It was always a big question whether Americans would buy very, very small cars.
When the Smart ForTwo launched in 2008, right into the teeth of gas prices that soared to $4 a gallon, it looked as if the answer might be yes.
But now it seems the longer-term answer is, "No, not really."
Sales of the Smart ForTwo minicar have remained at low levels--10,009 in 2012, after totals of 5,348 in 2011, 5,927 in 2010, and 14,600 in 2009.
In fact, they never again reached the lofty heights of 2008, the ForTwo's first year on sale, when it sold 24,622 units--far higher than the annual goal of 16,000.
By comparison, the sales figures of Chevy Suburban and GMC Yukon XL (essentially the same vehicle) have never been less than 57,000/year in the same period. None of which should be surprising.
Driving a small car is fine if you like small cars, but most people, if given a preference, won't buy a tiny car like a Smart car, because, well, buying one isn't very smart. You can do a lot of things in a Toyota Corolla that you can't do with a Smart car -- carry more than one passenger, carry gear, etc. You can do even more of the same with a larger vehicle.
I suspect the Smart car would be a useful conveyance in a place like Wrigleyville in Chicago, where parking is at a premium. But out in suburbia, it doesn't make a lot of sense. And while we are always treated to disquisitions about how urban living is making a comeback, there are still a lot more suburbanites and small-town folks who need to haul stuff out in the marketplace.