Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Smart Car Seeks Small Niche

The Smart Forfour model advertises fuel consumption of 58.8 mpg on the highway and 38.7 mpg in the city.
Photo: Courtesy of Smart

Zap is hoping to copy the recent success of the trendy Mini Cooper and gas-sipping Toyota Prius hybrid with American car buyers. "People look at small cars as smart and fun," said Zap spokesman Alex Campbell.

Karl Brauer, editor in chief of automotive website Edmunds.com, isn't sure the Smart will have the cool or cute factors that have made the Mini Cooper a success. "Some people want a car that will make people stop and look," Brauer said, but that is a minority of drivers. He said many people would be fearful of "driving around in a tin can that looks like it could get squashed by an SUV."

The Zap is 8 feet 2 inches long, or slightly more than half the length of the Prius, and at 1,588 pounds, it is nearly 40 percent lighter than the Mini Cooper. Campbell said the three-cylinder car appeals to urban dwellers who need to squeeze into small parking spaces and like the stylish colors.

The customizable car will be sold with door panels in a variety of colors that can be switched "within the time it takes to drink a latte," Campbell said.

The European version of the car, which is manufactured by Smart, a subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz, is rated to get 60 miles per gallon. However, Campbell said that after being modified by G&K Automotive Conversions to meet the tougher U.S. emissions standards, the car received an initial Environmental Protection Agency rating of just 37 mpg. He said the company's internal tests indicate that the modified car should get at least 50 mpg, so it has asked the EPA for a retest.

Reference: Wired.com

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