mph (downhill, wind assisted, Mexican for lunch)
Engine Configuration Inline (Rear)
Cylinders 3 (functional 1 not)
Displacement 698.00 cc
Horsepower 61 BHP
On the plus side, if you can get it up to the Newcastle Golf Course, you are permitted to use it as a golf cart.
Seriously; Car & Driver, Oct 2006- Starting 2008, 3 models of Smart Car to be sold in US. Don't buy yet, the ForTwo model will start at around 15k.
FWIW, only the "grey-market" (i.e. imported by third parties who are officially "manufacturers" who convert the cars to US spec, have the cars crash teted, etc) Smart cars in the us cost $25k+.
Sticker price in Canada is a much more reasonable (if still not cheap) $16k Canadian ($14.5k US). Still more than a Kia.
Let me make some calculations.
-25k for a new smart car.
-My used, 4100 pound Mercedes 300SEL with a 6 cylinder gets 21 MPH.
-4k for my Mercedes.
-21k saved for buying gas (I'm not going to include the insurance savings or lower yearly license fees).
-21k will buy me about 6500 gallons of premium gas at about 3.25 per gallon.
-6500 gallons of gas will get me about 135000 miles.
-135000 miles will give me about 6 years of driving.
-6 years of driving a car that can hold 5 people very comfortable. Has a full trunk as well and has many safety features that the smart car has and I will live if I get hit in an accident.
Hmm, and using the savings from insurance costs and licensing, I will go out for dinner tonight.
The 25k price tag + anti american marketing...oh boy. They'll sell 17 of them. They should call it the "I'm a rich idiot car."
We bought a NEW Kia Rio 2 years ago for 6712 (including tax!) for a commuter a few years ago. It gets 35 MPG consistently. It has more oomph than my old ford pick up. I'd call it a a helluva smart car.
44. But for a family or hauling any kind of gear, it's not useful at all.
I'm not arguing with that at all. For a childless couple, or someone who normally has a long, solo commute, it might make sense. Anyone else who bought one, or bought it thinking it would car pool, or haul furniture, or a fifth wheel, would be disappointed and shouldn't buy one.
That leaves potentially a large market.
45. Gee - it's amazing how many opinions people have, even tho' they know so little about the subject! I ADORE my smart and have NO complaints about it - but then I didn't buy it thinking it was an SUV, pickup, etc! My relatively large husband is very comfortable in it, and highway travel at speed is just fine - even with semis & high crosswinds ( where DID the fellow who compared the smart to a golf cart get his "information????") and I suffer no "torment" - only curiosity and admiration! It's a wonderful car, not a scooter with a roof! It is a perfect vehicle for the purpose for which it was intended. As one of the employees on the Washington State Ferry said: "We could get hundreds of these on one ferry!" Think about commuter gridlock with hundreds/thousands of SUVs vs hundreds/thousands of 8' long smarts.... It's a terrific car - don't knock it until you....know what you're talking about!
46. Looks like its been pre-rear-ended.
47. "Gee - it's amazing how many opinions people have, even tho' (sic) they know so little about the subject!"
See Alex (did you know that you misspelled your own name?!), That's what opinions are all about - They reflect attitudes about stuff.
We're thrilled that you're happy with your choice, and you're perfectly welcome to suggest that others buy them too. That's your opinion.
Mine is that they're a joke (and an expensive one at that). I couldn't possibly respect anyone who would be duped into forking over a sizeable chunk of change for one (much less be caught dead in one). That's my opinion.
See how it works?
48. Golly. Why are so many threatened by something SO SMALL. Makes ya think.
Lots of people ride motorcycles, and a Smart seems like it would be safer - not to mention drier in a place like Seattle. Rear-enders should be of no concern. Your Smart will fight right under the bumper of that Chevy Subdivision, as he plows over you and hits the Ford Continent in front of you, leaving you safe.
Seems to be a reasonable choice for multiple-car owners. I have an efficient little car that I drive 95% of the time, and a truck for when I need one.
But for the SUV drivers who get a chuckle over the thought of smashing a little toy like the Smart, remember that you're not the biggest wheels on the road. I drive my kids to soccer practice in my Peterbilt! Hah!
RedState--that's great--for me? not practical; for others? let the market sort it out; it may work for some, like apartments & condos;
i'll back the insurance companies' moves to charge owners of these more if they get injured more or more seriously; after all, market proponents shouldnt whine about responsibility, right? my guess is injuries in these will tend to be more serious; but hey--life's a constant tradeoff
Some dimwitted coward scribbled: "Golly. Why are so many threatened by something SO SMALL."
Obviously, the only one here who feeeeeeeels threatened is you. Equally obviously is the fact that you're incapable of thought.
F your ownself stooge...
Jimmie -- Are you agreeing or arguing? I did use the word "choice" which would imply I wouldn't force anyone to drive what they didn't want to.
As for accident safety, well, don't you watch NASCAR? Every car on the road COULD be that safe with a roll cage and 5-point seat belts, but we're not likely to see it in dealer showrooms. Because the manufacturers and the customers don't want to spend a little extra money for their safety, we have air bags and "crumple zones." But, that's free market, isn't it?
53. Having just returned from Canada where the car is on the roads, I don't see why it would not be suitable for US roads (or who is to decide for others what is suitable) It is bigger and safer than a motercycle, which have been deemed reasonable, so what is the big deal about letting people choose this?
City streets, go ahead. Highway; Simple answer no. 0-60mph in 18+ seconds is unsuitable for most of our short entry ramps. This poses a risk not only to the Smart car but to the traffic in which it will merge. Most motorcycles can achieve highway speed in 3-4 seconds.
Besides, I'd never use Canada as an example of what we should be doing down here.
The Smart Car is one very safe car. It meets DOT and EPA requirments.The crash tests on the car are 5 STAR. Drive one and it will speak for itself. My wife drives hers all the time on the freeway,in the rain, and with no problems.You can park it anywhere. Yes the are approved in 45 of the 50 state. The CARB states are the only ones that will not allow new ones to be registered yet they must be two years old.
56. When a liberal is concerned with safety they are Naderite crybabies,when a conservative is concerned with safety they are guardian angels.They claim unions were good in their day but times change,how about drivers without an entitlement mentality to large trucks.Law and order conservatives sure do break the speed limit and get off on technicalities when they get a tax break on a Hummer.Harleys are more expensive and slower than sports bikes.I will strap a Segway to the back of my Smart car perhaps you can strap a Smart car to the back of your Hummer.
58. who cares, I want 1 just trying to get 1 can you help thanks al
59. matt rosenberg is a total moron. these cars are fabulous. there has to be a shift toward oil conservation if we want to break are addiction to arab oil. but then on the other hand, the only americans dieing in iraq are trailer dwelling hill billys who got a great deal on a suburban before they got shipped off to the desert. to all you backward 'conservatives', i hope your on the next plane to 'defend' freedom in iraq to keep the oil flowing. look at the big picture you small minded losers.
60. If you want to save the planet, the answer isn't buying smaller cars. The answer is in your pants. Stop breeding --there are too many humans!
We have one on Vancouver Island. It's a freeway up to the North Island and I had to keep my foot OFF the pedal to avoid a ticket.
In 6th gear, it was easy to hold 140KM/hr = 80mph.
Climbing some of the hills here, it goes up them in 4th or 5th.
So, it is small, (we have a 84 Olds Delta 88 as well, but it is fast as it needs to be.
As for crash protection, check some of the Youtube videos.
62. I can't believe all these negetive comments, and coming from people who don't know anything about the car. We bought one here in Prince Edward Island Canada a month ago. Very well equipped, for 20k canadian. This car gets 74 miles per gallon, and has plenty of get up and go. It will cruise at 80 mph, no problem. If the car passes all our safety and emission standards, then it should pass in the USA. Sounds like someone doesn't want you to save money buying gasoline.Gee, i wonder who that would be ?