A big automotive deal: smart rolls out a mini electric car
Published 3:40 pm, Thursday, June 24, 2010
Editor's note: Fairfield Citizen intern Paul Hoffman recently had a chance to test drive a new, all-electric, "smart fortwo electric drive," at the car maker's Fairfield dealership. Here is his account of taking the mini-vehicle out for a spin:
America is a country of Big and Bold, Supersize Fries and Big Macs, Hummers and, unfortunately, Lady Gaga.
The ever-shrinking iPods are now overshadowed by the obese iPad.
And how was our country formed? By a bloody revolution.
So you might laugh at someone who attempted to argue that America is small, silent and subtle, yet the automotive company, smart®, hopes to transform that robust American image, at least in terms of cars. On June 9, smart, a division of Mercedes-Benz, a Daimler AG company, unveiled its latest model, the "smart fortwo electric drive."
This new model, with its trademark tiny dimensions of 8.8 feet in length and 5.1 feet wide, features an all-electric motor. That's right, no gas. At all.
According to the fortwo electric drive's brochure, the car utilizes a lithium-ion battery, which can be charged at "special home charging stations (`wallbox') and public electricity charging stations" using a 220-volt charger similar to the charger used for a washer and dryer. It takes approximately 3.5 hours to charge the battery from 20 to 80 percent. Don't worry, the battery can also be charged using a common, three-pronged 110-volt charger, but that takes approximately 12 hours to charge.
As the fortwo's name indicates, the car is a two-seater. While the vehicle's mini-measurements would certainly dissuade a soccer mom from driving a smart car on family errands, Derek Kaufman, the vice president of smart USA's Business Development branch, noted that "80 percent of the time, people drive alone." The smart car's target audience includes urbanites attracted by its total lack of dependence on gas -- and that expense. Although this new model can travel only approximately 85 miles at city speed on a full battery, far less mileage compared to what it could get on a full tank of gas, Kaufman said, "Most people drive less than 40 miles a day," well within the smart car's range.
Suburbanites who commute by train to work and whose driving consists primarily of short distances to and from the railroad station might relish the all-electric vehicle. One major attraction would be the car's ability to fit into only half the space of a traditional parking lot slot. And the typical commuter would not be bothered by the fact that the electric drive has two only seats and virtually no trunk.
Finally, the smart car can be used as a secondary means of transportation for drivers who want keep the mileage down on their primary vehicles.
I had the opportunity to test drive the soon-to-be-released model, and did a double take when I turned ton the ignition. There is no loud revving sound from an engine. In fact, there is no engine. Just silence. The car drove smoothly, quietly and had great acceleration.
Despite the smart car's size, tests show it is surprisingly safe. Complete with a reinforced steel cage modeled after NASCAR racing cars, the fortwo earned 5 out of 5 stars on side impact rating and 4 out of 5 stars on frontal crash driver side rating in crash tests conducted by the federal government.
Still not convinced? Then read some accounts posted on the website, safeandsmart.com, to discover how smart car owners have survived some horrific crashes.
The smart cars were introduced as an answer to the increasing problem of urban congestion in Europe. They have excellent turning capabilities, and can easily maneuver into seemingly "un-parkable" spots.
Today, smart cars represent more than just a solution to city traffic. The newly designed electric model is a revolutionary advance in environmentally sensitive transportation. Not only does smart.com proudly claim, "The smart fortwo electric drive does not emit any CO2, carbon monoxide, soot, particulate matter or pollutants," but Kaufman also noted the new model makes a "statement on material conservation." The car's bite-size stature requires significantly less material to manufacture than a typical sedan, and 95 percent of a smart car's materials are recyclable. Even the finish on the exterior is not your average paint. Instead, the new model features a more durable and environmentally friendly coat of powder.
Moreover, Kaufman explained the electric car fits into a political context as well as an environmental imperative. "Electric transportation," the Kaufman claimed, "is the foundation for a coherent energy plan for the United States." Essentially, electric cars have the potential to ease America's dependence on foreign oil, helping to alleviate potential political and military conflicts.
That benefit, of course, will ultimately be determined by how many electric cars are sold in the future.
While the smart car is certainly not for everybody, it undoubtedly has a niche in the U.S. automobile market.
The smart fortwo electric drive will be introduced to the American market in October. Only 250 cars will be leased at $599 monthly, from 5 dealerships nationwide, including the Fairfield smart dealer on Commerce Drive. Fairfield was picked based on market research indicating that the local market is receptive to the all-electric vehicle.
Starting in 2012, smart will begin manufacturing the electric model in Germany and assembling it in France on a mass scale. The car then will be leased or sold at prices yet to be determined.
For more information, visit smart.com or contact Eric N. Mitchell, the brand manager of smart center Fairfield at 203-336-7285 or visit the dealership at 80 Commerce Drive off Interstate 95's Exit 24.