The Smart car was designed as a small form factor city car, and in Europe, it performs quite well. It’s size allows for it to find parking in spaces previously unavailable for regular cars. A necessity in every big city, right? Not so for American cities – due to mainly to the manner in which architects and urban planners have made our urban spaces, and to an extent, the economics of vehicle ownership of city dwellers.
One of the biggest threats to Smart cars is the seemingly American notion of the parking space. The American who lives in the city and can afford a new car would probably also be financially capable of affording off-street parking – in a standard sized parking spot. Most modern condominuims and new rentals at least have the option for a parking space. If they do not, the concept is so prohibitively expensive that it is common knowledge that spaces would be unavailable. When moving further out where parking on the street becomes a reality, other economics come into play, such as the owner’s need to drive further than in town for work as well as population density diminishes to the point where street parking is not such a headache.
Looking at the economics of the car’s cost, when new, there are plenty of equivalent regularly-sized vehicles to choose from. Should the owner live in the city and is able to pay for off-street parking, this person would probably be in a position to purchase much more car than a Smart car and would probably looking to do so. A comfortably equipped Smart car goes for around $20,ooo which, while comparatively cheap, also puts the buyer within striking distance of rather nicely appointed full-sized vehicles, not to mention a few sporty models.
The other notion is that if one lives in a city in the USA and needs a car to commute with, the Smart car would be an ideal solution. Most folks who live in the city and commute to work via automobile probably has a bit of travel to do and would appreciate the increase in handling a longer wheel-based car, not to mention better gas mileage provided by hybrid vehicles. The added interior space would also be sought by the daily road warrior.
Finally, if one lives in the city, then this person probably would not need a car as they would already have a good feeling on how to work mass transit. Travelling short distances in an American city can be more of a hassle than taking mass transit. The theory of parking spaces once again rears it’s ugly head. In urban areas, there is parking enforcement through the use of predetermined spaces and meters for them. Sure, you could get two Smarts in one spot, but the chances of doing so is displaced by a larger number of full-sized vehicles as well as these predetermined spaces disallow for the cleaver parking that Smart was developed for in other parts of the world.
I think that after facing these facts that small footprint cars cannot make it in the US market on dimension alone. The system is against them. These cars will have to sell in on other characteristics. If the price can come down to entry-level, this may be a good way, otherwise the cars have a dubious place on the automotive landscape that might be construed as just a ‘fun car’.