With gas prices comfortably past the $3.00 mark in most
regions of the United States, many drivers and auto manufacturers are looking
for ways to consume less gas. Drivers are looking to cut down on unnecessary
trips and turning their attention to more fuel efficient offerings when it
comes time to purchase a new vehicle.
Auto manufacturers -- for their part -- are trying to
accommodate the eco-conscious consumers with efficient
gasoline engines, turbo-diesel
engines, and a vast
array of hybrids.
The Smart Fortwo, however, doesn't use expensive
turbo-diesel engines or a hybrid powertrain to achieve its fuel economy
numbers. Instead, its diminutive dimensions, extremely light curb weight (1,804
lbs), and tiny 1.0-liter (70 HP) engine allow it to return fuel economy numbers
of 33 MPG city/40 MPG highway.
The similarly-priced Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris achieve
ratings of 28/34 and 29/36 respectively. Those vehicles, however, look like
giants compared to the Fortwo. The Smart Fortwo measures just 106.1" from
bumper to bumper -- to put this into perspective, the Fortwo would fit within
the wheelbase of a 2008 Toyota Camry. Likewise, the vehicle is only 61.3"
wide -- five inches narrower than a Mini Cooper.
The diminutive dimensions allow the Smart Fortwo to fit into
tight spaces that other seemingly "small" vehicles wouldn't dare
venture. Parking space too small? Just park head first up against the curb. The
Fortwo makes compact parking spaces at malls look like an exercise in excess.
The Smart Fortwo's small size and miserable performance
numbers (60 MPH is reached is achieved in a lethargic 14.1 seconds from a
standstill) hasn't stopped people from lining up to purchase the vehicle.
Penske Automotive Group (PAG), the U.S. importer for the Smart Fortwo, reports
that the vehicle has surpassed all
sales expectations. Over 15,000 Fortwos were originally projected to be sold in 2008, but Penske is now on track to receive 25,000 units this year -- all of which are spoken for. Penske says that he could sell 40,000 units if he had the supply.
Buyers are also loading up on options with the average buyer
dropping $1,600 on accessories for a vehicle that starts at $14,235 including
"This is not a customer who is buying a car because it
is cheap," said PAG CEO Roger Penske. "People are interested in its
urban friendliness and its fuel economy," he said. "It is the total
of what we offer."
Traditional hot beds for "quirky car" sales like
New York and Los Angeles have seen booming sales for the vehicle. Cities not
typically known for their hip car culture are also seeing lots of interest.
"In Pittsburgh and places like that, the dealers are dying for the
cars," added Penske.
Drivers used to driving "normal" family sedans or
SUVs may balk at the idea of a tiny "tin can" vehicle roaming the
streets, but it appears that many buyers are willing to put up with the
downsides in order to make a statement.