re: the Smart car

My last LiveJournal entry (the one about Beetles and t-bone collisions) raised an interesting discussion about Smart cars. There are folks saying they’ll never play in the US, and there are folks pointing out how immensely popular they are.

To the safety concerns, I’d like to point out that a Smart car is safer than a motorcycle. Is this a fair comparison? Yes, because the Smart has what is essentially a motorcycle engine, and gets mileage comparable to a motorcycle. Why is it safer? Well… other cars can SEE you. Motorcycles often fall into a psychological “blind spot” for drivers, who will pull out in front of them, sideswipe them, or otherwise pretend they’re not there. Smart cars look enough like cars that this won’t happen.

Re: popularity… I’d love to have one. I saw them all over in Nuremburg and in Holland, and they’re too cool for words. I don’t live in a big city, and I don’t commute anymore, but I still think they’re REALLY neato. If I DID live in a big city (it’ll never happen, but let’s pretend) then I’d pine for one unhealthily. I would obsess.


33 thoughts on “re: the Smart car”

  1. I could have sworn that I’d seen a press release…ah, yes. They will be coming to Canada. The U.S. will be getting a SMART S.U.V.:

    I saw them all around Germany, too, and most of the people who saw my pictures thought that they were amazingly cute, and would consider buying one.

    1. They’ve been selling them in Canada for some time, one of the fortwos at the auto show had Ontario plates on it. The smart people at the show refused to confirm that only the forfour would be coming to the US, they said that decision wasn’t definite yet. I saw a couple of the roadster sportscar models in Scotland, and at the auto show, they are cute as all heck.

      I like the way people in Paris park two fortwos pulled in (not parallel) in a single parallel parking spot.

      1. I saw one of the sports cars on display at Schiphol on the way through early this year. It looked an awful lot like a Honda del Sol.

  2. I read through the other discussion and had a thought:

    My view on European Cars vs American cars is that very often, they’re designed for different driving conditions. People often take very strong views on their preferences, but aren’t totally familiar with Why cars are designed differently, because they imagine the roads in Europe to be just like the ones in the US, and vice versa.

    It’s rather illuminating to see English Sportscar fans arrive in the US with a disdain for Big V8 American cars and then suddenly find themselves with hundreds of miles of arrow straight, pancake flat highways to drive on. Cornering and shifting suddenly isn’t nearly so important as being able to sit comfortably for longer periods of time.

    Reverse the conditions for Urban or European driving conditions where off road travel is not just unlikely, but practically impossible and you see why they think SUVs are insane.

    My personal take is that 2 wheel drive SUVs are insane, but that’s another story. You might as well drive a Mini-van.

    1. Doesn’t explain why people in New England buy enormous cars, though. *shakes fist at people who drive SUVs in Boston*

        1. I drive a tiny front-wheel drive Japanese import and have never, ever had trouble with snow that lasted longer than the five minutes it took to get a shovel out of the trunk and clear out the drive wheels. If someone lives in the Boston metro area and claims to need an SUV for the weather, they’re a bad and/or unprepared driver. (The really bad weather strands SUVs and compacts alike.) I’ll buy the excuse for people who live farther out, though. We have lots of twisty, under-maintained back roads. But they lose that exemption if they end up driving an enormous, spotless Escalade with unscathed brushbars, a bar of halogen foglights, and alloy wheels.

          I still want a dead-tree copy of all three volumes of EPD, but they’re expensive. *cries*

      1. Visibility. You can see over the tops of the other cars. SUVs are very, VERY comfortable in heavy traffic. If the price of gas doesn’t bother you, riding high is worth the money.


        1. There’s also the reason I drive one: Versatility. I need, at different times, to haul a full load of people, and a full load of stuff. I also have 4WD because I want every advantage I can get in lousy conditions. The visibility advantage is another factor I like.

          I doubt I’ll ever buy anything but SUVs.

          1. That’s why I’m considering a Subaru Baja. It has most of those same qualities plus a small bed. It’s only weakness is lower visibility.

    2. My personal take is that 2 wheel drive SUVs are insane, but that’s another story. You might as well drive a Mini-van.

      Not if you’re looking for better gas mileage, you don’t. I’ve had several Dodge Caravan/Chrysler Town & Country minivans as rentals, and they’ve all gotten 20% or so worse fuel economy (16-17 MPG) than my 4WD RX300 (20-21 MPG) – which gets a couple MPG less than the 2WD version.

      1. Really?

        Well, I wasn’t aware of that.
        I just assumed that Minivans would get better gas milage, being lighter built and all.

        Shows what happens when we assume. But, it also probably depends on the minivan, I would guess.

        1. That’s a common assumption. I don’t know why it doesn’t work that way…but the results have been consistent, in my experience.

  3. I showed my kids the article Wired News did on them a few months back. My son wants one for his “future” car collection. Of course, he also wants a Hummer and a Corvette.

  4. Not what I thought it was, but neat nonetheless. I thougt it was this thing I’d heard about years ago, something of an enclosed motorcycle, like the LightCycles from TRON.

    But these do also look nifty…

  5. Yeah, but the last thing you want to be in is a nose tail collision. We have loads of them here in the Uk, I regularly see them flying up the Motorways at 90mph, very scary to see.

  6. Considering how popular Coopers have gotten around here since the dealers started selling the new line, I could easily see these cars on the roads in a few years. I think the biggest concern though with any vehicle is fuel economy because the gas prices just keep rising. Especially considering the amount of driving you have to do to get from one place to another in the US and it’s even worse in the West. When you have a near 20 mile daily commute just to get to work it kind of says something.

    1. funny, that…

      I’ve got about a 20 mile daily commute and count myself one of the lucky ones. it’s about 15 minutes each way…

      just about everyone else I know takes at least an hour to get to work. 40 miles each way is the norm. frightening, isn’t it?

  7. If you lived in Houston, driving one would be suicide – because you can’t get much of anywhere without getting on a freeway.

    It’s worth noting that Zap Cars USA, the folks who are going to grey-market them here, aren’t expecting to sell but a couple of thousand, total.

  8. They do look cool. I would have to test drive one first. I drive between the Twin Cities and the Twin Ports (150 miles) on fairly regular basis. More MPG would be welcome.

    I would want the four seater. It doesn’t look like that model will be sold in the US any time soon. I looked into the Mitsubishi Colt (basically the same vehicle), and that doesn’t seem to be sold in the US either.

  9. I wouldn’t mind seeing these cars here in the US – provided it’s based on customer demand and not government fiat. I really don’t care what anyone else drives as long as they extend me the same courtesy. The thing that worries me about these types of cars is the propensity for their defenders to say that Americans should be “required” to drive them or that fuel standards or size standards should be modified such that other vehicles are penalized.

    (In case you ever wondered, that’s what happened to the station wagon. Congress regulated it out of existence with the CAFE standards. The funny thing is that the desire of Americans for big cars didn’t go away and this gave birth to the SUV which takes advantage of a loophole in the CAFE standards.)

  10. I know the vehicle I want.

    • seats two in moderate comfort, one behind the other
    • counts as a motorcycle for carpool lane access
    • has roughly the same parking footprint as a motorcycle
    • is electric for fuel efficiency
    • has a steel roll-cage to make accidents survivable
    • has a top speed of about 70 MPH

    I don’t know if such a vehicle is possible, or could be manufactured at a reasonable price. But it’s what I want. I want something that takes me and my daughter from home to work-and-school, for minimal energy costs, in relative safety, by forgoing the bells and whistles that most cars take for granted, and using modern electric car technology to reduce mechanical complexity.

    It’s at times like this that I truly mourn the mechanical engineering minor I was in too much of a hurry to get back when I was in college.

  11. The Smart car is also safer because it has impact-absorbing crash zones and, you know, seat belts. If you hit something with the Smart car that abruptly stops the car, the car absorbs a lot of the impact, and the seat belt keeps you in your seat. If you hit something with a motorcycle that abruptly stops it, you go flying forward and absorb all of the impact with your helmet (or just your head if you’re extraordinarily stupid). In terms of your basic vehicle accident, that could be the difference between life and death, and even between an overnight stay at the hospital and permanent body damage and scarring.

    Of course, it’s still possible to get killed in a Smart car; I wouldn’t want to be in one that a Yukon XL was charging at 70mph. But it’s still a hell of a lot safer than a motorcycle.

  12. I commute 55 miles each way, 4 days a week.

    I was going to build a VW-powered trike; a three-wheeled vehicle made from the front half of a motorcycle and the rear half of an (old) VW Bug, Ghia or bus.
    I was planning a high-mounted center-aligned racing seat with 5-point harness and a rollbar/cage to protect my vulnerable brain-case.

    I expect this air-cooled gasoline VW trike to get about 50 miles per gallon, driven at moderate speeds. It should be capable of very high speeds, if I dare (can you say “wheelie-bars”?).

    I ended up buying a Diesel (TDI) New Beetle, and I get about 37.6 MPG in the Dallas metroplex highway traffic (ie, speeds from 75MPH down to a crawl).

    I am a large man, and have driven a Suburban all my life (I even took my driver’s test in one, and parallel-parked it :). The “commanding view” aspect is an important one, psychologically, as well as the versatility of the storage/haulage space and occupant safety.

    Driving a smaller car on the road for the past year has shown me a different perspective, and I understand why people bitch about SUVs. But the real problem that I observe with road safety (and road-rage) is driver inattention and lack of courtesy.

    So, pay attention, let people change lanes (except at last minute), and hang up your damned cellphone, hands-free or no hands-free.


    1. Would you be interested in corresponding on the topic of experimental vehicles and alternative transportation prototypes? What you’re describing sounds like it has some features in common with my dream commuter vehicle, and the fact that you were planning to build it suggests that you have knowledge I would do well to acquire from you, if you are willing.

      1. Sure, I’d love to.
        I’m ulfrikr a t hotmail dot com, via MSNM if possible.


        ps, Sorry I missed this when it was new.

  13. Once we have a backyard, I want to buy a dead Smart from a junkyard and put it there for the kids to play in. It’s the perfect compromise: I get all the cute, but without the health risks.

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