I’ve suddenly been seeing a lot of those tiny “Smart Cars” around. Who makes them and what is their fuel efficiency? And I’m all for fuel efficiency, but are these cars safe?
—David Yu, Bend, OR
Originally the brainchild of Lebanese-born entrepreneur/inventor Nicolas Hayek of Swatch watch fame, Smart Cars are designed to be small, fuel-efficient, environmentally responsible and easy to park—really the ultimate in-city vehicle. Back in 1994, Hayek and Swatch signed on with Daimler-Benz (the German maker of the venerable Mercedes line of cars) to develop the unique vehicle; in fact, the company name Smart is derived from a combination of the words Swatch, Mercedes and the word “art.”
When initial sales were slower than hoped for, Hayek and Swatch pulled out of the venture, leaving Daimler-Benz full owner (today Smart is part of Mercedes car division). Meanwhile, rising oil prices have driven up demand for Smart vehicles, and the company began selling them in the U.S. earlier this year.
Measuring just a hair over 8 feet long and less than five feet wide, the company’s flagship “ForTwo” model (named for its human carrying capacity) is about half the size of a traditional car. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rates the car’s fuel efficiency at 33 miles per gallon (mpg) for city driving and 41 mpg on the highway (although actual drivers report slightly lower results). Three ForTwos with bumpers to the curb can fit in a single parallel parking spot.