Does size matter? Smart car challenge to US gas guzzlers
Andrew Clark in New York
Thursday June 29, 2006
Can anything persuade American motorists that size is not important?
DaimlerChrysler is hoping to smash received wisdom in the motor
industry by unleashing its tiny Smart car on the world's biggest auto
The manufacturer announced yesterday in Detroit that the 2.4-metre
(8ft) long, two-seater car would go on sale in the US in 2008, a decade
after its launch in Europe. Originally a design collaboration with the
Swiss watch firm Swatch, the micro car has won plaudits for its fuel
efficiency and for allowing drivers to slip into tiny parking spaces.
About 143,000 of the cars were sold in 36 countries last year but the
US is an untried market. DaimlerChrysler hopes soaring petrol prices
will weaken US motorists' penchant for sports utility vehicles and
pick-up trucks. It wants to sell 20,000 Smart cars a year in the US.
DaimlerChrysler's chairman, Dieter Zetsche (seen in the driver's seat
yesterday), said: "The time has never been better for this, and I am
convinced that the Smart fortwo [model] as an innovative, ecological
and agile city car will soon become just as familiar a sight on the
streets of New York, Miami or Seattle as it is today in Rome, Berlin or
The challenge is a stiff one. Small cars no bigger than the Ford Focus
or the Honda Civic made up only 13% of vehicles on the roads in the US
in 2004, according to the consultants RL Polk.
Smart cars will be priced at about $15,000 (£8,200). Joseph Lorio,
senior editor at the Michigan-based Automobile Magazine, was sceptical:
"It would be hard to look suave and cool driving a little egg-shaped
This vehicle, the Eco-Fueler, may well be a better option. It's a
three-wheel, three-passenger vehicle which is legal to drive in the diamond
lanes with only one passenger. Apparently has a chassis designed by Mickey
Thompson Engineering and tops out around 130 mph, although I'm not ready to
test drive it at that speed, yet. This overall rig was designed by the NASA
engineer who helped design the moon rover so I don't think I'll challenge
his credentials. My understanding is that he also holds a "method patent"
(sort of like patenting the wheel) for compressing natural gas using a
The link is www.eco-fueler.com
I'd like to know what others feel about this approach.