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Old 04-21-2007, 06:03 PM   #1
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Smart Car: Short But Sweet

It appears that it will be available in the USA in 2008
The Smart car: Short but sweet

AUTOMAKER SAYS TIMING IS RIGHT IN U.S. FOR CHEAP, FUEL-EFFICIENT VEHICLE
By Matt Nauman
Mercury News
San Jose Mercury News
Article Launched:04/20/2007 01:44:04 AM PDT


Carlos Ramirez has owned some classic cars, like a '57 Thunderbird or a '34 Ford Coupe with a rumble seat, but his current obsession might be his favorite.

"I wouldn't accept a Ferrari if somebody said, `Let's trade,'" Ramirez said.

His pride and joy, imported from Europe to Mexico and now at his Campbell home, is a Smart Fortwo. The tiny two-seater goes on sale in the United States early in 2008.

Early word-of-mouth praise comes from international travelers who have seen or driven the miniature cars - two fit in an average parking space. They have been on sale in Europe since 1998, in Mexico since 2003 and in Canada since 2004. Smarts are now sold in 36 countries, and the company says it has sold 750,000 of them in the past decade.

Officials with Smart, a part of Mercedes-Benz, which is part of DaimlerChrysler, have hesitated to bring the car here - until now.

"It's the right car in the right place at the right time," Dave Schembri, president of Smart USA, said in a recent telephone interview. (The company puts its brand name, smart, and its models, such as the fortwo, in lowercase, to emphasize its difference.)

Here's Schembri's reasoning:

Smart's superior fuel economy - projected at more than 40 mpg - makes it a natural during these times of high gas prices.

Smart's small size makes it a good fit in crowded urban environments.

Smart's low price - from $12,000 to $17,000 - makes it trendy at a time when a revival of small cars such as Honda's Fit, Nissan's Versa and Toyota's Yaris are finding U.S. buyers.

"Lastly, there's the emotional aspect of this car," Schembri said. "This car strikes an emotional chord by sheer design." In recent years, such diverse models as BMW's Mini Cooper, VW's New Beetle, Chrysler's PT Cruiser and the entire lineup of GM's Hummer brand have attracted buyers thanks to designs laden with personality.

After fits and starts - the company had a huge presence at the Detroit auto show in January 2004 showing off a Brazil-built utility called the Formore only to change those plans later - Smart announced in 2006 that it would come to the United States in 2008.

Since then, its www.smart usa.com Web site has attracted more than 800,000 unique visitors. Nearly 50,000 of those signed up to receive information on a regular basis, earning "Insider" status with the company.

For two weeks in late March and early April, these Insiders could put down a $99 deposit to get one of the first available Smart cars. The offer was opened to anyone online as of April 2.

Schembri would not say how many reservations the company has taken, but "the response has been amazing."

Smart will arrive in the United States a bit differently than two other new brands also affiliated with larger, more established brands - Toyota's Scion and BMW's Mini.

Smart needed a different distribution model, Schembri said, so the company picked Roger Penske's UnitedAuto Group to be the distributor.

The company will announce its dealers, perhaps 50 to 75 of them nationwide, in June. Many, but not all, Smart dealers also will be Mercedes-Benz dealers, Schembri said. "Probably over half," he said.

It's unclear how many Smart stores will open in Northern California.

Bryan Pyne, general manager at Fletcher Jones MotorCars, a Mercedes showroom in Fremont, said he'd be interested in getting a Smart franchise only if a limited number are opened here.

"It all depends how close they put them," he said.

UnitedAuto does own several dealerships in Northern California. But it owns none of the local Mercedes stores, which include the self-owned Fletcher Jones in Fremont and Beshoff MotorCars in San Jose as well as Sonic Automotive's Autobahn Motors in Belmont and AutoNation's Smythe European in San Jose.

So, how small is the Smart? It's 8.8 feet long, 5.1 feet tall, 5.1 feet wide and weighs between 1,653 and 1,808 pounds, depending on the model.

The new '07 Toyota Tundra Double Cab pickup with a long bed, to make a ridiculous comparison, is 20.6 feet long, 6.4 feet tall, 6.7 feet wide and weighs between 4,610 and 5,630 pounds.

Schembri, a former executive with Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and Mitsubishi, joined Smart USA last year. Here's how he describes his pint-size project:

"The car is about the size of the sofa in your living room. It's about as wide as your wide-screen TV. It's a little shorter than the average height of a woman," he said.

Although it sells other variants elsewhere in the world, Smart will come to the United States with just one model, the two-seat Fortwo. It'll be sold as a base two-door called the Fortwo Pure for about $12,000; as a better-equipped coupe, the Fortwo Passion, for about $14,000; and as a two-door convertible, the Fortwo Passion Cabrio, for about $17,000.

All models will get a 71-horsepower, 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine mated with a five-speed automated manual transmission. The Fortwo has a top speed of 90 mph, Smart says.

Many consumers will question the safety of such a small car. Schembri points out that the car's entire chassis serves as a safety cage, something Smart calls the Tridion safety cell with high-strength steel. Publicity materials say it "protects its occupants like the hard shell around a nut." The Fortwo meets U.S. and European crash-test regulations, and comes standard with four air bags, anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control.

Targeted buyers will be members of "the creative class," Schembri said. They're the first people to try a new restaurant, see a new movie, buy a new gadget.

Many of those types live here in Silicon Valley. "You couldn't define the creative class more than the market that you're in right now," he said.

In all, Smart anticipates drawing four groups of buyers: People looking for cheap cars. People living in big cities. ("The metro cools," Schembri says.) Baby boomers looking for a second or third car for the family fleet. And empty-nesters.

Ramirez, a retired businessman who worked at the Mexican consulate in San Jose for many years, has dual citizenship that allowed him to bring his Mexican-registered, two-tone Smart Fortwo Passion model to the Campbell home of his son.

It arrived about a month ago, and has about 600 miles on its odometer.

"Believe me, this is the car of the future," he said. "I love the environment. I love nature. That's the real reason I wanted this car."




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Contact Matt Nauman at mnauman@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5701.
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Old 04-22-2007, 06:28 AM   #2
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I love the smart and have been thinking of getting one since I first saw it a year ago or so. But instead of 60+ mpg it would be the watered down or safety up version that only gets 40 mpg now. I'm currently doing that now and instead of spending 12-14 k on it I would reather spend that money and have a really nice EV with the current ride.
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Old 04-22-2007, 07:32 AM   #3
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The Smart is one my wife has been holding out on for years.

What scares me is; "Many, but not all, Smart dealers also will be Mercedes-Benz dealers, Schembri said. "Probably over half," he said."

Being at a Mercedes dealer is reminding me of one of my favorite movies, Happy Gilmore. Where it brought all of the trailer trash, redneck, less than respectible looking people to golf courses. With the low price of the Smart; it being sold at a Mercedes dealer is like oil and water - it just doesn't mix.
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Old 04-22-2007, 02:25 PM   #4
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we have an owner here with a diesel version.

http://www.gassavers.org/garage/view/288
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Old 04-23-2007, 08:49 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by roadrunner View Post
It appears that it will be available in the USA in 2008
The Smart car: Short but sweet

Smart's superior fuel economy - projected at more than 40 mpg - makes it a natural during these times of high gas prices.

All models will get a 71-horsepower, 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine mated with a five-speed automated manual transmission. The Fortwo has a top speed of 90 mph, Smart says.
Ooo, more than 40 mpg... 71hp... out of a little 1.0l engine with a manual transmission.

I get just about 40 mpg with 109hp, 1.9l engine, and an automatic... WTF? Have they toned this thing down for US usage?
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Old 04-23-2007, 02:15 PM   #6
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OdieTurbo -

Quote:
Originally Posted by OdieTurbo View Post
Ooo, more than 40 mpg... 71hp... out of a little 1.0l engine with a manual transmission.

I get just about 40 mpg with 109hp, 1.9l engine, and an automatic... WTF? Have they toned this thing down for US usage?
I saw one on the 710 South in the FAST(?!?!?!?!?!) lane last Saturday. Don't know if it was a diesel or not.

Won't emissions compliance (in California especially) always cost you a few MPG?

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Old 04-23-2007, 05:12 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by OdieTurbo View Post
Ooo, more than 40 mpg... 71hp... out of a little 1.0l engine with a manual transmission.

I get just about 40 mpg with 109hp, 1.9l engine, and an automatic... WTF? Have they toned this thing down for US usage?

They have. They increased the length, added a slightly larger motor, and did away with the manual instead replacing it with one of those fake manumatic things.
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Old 06-21-2007, 12:02 PM   #8
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"The car is about the size of the sofa in your living room. It's about as wide as your wide-screen TV. It's a little shorter than the average height of a woman," he said. (emphasis mine)
If I got one, I could still haul everything I need to haul.

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