Monday, January 07, 2013

Drive my car

The Christian Science Monitor tells us something we all knew:
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.


Gino said...

something like a Smart is not a people's car. its a toy, an extra expense for those who already have a real car for real purposes, or have lifestyles that do not require a car.

i once had a geo metro that served as my only ride, but we took the wife's sedan when it was family thing.
it was workhorse, metro though. more room for hauling than you'd think. i'd load up with gear and guns, and offroad it into the hills for a day of escape and shooting.
really. off road. take it slow, and it will take you anywhere you want to go.

when i was done with it, i gave it away to my lawn service guy, who could squeeze two mowers, an edger, brooms, blowers for a day's work into it. he was thrilled.

Brian said...

There are several in my neighborhood (I will pause for a moment while you collect yourselves from shock) and as far as I can tell they do exist more or less as toys. I think if there existed some structural advantage (i.e., if there were parking spaces available only to vehicles of that size) I could maybe see some advantages to having one in a dense urban environment. But I just see them taking up the same spaces all the other cars otherwise would.

As to fuel economy...the 2000 Toyota Echo I paid $2500 for that my wife and I share (and really only drive about 100 miles/mo) gets 38 mpg on the highway. And it also fits in some pretty tight spaces...

Mr. D said...

I've driven a Geo Metro. It was small, but useful. And the Toyota Echos that I've seen would fall into the same category.

I miss being able to share a car -- Mrs. D and I did that until 2004 when a job change necessitated that we acquire a second vehicle. It's a great thing to do if you can pull it off.

Anonymous said...

Mr. D, Speaking as a Smart car owner who abhors the suburbs, I find your critique pedestrian. Of course a tiny car cannot haul three Costco size shopping carts full of Sam's Club jetsam, but then, that was never it's intended purpose. My car carries two people and enough stuff for a long weekend wine tasting (with plenty of room for a couple cases of pinot aussi) or moi solo on the daily slog to and from the job site. Now, would it be a good choice as the only car for any size family? well, of course not. But as a second car it more than fits the bill. The fact that Americans choose their second cars to be another copy of the Ex-urban assault vehicle already in the driveway surely isn't very smart. I have an AWD grippy Subaru to attack the snowy mountains and the hazards of any-erbia. So my smart car plays the support role it could easily supply most Americans. And BTW, it's a riot to drive. Try it out sometime when you get a chance.

Gino said...

anonymous: yeah, i see the rare Smart on my commute, struggling to keep up with the rest of us road warriors.
the entertainment value is off the charts. 'quite the riot', as you say.

Mr. D said...


LOL. Well played!

R.A. Crankbait said...

In travels through large metro areas in Spain and Italy I have seen a few more Smarts than I do here, but the mode of choice is clearly the scooter.

There are infinite vesions, from beat-up units held together with tape, to classic Vespas, to pumped-up styles that look like wasps on steroids. The roads are thick with them, as are the sidewalks and special parking areas where they are deposited. They look like a lot of fun. You see college kids, executives and women in (carefully tucked) skirts riding them. If I lived in a confined metro area in a temperate region I'd definitely have a scooter for the daily commute.

Brian said...

Yep, only having one car is awesome, but it's possible because we live within a 20-min bus ride (for her) and a 25-min walk (for me) from our respective places of work. And of course, we pay a premium to do so, though I have done the math and it comes out to considerably less than the cost of having two vehicles and driving them daily from a cheaper neighborhood or suburb.

No kids makes it easier, too, of course. Though plenty of people are raising kids in our neighborhood and doing it with one or zero cars.

When we lived in NC, I joked that we really only needed about 1.3 cars. I suppose the Smart could count as 0.3...

Mr. D said...

Though plenty of people are raising kids in our neighborhood and doing it with one or zero cars.

It can be done, but you have to accept a few limitations. Both our our kids were born well before we got the 2nd car.

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