Smart Fortwo Mini-Cars, the shape of things to come?

When the Mercedes Smart ForTwo microcar begins arriving in the United States in January 2008, a new sub-subcompact segment will be created.

This is a specialized niche market vehicle for urban situations where parking is tight and expensive.

People who want to make a green statement will find that the 8-foot 8-inch Smart ForTwo receives more attention than increasingly common hybrids. This car is more than a meter shorter than the Mini-Cooper – those who call it a “golf cart” don’t stray very far.

Do you want to attract attention? Just back your Smart car straight onto the curb like a motorcycle instead of parallel parking. Two can fit in an ordinary parking space.

With a surprisingly spacious interior (sleeps 2), Smart cars are expected to appeal to city dwellers in San Francisco, Manhattan, and other congested cities along both coasts.

Most of the smaller cars sold in the US have been cheap, most are made in Korea.

Mini Cooper and Toyota Scion have shown that there is a growing market for quality small cars.

And ForTwo is diminutive. Weighing in at 1,800 pounds and powered by a 70-hp rear-mounted three-cylinder engine, the Smarts hit a top speed of 90 mph after considerable persuasion.

The 2008 EPA fuel economy ratings are 33 city / 40 highway.

Performance is not impressive: 0-60 mph in 12.8 seconds.

Penske Automotive Group, the second largest dealer chain, has contracted to distribute the Smart and has contracted 73 dealers nationwide.

Europeans have been driving Smarts for more than ten years, during which time around 800,000 have been sold in 36 countries.

The version configured for export to America will be made in France.

Penske intends to sell a minimum of 30,000 ForTwos in 2008.

While this seems ambitious with a well-established Mini only making around 38K, thirty thousand potential buyers have already made a $ 99 refundable deposit.

Mercedes has designed this skate to overcome the safety obstacles that all mini-cars face.

Crash tests, with videos available on the web, show that the 4-2 is safer than other small cars, especially those made in China.

In extensive crash tests, the steel roll cage that surrounds the passenger compartment has resisted deformation.

The economy car has standard safety features normally found in luxury vehicles; four airbags, antilock brakes, electronic stability control and a collapsed steering column.

The US government will test the Smart car after it hits the market. The builders predict it will receive four out of five stars in the American crash tests.

European models recently received four out of five stars in the Euro New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) tests.

The Smart comes in three affordable trim levels: the entry-level Pure, which at $ 11,590 lacks air conditioning and radio; Passion $ 13,590; and Passion Convertible Convertible $ 16,590.

And well, it’s modern. Smart already has the environmental brand image that competitors are trying to buy with advertising.

Tired of the color? Simply unscrew the plastic body panels and replace with any shade.

Will the market hold Smart, which has never been profitable, after the new one wears off?

Yes, it is modern, fuel efficient and cost effective. But the “Smart” may not be the automotive form of the future.

Designers made concessions to meet safety standards: occupants ride high, at eye level with other traffic.

The upright stance distributes the crash energy under the car. This creates a large, square front area that hurts fuel efficiency.

Smart’s very high drag coefficient of 0.38 causes fuel economy to decrease in proportion to speed more quickly than other designs.

While the ForTwo could be a start to a spatially efficient America, gas mileage isn’t significantly above Honda and Toyota 4-seat cars.

With the 505-horsepower 2008 Chevy Corvette ripping through the asphalt and powering 29 mpg on the highway, 40 mpg for a microcar hardly qualifies as progress.

In 1966 I bought a 1958 Morris Minor 1000 to drive to high school. It was initially designed in 1948. The Morris was modern, cheap, and fuel efficient.

That 60-year-old design also got 40 miles on a gallon of gas.