A cure for America's addiction to oil?
TEENY WEENY: The author
stands next to a Smart car in Germany. / Photo courtesy
of Jason A. Givens
By Jason A. Givens
March 7, 2006 | With gasoline prices soaring out of
control and the development of alternative energy sources
moving at a snail's pace, small cars may be the way
I went to Germany over the recent winter break to visit
my father-in-law who was recovering from throat cancer
at a rehabilitation center in a city called Bad Emms.
I spotted a tiny car known as the Smart fortwo while
we were walking through the streets of this beautiful
German resort city, located near the border with France.
In order to give some perspective to how small this
car really is I had my picture taken next to it. According
to Wikipedia it was designed to transport "two
persons and a case of beer."
My wife, Tatjana Givens, is from Germany, she said
some Germans have nicknamed the Smart fortwo, Elefant
Rollstuhl, which translates into "elephant wheelchair."
In Europe small cars are a lot more common than they
are here in America with many manufacturers building
models for the European market that we will likely never
see here in the states. The popularity of small cars
is primarily due to the high cost of gasoline. Monika
Strampfer, who lives in southern Germany near Nuremberg,
said in a phone conversation on Feb. 24, 2006, that
gasoline currently costs 1.19 Euro per liter. At the
current rate of exchange that equals about $5.37 per
gallon. It seems like cars in the U.S. just keep getting
bigger, take for example the Hummer H-2.
"Americans are addicted to oil," said President
George W. Bush in his state of the union address Jan.
The Smart fortwo gets approximately 60 miles per gallon
making its driver more like a social drinker than a
full blown addict.
SMART is an acronym for Swatch Mercedes Art. In the
beginning Smart was a project between the Swiss watch
maker Swatch and the German auto manufacturer Mercedes.
Swatch is no longer involved they pulled out due to
heavy financial losses. Smart is now a division of Daimler
Chrysler the owner of Mercedes and many other automobile
brands around the world.
Smart manufactures compact cars which are popular throughout
Europe and Asia they also seem to be available pretty
much everywhere except the United States. However, they
are sold in Canada and technically you could import
one yourself if you so desired as long as it met current
U.S. safety and emission standards.
Smart currently has two models, the original fortwo
and a four passenger model the forfour. Due to low sales
they halted production in 2005 on a Roadster model,
which was designed to be reminiscent of a 60s era roadster.
Smart also scrapped production plans on a model named
the formore which was a small sport utility vehicle
destined to be released in America.
The first Smart fortwo, originally called the City
Coupe came rolling off the production line in Hambach,
France in July of 1998. They still make the four two's
in Hambach at a factory named Smartville. The forfour
is produced at a factory in the Netherlands.
According to the
Smart Web site their cars are loaded with safety
features pioneered by Daimler Chrysler such as the tridion
safety cell, a high tensile-steelsafety structure designed
to protect the occupants. It also has crumple zonesthat
help absorb impact energy and dissipate as much as possible
before it reaches the tridion cell. The cell helps to
reduce the energy of impactbefore it reaches the passengers.
All Smart cars come equipped with many of the same safety
features found on Mercedes automobiles such as front
and sideair bags, anti-lock brakes and what Smart calls
electronic stability program or ESP. ESP helps the driver
during cornering, stabilizing the car byadjusting engine
torque and selectively braking one or more of the wheels
at a time as necessary to maintain lateral stability,
the web site said.
The starting price for a Smart fortwo in the United
Kingdom is 6,810 pounds, which according to the current
exchange rate equals about $11,869. When you purchase
a Smart you're essentially getting all theengineering
and quality of a Mercedes for less than what you would
pay for a
Ford Focus stateside.
According to Wikipedia that's probably the reason why
they're not availablein the states just yet, Mercedes
wants to maintain its reputation as a highpriced luxury
line in order to keep high profit margins.
Smart's Web site said they plan on exporting their
cars to the U.S. but as of yet it's too soon to determine
when that will begin.
With the price of gasoline these days and increasing
concerns aboutgreenhouse gasses, Smart may be more than
just an acronym, it may be a "smart" choice.