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The car is Smart but are the buyers?
An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service


July 10, 2006

Given the heavy premiums on gas prices and parking places, automakers are offering both small cars and really small cars. GM, Toyota, Honda and Nissan all have really small models, and then there's the aptly named Mini Cooper.

But are we ready for a really, really small car, of the kind often referred to as a "microcar"? DaimlerChrysler is betting that we are.

In early 2008, it will begin selling its Smart car Fortwo, already for sale in Europe, in the United States. The Smart car looks like two armchairs on wheels covered by a bubble. Viewers of "The Da Vinci Code" will recall it careening down a Paris sidewalk.

The Smart car is unquestionably small. At 8 feet, 2-1/2 inches long, it's 2 feet shorter than the Mini. It's also 5 feet wide and 5 feet high - not bad headroom, actually. The New York Times op-ed page ungallantly sneered that the city had bigger cockroaches.

The car will cost less than $15,000, get 40 miles to the gallon from its 60 horsepower engine, and accelerate, if that's the word, from 0 to 60 in just over 15 seconds.

It will be sold first in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, Puerto Rico and Florida, where perhaps it will vie with golf carts as the transportation of choice in retirement communities.

DaimlerChrysler is unclear about the target market, an executive speaking vaguely to The Wall Street Journal of the "creative class" and "lifestyle-oriented" people.

Americans have fallen in and out of love with really small cars before - the Crosley, the Nash Metropolitan, tandem Messerschmitts, the front-entry Isetta - and then reverted to their normal embrace of size and horsepower.

Will the Smart car be the vehicle to lead the American car market to something more like Europe's? We look forward to the creative class and the lifestyle-oriented people - and, oh, yes, the retirees - getting back to us on that point.


Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Scripps Howard News Service.

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