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Regis H. Schilken

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Is Smart Car for you?

 When Damlier Chrysler’s Smart Car was first introduced into the United States in 2008, it had an initiation that seemed promising. Its very first vehicle went to a resident in Manhattan who communted to New Jersey. Obviously, gas mileage prompted this owner to purchase a ForTwo. In that year, gasoline prices had soared to all-time highs. Not only did this half car sell well—$25,000—but inventory quickly disappeared until, as recently as 2009, there was at least a one year wait for this odd looking automobile.

The Smart Car showed a lot of potential. The price tag was right; the Smart ForTwo cost around $12,000. It had a 3 cylinder turbocharged engine which produced either 50 or 61 horsepower depending on which model a person bought. Driving in the city, the ForTwo got approximately 46.3 miles per gallon; highway mileage was an impressive 68.9 miles per gallon.

The weight of this half car to power ratio allowed ForTwo drivers to reach 60 miles per hour in about 15 seconds. This vehicle had a semi-manual transmission. Although a driver had to shift from gear to gear, there was no real clutching system necessary. That was accomplished automatically. As an option, a buyer could order a ForTwo with a completely automatic transmission so that the driver never had to reach for the shift lever.

So the Smart Car ForTwo would be allowed into the United States, it had to pass federal crash-safety tests. Its manufacturers created a tridon box-like safety shell that surrounds both driver and passenger. As a result, insurance companies granted this small car an extremely high side and front crashworthiness.

To insure stability, electronics within the ForTwo will not permit it to exceed 80 miles per hour due to instability at high speeds. The vehicle comes with an anti-lock braking system (ABS). In addition, the car is short enough so that a driver need only pull straight in against a curb to park it, or back in. Three ForTwos can be parked side by side in a single parking space.

Hybred Technologies plans to sell an all electric version of the Smart vehicle in the U.S. starting at $35,000This vehicle would not be a hybrid such as a Prius or Ford’s Escape where a gasoline engine kicks in when the vehicle needs more power. No, this ForTwo car gem would run 120 to 150 miles on a singe electric charge from a standard 110 volt outlet in your garage or at a service area. It would take 4 to 5 hours to completely recharge.

Obviously, this car is not made for highway driving unless one has an exceptionally long extension cord, or the American highway system starts to provide electrical outlets. As an aside, when electric automobiles become an American mainstay, service plazas along turnpikes might become an ever increasing enterprise. Nowhere could I find information relating to vehicle performance as electric charge diminished say during driving hour 4 or 5.

Hybred Technologies plans to sell an electric version of the Smart Car in the U.S. Price tag: $35,000. This car will not be a hybrid. It will be completely electric and can be charged by plugging into a 110 volt outlet in any garage. If you are looking for a get-to-work-and-back-as-cheaply-as-possible automobile, the Smart Car may be perfect for you.

My only fear is the terrifying thought of a huge 18 wheeled tractor trailor passing me, or tailing me on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, or any open highway for that matter. Smart Car is currently a top seller in France, Rome, London, and Barcelona with their crowded streets and less than perfect highways.

The  may have its place in other countries, but for here and now in the United States where there appears to be a revival of large SUVs and/or huge 4-door pickup trucks, I would prefer to purchase a more traditional, heavier means of transportation. 

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