But How Do You Shake The Machine If It Gets Stuck?

By on October 19, 2004

SMART Car Vending TowerAn offshoot of Mercedes, Smart GMBH is developing what might be the anti-Mercedes: a tiny, plastic-bodied car designed (mostly) for urban commutes. Wired has an article describing the company, the vehicle, and their designs on the US market.

Abigail’s Smart Fortwo, which she has been tooling around Washington, DC, as part of a focus group, is engineered by Mercedes; an early model already sits in the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. But behind Smart’s quirky design hides a radically sensible car. The Fortwo can park practically anywhere, even sideways in a compact garage spot. A diesel model, like Abigail’s, gets nearly 70 miles to the gallon, making supergreen hybrids such as the 55-mpg Toyota Prius look like gas-guzzlers. And this year, a major study ranked the Fortwo’s tailpipe the least polluting in the world, ahead of more than 1,200 cars.

Other features include snap-on replacement body panels (like cellphone faceplates), braking and traction control borrowed from Mercedes, and a miniscule price tag. Apparently, these are hot items in Europe, and are being sold out of giant glass ‘vending machines’; You can just buy one and drive off.

They’re getting ready for a US release, but it will (of course) be an SUV model to compete with the CRV and the Rav4. After years of progressively bigger gas-guzzlers, could the US be ready for the opposite end of the spectrum?

(I dig the little roadster.)



  1. I think its ridiculous that the US market needs an “suv” version of this. When I originally heard of the car I thought – “hey that’s pretty cool”. Then I found out that the US was only getting the suv version. Of course – I shouldn’t say much, I drive a truck.

    (I now realize I have no place on the “soap box” I was getting ready to stand on….oh well)

    Still, I think the car version is a very cool idea. I am surprised Volkswagen hasn’t come up with the replaceable side panels for their cars.

  2. I agree that they should just release the car version. The fortwo would have only the Mini to compete with in the US market, but instead they’ve got this ‘formore’ SUV concept that will be entering a crowded marketplace with established brands. It probably won’t do that well (SUV’s in general aren’t selling as well do to gas prices), then Smart will balk at the US market, when if they had just released the fortwo for the US, they would have had very little competition and probably would have done quite well. I read that they’re still working on getting EPA and NHTSA (NHSTA?) approval for the fortwo, so that may be part of the holdup.

    Personally, I own a Jeep for hauling things, young’uns, and critters around, plus a 4-door sedan that is used almost exclusively to get back and forth to work. If I could replace that sedan with something that got 70+ mpg and gave me back half a car’s worth of garage space for the same price I paid for the (used) sedan, I’d jump all over it.

  3. Europe has had the Smart car for a while now. Mercedes makes a similar, slightly larger models called the A-Class. They are great little city cars. Most rush-hour commuters sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic where the average speed is below 15mph. Why do you need a big gas guzzling SUV for that? Granted, I wouldn’t want to drive one across the country but for day-to-day commuting it’s great. Plus you can park those little smart cars just about anywhere. Have you ever tried parallel parking a Hummer?

    I never understood the whole SUV thing anyway. 99% of them never leave the pavment yet all the advertisements are focused on off-road capability. What a relief knowing that they can all handle those speed bumps at the shopping mall in rain and snow.

    If you need more hauling room, why not buy one of the new family wagons? Heck we used to have a family station wagon back in the 60s-70s and never had a problem hauling lumber, sheetrock, groceries, bikes, surf boards, etc.

    It’s up to the advertising agencies to change American’s perception of small cars. Remember back when the Japanese car companies first invaded our shores? Look at how they dominate the market now. Only a matter of time.

  4. As I get older, I find that I’m more and more aware of environmental issues. I become more and more interested in getting a lot of mileage out of my cars.

    I have a little standard that I won’t drive anything that gets less than 20 m.p.g., and I’ve managed to stick with that over the years. I’m rapidly coming into the market for a new car, and I’m quite pleased that the Nissan Murano and the Maxima — my two front-runners — both fit the bill.

    But is 20 m.p.g. enough? With all the advances in technology, should I bump up my standard?

  5. One of my all-time favorite quotes came from Dean Kamen when the Segway HT was first introduced; “Why do you need a 2 ton car to haul your 200lb butt around town?”

    I’ve also become more keen to fuel efficiency, and see a lot of sense in these micro-cars, but personally I have a hard time justifying the purchase of a new car (I’m cheap.) I used to drive an 88 Ford Crown Victoria, which was a nice ride, but only got 15-18mpg around town. Last year I replaced that with a 95 Civic, and that would give me upper 30’s around town, and 50 on the road. Great car, but I had trouble getting in & out of it (I’m 6’2″, 230lbs), so now my daughter drives the Honda. I use a little Suzuki Sidekick for getting to work and back; I get a consistent 35mpg running around town with it. Highway mileage probably won’t be much different, having all the aerodynamics of a shoebox, but then I’m not planning any road trips with it.

  6. I think that there should be a human-to-vehicle weight ratio requirement. Weight yourself, and then you can only buy a vehicle less than that number times, say, 20.

    At 270 or so, I’d get about anything I needed. However, the secretary in my office — who weighs 90 lbs. soaking wet — would have to give up her 2002 Chevy Tahoe XL which weighs in at a svelte 5,050 lbs. (And no, she doesn’t have any kids…)

    If not for the weather in South Dakota, I’d be interested in a motorcycle for everyday transpotation, strictly for the economy and environmental benefits. Ninety-percent of my time in a vehicle is spent alone, and the amount of stuff I carry around could fit in a saddlebag. I bet you could find a touring bike that got well into the 40 m.p.g. range.

  7. I just bought my first “gas guzzler”…the last of the big tradional station wagons, a ’96 Buick Roadmaster, complete with fake woodgrain sides..;)

    It’s replacing a 4cyl Pontiac 6000 that I’m sure gets better gas mileage…but the wagon still gets 20 city/25 hwy even with it’s 260 HP LT1 motor (besides a lower purchasing price, this was the main benefit over a similarlly equipped SUV).

    We’re also simply outgrowing the Pontiac – having a 6’3″ driver doesnt’ leave much for kid’s knee and leg room in the back seat.

    But we are “car hobbyists”, and the wagon will see more than just daily transportation duty, it’ll also be the tow vehicle for my old Jeep to the dunes here in MI, and other trail run destinations.

    I always get nervous when anyone talks about rules or laws for what you can drive…since more than likely people with automotive related hobbies won’t be accounted for.

  8. Amen to the motorcycle idea; or better yet a bicycle. Even here in SD, if I could find a way to do the trip to work and back on a bike without having to worry about slippery surfaces and traction, I’d do it. (I have this aversion to two-wheeled things falling over while I ride them — long story.)

  9. Deane & Dave

    I ride a sport-touring bike (Kawasaki Concours ZG-1000) and get about 41mpg.

    I’ve been to 41 of the 50 states and 6 countries in Europe on my Concours.

    I live in NYC where I use mass transit for my daily commute. But if I lived/worked in a city that had less of a mass-transit infrastructure (like Phoenix, or Los Angeles) then I’d definitely ride to work every day. And yes, everything I need fits in the saddlebags, including a change of clothes and a laptop computer.

    I wish more people in the US realized that motorcycles are a great form of transportation. Europeans have been keen to this for years. Scooters and motorcycles are EVERYWHERE in European cities.

    Americans tend of have this cartoonish image of bikers in their heads (thanks to tv celebs like American Chopper’s Teutel’s and Monster Garage’s Jesse James and all those crazy race bike squids doing track-only stunts on the street).

    They still think that motorcycles are a fashion statement and believe that they are more dangerous then they actually are.

  10. LOL, you guys are a little slow on the uptake. I had one of these babies 3 years ago in the UK and it was the best car I have ever owned. They’re even available here in Australia now and you see more of them cruising around every day .. go the smart!!

  11. I believe the fortwo’s are already here in the U.S…. “Zap!” was at the San Francisco Auto Show and said that they got EPA approval to ship the fortwo’s. They announced recently that they’ve had a big order from car dealers. Check out http://www.zapworld.com for more info.

  12. Do you know if the car also is a hybrid, or with another efficiency boosting technology, or simply so small that it requires less gas?

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