On the face of it, it would be hard to imagine a car with an overall length of just 106 inches (that’s less than nine feet), and with an engine capacity of just one litre (a little over 61 cubic inches), selling in the USA.
I mean, the USA is the natural home of the gas guzzler and the SUV, isn’t it? Americans like big cars and trucks, not tiny little runabouts, don’t they?
Plus with petrol at the amazing bargain of about two bucks a gallon – it’s the equivalent of nearly $8 a gallon over here – they don’t really care about gas prices as Europeans do, do they?
So who in their right mind would launch such a tiny car in the world’s biggest car market and expect it to be a success?
Daimler, that’s who, with the Smart car.
The FT reports that Americans will soon have their first taste of the Smart car, and quotes Dave Schembri, president of Smart USA, the car’s distributor, saying "America has never been more ready for a car like this."
Smart is also relying on American consumers’ one-upmanship to attract buyers, the FT says:
[…] Until now, Mr Schembri observes, only drivers of Ferrari or Corvette sports cars could expect a thumbs-up from fellow motorists at a red light.
But from next month, "the neighbours will come running over to look at your Smart car".
Optimistic, perhaps, but Daimler says it has had impressive pre-sales interest in the Smart car:
[…] Over 30,000 Americans have placed a $99 deposit on a smart fortwo. Dealers will begin to fill orders in January 2008. smart USA’s website – www.smartusa.com – has received over 3 million visits since June 2006, over 95,000 people have signed up as smart “insiders” and visitors spend an average of over five minutes on the site.
[…] Approximately 70 carefully selected dealerships will sell the fortwo in 2008 in major cities across the United States.
I’d be a bit nervous driving a Smart car on roads filled with SUVs and trucks, and wouldn’t fancy my survival chances in a head-on collision with any vehicle.
Still, perhaps the American mindset is changing, as Daimler believes, no doubt one result from analyzing preferences and other feedback from those 30,000 consumers.
Maybe size isn’t the most important thing.
I’m paying about three dollars and twenty cents a gallon these days for unleaded regular in upstate New York. Even so, gas is still a bargain compared to what people pay on the other side of the Atlantic.
Looks like my figure of $2 a gallon is way out, Rob. So much for relying on info from friends that’s two months old :)
So maybe fuel price and how far it goes is an important issue in the US. It’s a huge issue over here, especially as over 80% of the price at the pump goes to the government in tax. We pay a double tax, actually, as the pump price also has VAT added.
I drive my wife’s Smart often. Safety issues? The NCAP gives it a 4* rating. See http://tinyurl.com/2622wy
Maybe it’s more perception than anything, Jed, especially re that safety report. The Smart just looks a risky proposition due to its small size.
Still, I really wouldn’t want to be in a head-on in one.