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December 17, 2008 2:55 AM   Subscribe

Britney Spears loves Japan for its tiny cars. Tiny cars are huge in Japan. But Americans are not very big on very small cars. Nonetheless, automakers may bring tiny microcars to the U.S.. The trick will be making money on smaller cars. Small cars are nothing new, but soon they may be cool.
posted by twoleftfeet (98 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow... random sentence
posted by noob09 at 3:05 AM on December 17, 2008


Britney Spears loves Japan for its tiny cars.

I bet she goes for Shriners in a big way.
posted by pracowity at 3:36 AM on December 17, 2008


Um there might be a bit of a wait on that - auto makers here (In Japan) are announcing major layoffs. One area has even set up support services for foreigners laid off as a considerable part of the workforce is Brazilian and they are concerned about homelessness because of lack of other possible work.
posted by gomichild at 3:38 AM on December 17, 2008


And to add insult to injury, they can't sleep in their cars.
posted by pracowity at 3:42 AM on December 17, 2008 [5 favorites]


Show me one of those wacky concept cars (last link) that's ever gone to market in anything like its original concept form, in the last 20 years. Every year it seems, auto makers roll out these "futuristic concepts," just to show us what we'll never get from them, in any of a thousand parallel futures.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:43 AM on December 17, 2008 [4 favorites]


The entry-level Smart fortwo, which measures almost 106 inches in length, will carry a sticker price under $12,000

Too expensive for a car that size. I could get a larger, used car for less than that. Plus I'd be terrified to be in an accident in one of those things, especially with all the minvans and suvs around.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:59 AM on December 17, 2008


britney loves small cars:
her pearls of stanza paying
for a cute mazda
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:04 AM on December 17, 2008


You know else who loved tiny cars?

That's right. Urkel.
posted by billysumday at 4:05 AM on December 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


How to Save Detroit | The Big Picture

I like the Smorche.
posted by gen at 4:16 AM on December 17, 2008


Lots of cute little old cars here.

Can't say that I'd relish being hit one more time while driving one of these things though.
posted by mandal at 4:20 AM on December 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


The messed up thing about the fortwo is that it gets 36mpg. If I'm going to drive half a car, and one that struggles to do highway speeds, it's going to have to do better than that.
posted by knave at 4:32 AM on December 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


The United States is the largest energy consumer in terms of total use in the world. A big fraction of that comes from transportation. In urban environments it is not usually necessary to drive huge vehicles short distances, but Americans usually do.

Smaller cars are really not a bad idea, however humorous they may seem to the American psyche.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:33 AM on December 17, 2008


Plus I'd be terrified to be in an accident in one of those things, especially with all the minvans and suvs around.

Maybe racing head-on into a concrete barrier would hurt a little, but smart people drive Smart Cars in the city, where the speed of a collision is almost always pretty low. The average speed of a car in rush-hour Manhattan is a little faster than a walk and traffic rarely gets above, what, 20 or 30 mph?
posted by pracowity at 4:38 AM on December 17, 2008


Actually, racing head-on into a concrete barrier is one of the situations where engineering matters a lot more than vehicle weight (unless you are in a train or something that will actually punch through the concrete). The crumple zone engineering and airbags are the most important part of the construction for that kind of collision.

I like the messerschmitt's tandem seating arrangement, and hope to see a modern high performance car with that kind of profile some day.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:52 AM on December 17, 2008


smart people drive Smart Cars in the city

And assholes on Long Island drive them on the LIE, while other assholes are weaving between semis and gravel haulers at 75mph in 5000lb Suburbans. It's a matter of time before Sue Simmons tells us just how much force it takes to compress a Smart from 106 inches to 53. The crash tests look okay, but what happens when you squish them between two heavy objects?
posted by uncleozzy at 4:57 AM on December 17, 2008


Britney Spears loves Japan for its tiny cars.

I bet she goes for Shriners in a big way.


She obviously has a feztish.
posted by jonmc at 4:58 AM on December 17, 2008 [4 favorites]


The crash tests look okay, but what happens when you squish them between two heavy objects?

By this logic, we should all be driving the largest, heaviest vehicles, say a Hummer or Suburban. But consuming more energy (be it coal from the US or oil from the Middle East) than what we produced in goods or services is partially what has gotten the US of A to where we are today, no?
posted by gen at 5:02 AM on December 17, 2008


By this logic, we should all be driving the largest, heaviest vehicles

Well, I'd argue that we should be driving the nimblest vehicles, but really the point is that the scale is so completely different. I'm all for smaller cars--nothing I hate more than some dazed-out yahoo in a 3-ton SUV barreling down the road--but putting something as small as a Smart on a high-speed road with tractor-trailers and very large passenger vehicles without enough horsepower to get out of its own way seems like a bad idea.

I absolutely don't believe in, though, the soccer-mom mentality that more metal is safer. It's absurd.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:08 AM on December 17, 2008


Smaller cars can actually outperform trucks in crash tests as seen here, so don't assume they are less safe (in addition to being better able to avoid crashes and not roll over so easily).

Other microcars on MeFi can be found here.
posted by TedW at 5:18 AM on December 17, 2008


Well, at least Ford could just import Ka from its European lineup. I love (Mercedes Benz) Smart - it has the lowest consumption in European markets, only 3,3 liters per 100km. (Umm, that's 71.28 miles per gallon.)
posted by hoskala at 5:24 AM on December 17, 2008


Too expensive for a car that size. I could get a larger, used car for less than that.

Its small size is supposed to be an advantage --- Friends who drove one for a few months loved it for its unorthodox parking capabilities.

That being said, I'm going to ram the next smartass who thinks he can pass me on the right because he's driving a tiny car.

By this logic, we should all be driving the largest, heaviest vehicles.

I vaguely remember this is true. Considering your own safety only, it is best to be driving the heavier car in a crash. On the other hand, driving a heavier car increases the chances of hurting the people in the other car.
posted by ghost of a past number at 5:30 AM on December 17, 2008


I absolutely don't believe in, though, the soccer-mom mentality that more metal is safer. It's absurd.

However, it is completely true, no matter how absurd it seems to you (as long as your proviso is 'in an impact'). The heavier vehicle in a head on crash (for instance) will almost always come out better, if a comparable amount of engineering (ie ignoring a light Smart car hitting a 1930's big car with no seat belts, etc). If a Semi hits 3 Smart cars head on, the Semi driver will almost certainly walk away unscathed, but the Smart car drivers will be much less fortunate.

However, this purely and only considers Secondary safety. Primary safety - the handling and dynamic ability of the car to avoid the accident in the first place - means that the SUV may actually come out worse, because they are (frankly) shit and more likely to be involved in an accident than a well-engineered Smart car.

So, while in some respects your statement is wrong, you can still qualify it and still be able to say "no safer than..." at the very least.

While smaller cars are obviously the right way to go for all personal vehicles (bigger than you need is quite obviously a waste right through from manufacture to energy required to move it) the change would have to be gradual and evolve, as a sudden influx of ickle cars would result in an equal influx of 'small car driver getting nailed while Soccer Mom re-does make-up in mirror' style accidents and news stories. While the average size of vehicle on US roads is so large and safety legislation and driving standards (and road standards) are so hideously bad, small cars will struggle to overcome the wash of negative press that is inevitable from trying to survive in such a compact-hostile environment.
posted by Brockles at 5:32 AM on December 17, 2008


Drive a small, modern car that meets all safety standards and has airbags front and side, stability control, antilock brakes, seatbelt pretensioners, safety glass, and every other bit of safety equipment and people will say "Wow, that looks dangerous."

Drive a funky older car, like an early Mustang or '56 Chevy, and people will say "Cool! I wish I had one! Let's go for a drive sometime!" This is despite the near total lack of safety engineering that results in older cars being death traps in an accident.

I love cool old cars (and motorcycles and airplanes and boats and...) and consider some of them to be rolling art, but if I knew I was going to be in an accident I'd rather be in a smart.

People seem to have firmly held conclusions on safety in general, and they seem to often be built upon intuition rather than logical thinking. In my world, large trucks are not constantly crushing small cars under their wheels or compressing them into cubes by forcing them into brick walls. Then again, I don't live in Liberty City.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 5:33 AM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Smaller cars can actually outperform trucks in crash tests as seen here, so don't assume they are less safe

Don't you read your own links? The first line is bold text saying "Now keep in mind that this is not a test of how the two cars would fare in a head-on collision with each-other".

Much as the Mini Cooper is better engineered that the F150 (by about 20 years or more) if you drive those cars against each other at any sort of speed the Mini driver is dead. Stone dead. Relative mass is important, but the sheer physical size difference will mean the Mini driver will likely crumple and die well below even the sight line of the F150 driver. They'll just hear a bang and wonder what the hell it was.

Both cars are crashing against (demanded by the test) something sufficiently heavy that they are unable to move it. Something, comparatively, really heavy. Like, in the Mini's case, something as heavy as an F150. It simply doesn't have the mass to move one significantly, so the vast majority of the crumpling will be on the Mini's part. Conservation of momentum dictates this to be so. So a Mini versus a Mini is a much safer situation for the drivers than an F150 vs F150 crash, true, but in an F150 vs Mini crash, then Billy Bob is laughing over a couple of plasters and an air bag burn.
posted by Brockles at 5:39 AM on December 17, 2008


The messed up thing about the fortwo is that it gets 36mpg. If I'm going to drive half a car, and one that struggles to do highway speeds, it's going to have to do better than that.

Apparently it does (well, at least 50% of the time).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:40 AM on December 17, 2008


Primary safety - the handling and dynamic ability of the car to avoid the accident in the first place

And attentive driving. But yeah, I agree with pretty much everything you've said. I guess it's the whole active vs. passive safety viewpoint. If you look at accidents as unavoidable, you'd want to drive the largest possible vehicle. My reservation about accident avoidance is that Smarts (and many other cars) are underpowered at highway speeds. Sometimes you just need to accelerate 5mph to get the hell out of the way, and lots of cars, small and large, can't do that. (Um, and also I'm addicted to torque.)
posted by uncleozzy at 5:41 AM on December 17, 2008


People seem to have firmly held conclusions on safety in general, andthey seem to often be built upon intuition rather than logical thinking.

In my world, large trucks are not constantly crushing small cars under their wheels or compressing them into cubes by forcing them into brick walls.

Well, in that case, your opinion seems to be purely borne of personal anecdotal evidence. Personally, I'll keep using the laws of physics and decades of crash legislation and accident statistics, thanks. Maybe that make me illogical, but somehow I doubt it.

Maybe get yourself down to an insurance assessors yard, sometime and have your eyes firmly opened.
posted by Brockles at 5:42 AM on December 17, 2008


knave: "The messed up thing about the fortwo is that it gets 36mpg. If I'm going to drive half a car, and one that struggles to do highway speeds, it's going to have to do better than that."

Add me to the list of people who don't get the purpose of the SmartCar. My 1st generation Scion XD gets a little worse mileage at 29 MPG but fits four adults, cruses easily at 70 MPH, can haul a ton of stuff either in the hatch or on the roof rack, and only cost me $16K. And not only that, it's a Toyota and hasn't had anything go wrong with it in the three years that I've had it.

And since I live in the city, I don't really care about gas mileage, I just don't drive enough for it to be an issue. Even when gas went up to $4.00 a gallon, I was only filling up every month and a half which worked out to less than a dollar a day. I could own a giant SUV getting 15 MPG and the price of gas wouldn't really effect my monthly budget much.
posted by octothorpe at 5:46 AM on December 17, 2008


Why the hell don't they update a car like the CRX? I've got a 1990 model, 227k miles. I drive like a cracked-out maniac (damn thing handles like a slot car, even with broken springs from an ill-advised offroad excursion), and it still gets 35 MPG. It's little and cute, but I can carry four toolbags, a bunch of power tool cases, and a small ladder inside. Or 16 cases of beer. Even loded down, I can *still* get out of the way of just about any accident that's happening in front of me because it HANDLES WELL.

Of course, I also have a 70 Impala and a truck. You do the math.
posted by notsnot at 5:47 AM on December 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


Safety isn't really a great reason to choose a car. You are vastly more likely to die of a communicable disease than of a car accident.

People who choose cars based on safety records would be much safer if only they remember to wash their hands more frequently.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:52 AM on December 17, 2008


By this logic, we should all be driving the largest, heaviest vehicles

No, by this logic you all should be driving tiny cars, while I get to drive the biggest truck I can get my hands on.

Seriously, I think there is a place for tiny cars. In dense cities, where parking is scarce and you have lots of other options (eg cabs, buses, etc) for when you need to move more people or more stuff, tiny cars make perfect sense.

But the pricing and efficiency have to be right, too -- an expensive and inefficient tiny car (like the version of the Smart car sold in the US) is just a status symbol, rather than a worthwhile part of a transportation system.
posted by Forktine at 6:01 AM on December 17, 2008


What if I drive a sensible car AND have good personal hygiene?

I'll burry you all, suckers!
posted by ghost of a past number at 6:06 AM on December 17, 2008


My concern isn't to do with engineering but how people tend to drive distracted. Some drivers just didn't "see" my miata during the 10 yrs I drove it, leading to a few ugly accidents caused by other drivers. Having a small car was awesome when I worked in downtown DC, but like a lot of people I was coming in from the suburbs and since it was my only car, it saw a fair amount of highway driving, too. Smart Cars are enough of a rarity that they're eye-catching (I think) but I'd be worried that some numbskull changing lanes wouldn't register that, hello, a little car is there already. And I'd prefer some good public transportation, please.
posted by woodway at 6:12 AM on December 17, 2008


Add me to the list of people who don't get the purpose of the SmartCar. My 1st generation Scion XD gets a little worse mileage at 29 MPG but fits four adults, cruses easily at 70 MPH, can haul a ton of stuff either in the hatch or on the roof rack, and only cost me $16K.

Uh, it's for people who don't need to haul loads of stuff or carry lots of passengers? I do 90% of driving on my own with little luggage, and frequently need to park in tiny spaces.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:21 AM on December 17, 2008


notsnot, apparently cars like the Honda Fit are the new version of the CRX. 35mpg and it seats five (probably four, practically speaking).
posted by knave at 6:23 AM on December 17, 2008


i think with all the large cars in america, and the way the highway system is set up, yes smaller cars are not as safe here as they are in europe or japan.

so, how bout we start banning larger cars? what can 90% of people do in a suburban than you can't do in a scion, assuming you have no more than three kids and usually haul around a reasonable amount of stuff? if it's nice to have a truck to haul things around, and if that's your job by all means have one, but if it's not maybe you should rent a truck or have that large item delivered the 2 or 3 times a year you absolutely need it.

my guess is (well, hope) that in the next 50 years or so we'll be moving back towards a mass transit system anyway, with most people taking the train or the bus. i wish we could get rid of the sprawling suburbs that necessitate our car-based lifestyles in the first place, but i suppose we can't have everything.
posted by camdan at 6:24 AM on December 17, 2008


Polishing deck chairs. I don't think the huge heavy vehicles currently in vogue will be nearly as common when the really small cars start to become common in the states.
posted by chuckdarwin at 6:29 AM on December 17, 2008


I love tiny cars. It's an irrational love, because at 6'4" and 240lbs I am unable to, shall we say, consummate that love with many of the smaller objects of my desire, but I love them nonetheless. I put around 4000 miles a year on my '98 Saab convert., and get 32 MPG on the highway with plenty of giddy-up (it's got a TURBO!) so a Smart car seems kinda dumb for my situation.
But this....
posted by Floydd at 6:32 AM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


EndsOfInvention: "Uh, it's for people who don't need to haul loads of stuff or carry lots of passengers? I do 90% of driving on my own with little luggage, and frequently need to park in tiny spaces."

That's a pretty tiny market here in the US, though. Most people here like to move stuff around and have more than one friend/family member. And in the US, almost all parking spaces in cities that I've seen are marked off and are big enough for a Ford Expedition. If you tried to park two smart cars in there, you'd both get tickets.
posted by octothorpe at 6:38 AM on December 17, 2008


so, how bout we start banning larger cars?

You don't need a ban. Just make people pay for the privilege of driving heavy, dangerous vehicles. Those who actually need such a vehicle will pay for it because they have no choice (it's a business need or they've got fifteen children or whatever).

And on the other end of the scale (in more ways than one), give people who drive small cars a break (on registration fees, insurance, etc.) because they use less parking space, contribute less to traffic jams, cause less damage to roads, cause less pollution, drive fewer miles, driver more slowly, and pose a smaller risk to pedestrians and other drivers.

And there are little things you can do: create small parking spaces in the best places and big spaces in the back of the lot, charge by the pound at parking garages, etc.
posted by pracowity at 6:43 AM on December 17, 2008


Add me to the list of people who don't get the purpose of the SmartCar.

Yah. I can't see why someone wouldn't get a Corolla or Fit or xD instead, and not have to rent a car to take a road trip, and not have to rent a car to go shopping off transit, and not have to rent a car to go somewhere with more than one passenger, and have normal performance, and still get around the same fuel economy.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:53 AM on December 17, 2008


Or, if you're willing to live with having a tiny car that can't hold much and can only carry one other person, the car you ought to be getting is a used MR2. Or just get a damn motorcycle.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:02 AM on December 17, 2008


Brockles wrote "If a Semi hits [any consumer passenger vehicle] head on, the Semi driver will almost certainly walk away unscathed, but the [consumer passenger vehicle] driver will be much less fortunate."

FTFY. It doesn't matter what you drive if a semi hits you head on, you're basically dead.

Also, if tiny cars are so bad at everything, why does the entire rest of the world use them? It isn't like the entire world is dumber than the US. (Sometimes I think it's the exact opposite.)
posted by caution live frogs at 7:04 AM on December 17, 2008


Of course, I also have a 70 Impala and a truck. You do the math.

3?
posted by electroboy at 7:07 AM on December 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


Most Smart Cars I see around Portland are purchased as a second car. If you cruise through the neighborhoods where the owner's of these cars live...you'll almost always see a "normal" car parked in the driveway next to the Smart Car.

This makes a lot of sense for a two-car family. One car for commuting to work in town, the other car for hauling kids and a dog around.

If you don't want two cars, or can't afford two cars, or you're not married or don't have a family or whatever, you'd probably want a more versatile vehicle - if you're going to have just one car.

People also buy Smart Cars because *they like them* - the same reason people buy deathtraps and money pits like sports cars and motorcycles.
posted by device55 at 7:16 AM on December 17, 2008


I'd second the opinion about getting a motorcycle, and being 6'5" smaller cars are not a realistic option, at least he ones I've seen. Also, sans facts, I'd suggest that you would also have a negative effect (mileage, safety, comfort) on the number of people that can be transported for the people with families. I just don't understand why (well, actually I do understand) we need 300 hp and 55 mph speed limit.

The transition is the toughest part as alluded to above, I'd think a big part of people's reticence to purchase a smaller car is the number of big cars competing with them for road space.
posted by sfts2 at 7:18 AM on December 17, 2008


My wife and I love small cars. She has a del Sol but we recently had a child and I have found one huge problem with small cars is child seats. I have a newer VW jetta which is considered a compact car though I think of it as large. With the child seat installed the front passenger seat is unusable. My sister has a small Nissan SUV and has the same problem. We are now considering a minivan. I asked the people at one of those organizations that promotes and installs child safety seats if there were any that fit better into smaller cars and was told no. I feel like I am being forced into buying a larger car than I want just to be able to sit comfortably. Also, kids require an amazing amount of stuff when you take them on a weekend trip.
posted by Tashtego at 7:21 AM on December 17, 2008


Some drivers just didn't "see" my miata during the 10 yrs I drove it, leading to a few ugly accidents caused by other drivers.

I had an RX-7 for a few years, and people often tried to change lanes into me. The problem was that the RX-7's roofline was below the window sill of most SUVs and some large cars. The smart is tall rather than low, so that should be less of a problem.

I love tiny cars.

You want one of these.

That's a pretty tiny market here in the US, though. Most people here like to move stuff around and have more than one friend/family member.

Despite that, almost everyone I see driving to work alongside me (myself included) from Redmond to Seattle is a single person in a single large car. Back when gas was $4 a gallon, it wasn't uncommon to see a smart or two every day on my commute. When gas goes to $10 per gallon, smarts will be everywhere.

We also have parking meters that spit out a sticker that you put on the inside of your window once you've paid. That system seems to scale well to half-sized vehicles.

On the subject of small cars, don't forget the Ford Sporta Ka.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:22 AM on December 17, 2008


Its small size is supposed to be an advantage ---

America is getting fatter and fatter. I don't think you're going to sell them on micro cars.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:29 AM on December 17, 2008


FTFY. It doesn't matter what you drive if a semi hits you head on, you're basically dead.

Also, if tiny cars are so bad at everything, why does the entire rest of the world use them?


Yes. It was an exaggerated example to demonstrate the point. You missed the point, rather than fixed it.

Tiny car's aren't bad at everything - not at all. They're just at a more significant safety compromise in the US than elsewhere purely from average vehicle size. It's not the small cars fault, but the existing market. The consequences of that existing market could easily be spun to adversely affect sales of smaller cars (particularly if they are 'foreign') by the media.

It's not a problem, per se, just a prediction of how resistant the market and public/media may be for such cars.
posted by Brockles at 7:30 AM on December 17, 2008


Driving around cities like Los Angeles (the 405), Chicago (any expressway), Boston, and Manhattan, I don't see lots of people driving at high speeds. I see them crawling in dense traffic. They might as well be in smaller cars. These are commuter cars; no one forces you to drive them on the Interstate.
posted by cogneuro at 7:32 AM on December 17, 2008


Tiny cars are huge in Japan.

However, there won't be much new technology coming out of Japan for a while. For example, Toyota and Isuzu have just suspended plans to partner to create a facility to research and develop diesel engines for small cars.


posted by KokuRyu at 7:46 AM on December 17, 2008


hoskala: (Umm, that's 71.28 miles per gallon.)

Perhaps that's a diesel model? The one we got in the USA gets 36 combined MPG according to the EPA.
posted by knave at 7:55 AM on December 17, 2008


Why the hell don't they update a car like the CRX? I've got a 1990 model, 227k miles. I drive like a cracked-out maniac (damn thing handles like a slot car, even with broken springs from an ill-advised offroad excursion), and it still gets 35 MPG. It's little and cute, but I can carry four toolbags, a bunch of power tool cases, and a small ladder inside. Or 16 cases of beer. Even loded down, I can *still* get out of the way of just about any accident that's happening in front of me because it HANDLES WELL.

As knave said, the Honda Fit still has that Honda practical-but-fun spirit. We bought one for my wife almost two years ago. It can carry a ton of stuff, yet handles like a sports car. Car and Driver discovered that the Fit can out-slalom a Corvette Z06.

Another factor that you may not have considered, is crash and safety standards. Modern cars are much heavier than their 80s and 90s counterparts, because they must meet much more rigorous crash standards, which lead to heavier, stronger unibody structures, as well as more equipment like airbags, antilock brakes, and so forth.

However, your wish may soon come true.
posted by Fleebnork at 8:05 AM on December 17, 2008


cause less damage to roads

Passenger cars, including SUVs, generally aren't taken into consideration when designing pavement. Their effect is so small as to be negligible.

contribute less to traffic jams

I don't think there's any evidence that this is true. Road design and number of cars are the most prominent causes of traffic flow problems.

drive fewer miles, driver more slowly, and pose a smaller risk to pedestrians

Again, I'm not sure there's any evidence for any of this. Maybe something anecdotal, but getting clipped by a car of any size is going to cause serious problems.
posted by electroboy at 8:11 AM on December 17, 2008


knave: "hoskala: (Umm, that's 71.28 miles per gallon.)

Perhaps that's a diesel model? The one we got in the USA gets 36 combined MPG according to the EPA.
"

The US model specifies premium gas too which makes it even less economical. I'm not down on small cars at all, the XB is my biggest car but the SmartCar seems like the worst one for sale in the US, given a choice I'd rather have a Chevy Avio which has four doors and a trunk but costs less and gets the same mileage.
posted by octothorpe at 8:19 AM on December 17, 2008


1989 Honda CRX - 52 MPG (hwy), 49 MPG (city)

2009 Smart ForTwo - 33 MPG (hwy), 27 MPG (city)

The CRX was a real car. Ther ForTwo is a little toy. What the hell?
posted by aapep at 8:24 AM on December 17, 2008


Again, I'm not sure there's any evidence for any of this [posing a smaller risk to pedestrians]. Maybe something anecdotal, but getting clipped by a car of any size is going to cause serious problems.

Actually, there are significant amounts of data and research into this and a lot of resulting legislation. Pedestrian safety of a small, sloped bonnet at knee-hip level is considerably higher than a flat fronted grille at chest height. I'd have though that was pretty obvious. The speed they drive at is also enormously important to pedestrian survival rates as much as the deceleration rates produced by the vehicle shape.

In addition, the grille badges and the like that are more common in the US is indicative of lax pedestrian safety regulations in the US. Those kind of things are not allowed in the UK/Europe - Jaguars, in particular, are sold with flat bonnet badges rather than the leaping cat still found on some US models in an attempt to make them less damaging to anyone they hit. Trucks sold as light commercial nicely sidestep passenger car regulations, incidentally, which is why they have their own class. Cynical, huh...

Passenger cars, including SUVs, generally aren't taken into consideration when designing pavement. Their effect is so small as to be negligible.

Not negligible, no. However, the largest effect on roads is from heavy commercial vehicles - for this reason air-suspended semi-trailers have been mandatory in the UK and Europe for decades. I have honestly got no clue why they are a relatively recent addition in the US. Watching the conventionally suspended trailers bounce and bash the tarmac is scary, when you consider how safe they obviously aren't when the wheels aren't touching the floor...
posted by Brockles at 8:26 AM on December 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


1989 Honda CRX - 52 MPG (hwy), 49 MPG (city)

2009 Smart ForTwo - 33 MPG (hwy), 27 MPG (city)

The CRX was a real car. Ther ForTwo is a little toy. What the hell?


Fuel economy measurement standards have changed.

Also, consider weight relative to the size of the engine, as well as modern safety requirements. I'd put money on a Smart being safer in a crash than a '89 CRX.
posted by Fleebnork at 8:39 AM on December 17, 2008


Safety isn't really a great reason to choose a car. You are vastly more likely to die of a communicable disease than of a car accident.>

You are quoting world statistics.

The leading cause of death in developed countries are not communicable diseases, but (to take one example) cancers, heart disease, vascular and pulmulnary disease (another kind of heart disease?), and accidents and injuries, including motor vehicle accidents. Then pnumonia and influenza, which primarily kill elderly people (so really it's "old age and pnumonia"), and then diabetes.

For Canadian teens, motor vehicle accidents are THE leading cause of death, followed by suicide.

"In 2001, a total of 3,032 Canadians died as a result of accidents involving cars, motorcycles and other vehicles. These fatal accidents often involve young people. Individuals aged 15 to 24 represented only 1% of all deaths in 2001, yet they accounted for 24% of deaths as a result of transport accidents.
....For both sexes, suicide was the second-leading cause of teen death, surpassed only by motor vehicle accidents."
posted by jb at 8:40 AM on December 17, 2008


Well, "the hell" is EPA estimates are crap:
http://www.fuelly.com/driver/happysmart/fortwo
http://www.fuelly.com/driver/suesplace1/crx

I don't think these two examples are necessarily representative...but real world results and the EPA estimates often are nothing alike. (didn't they recently have to redo all the EPA figures because they were wildly inaccurate?)

The Smart (which I'm not advocating btw - I love my Yaris) is designed to be small, not specifically efficient. The size of engine that can be fit into that small chassis is only going to deliver so much power. In even a slightly larger car (which won't be too much heavier) you can fit a much larger engine, delivering a lot more power, but moving relatively close to the same mass.
posted by device55 at 8:44 AM on December 17, 2008


Oh. Hi Fleebnork.
posted by device55 at 8:48 AM on December 17, 2008


Perhaps that's a diesel model? The one we got in the USA gets 36 combined MPG according to the EPA

Exactly. They sold the Smart in Canada with a diesel engine (3.3L/100km) for a few years until they started to sell it in the USA, at which point they switched it to a gas engine for all of North America.
posted by ssg at 8:53 AM on December 17, 2008


Oh. Hi Fleebnork.

Hi! Long time lurker, recent poster. :)
posted by Fleebnork at 8:59 AM on December 17, 2008


I don't think there's any evidence that this is true.

Concerning traffic jams, there's this (pdf):
This work analyzes the impacts of different light-duty trucks (LDTs) on the capacity of signalized intersections. Data were collected at two intersections in Austin, Texas, and regression analysis generated estimates of mean headways associated with various categories of LDTs, as well as passenger cars. Using the estimated headways Passenger Car Equivalents (PCEs) were calculated, and these suggest that the impacts of light-duty trucks should be given special consideration when analyzing the capacity of signalized intersections. For example, a single large sport-utility vehicle in through traffic is equivalent to 1.41 passenger cars; and a van is equivalent to 1.34. Such long headways reduce intersection capacity and increase urban congestion.
And concerning vehicle weight and passenger safety, there's this (pdf):
We find that most car models are as safe to their drivers as most sport utility vehicles (SUVs); the increased risk of a rollover in a SUV roughly balances the higher risk for cars that collide with SUVs and pickup trucks. We find that SUVs and to a greater extent pickup trucks, impose much greater risks than cars on drivers of other vehicles; and these risks increase with increasing pickup size. The higher aggressivity of SUVs and pickups makes their combined risk higher than that of almost all cars. Effects of light truck design on their risk are revealed by the analysis of specific models: new unibody (or “crossover”) SUVs appear, in preliminary analysis, to have much lower risks than the most popular truck-based SUVs. Much has been made in the past about the high risk of low-mass cars in certain kinds of collisions. We find there are other plausible explanations for this pattern of risk, which suggests that mass may not be fundamental to safety.
There are really lots of related reports out there if you'd like to have a look around.
posted by pracowity at 9:01 AM on December 17, 2008


Looks like the tiny cars don't love her, judging from her recent photos.
posted by Zambrano at 9:01 AM on December 17, 2008


Not negligible, no.

Yes, it really is. I'm happy to defer to your knowledge about pedestrian safety, but it's well known that passenger vehicles are neglected for pavement design. The equivalent single axle load ESAL for a passenger car is about 0.0003, as opposed to around 0.1 for a 10,000 lb box-type delivery truck. Only when you start getting into big dually-type heavy duty pickups do they actually start factoring in their effects.

Interestingly, although passenger cars (including SUVs and pickups) make up the vast majority of the vehicles in the US, roads are generally designed for heavy truck loads.
posted by electroboy at 9:02 AM on December 17, 2008


Tesla Schooled By Tango In Electric Car Drag Race
posted by homunculus at 9:03 AM on December 17, 2008


The equivalent single axle load ESAL for a passenger car is about 0.0003, as opposed to around 0.1 for a 10,000 lb box-type delivery truck.

Yes, but the massively larger amount of passengers cars closes that gap considerably in terms of actual wear. Passenger cars are more numerous and usually travel faster, meaning the loads they transmit to the road are not just related to their equivalent axle weight. As I said, the biggest single factor is heavy trucks, but that doesn't make high passenger car traffic negligible, just smaller. The road wear from passenger vehicles is still a factor to consider - there are plenty of roads that don't have any (or, in fact, negligible) heavy truck traffic that still wear out.
posted by Brockles at 9:16 AM on December 17, 2008


Yep.

Exactly how many accidents are you guys getting in, anyway? Safer cars lead to more aggressive drivers as many feel invulnerable. Safer cars are also generally more "boring" to drive and lead to less attention being paid to the road.

What I long for is automated cars, actually. Get the people who hate driving or prefer fiddling with their iPods into vehicles which are driven for them. As a performance driving instructor told me years ago, there are very few as accidents (unavoidable), lots of crashes (could have been avoided if driver was alert).
posted by maxwelton at 9:17 AM on December 17, 2008


Yes, but the massively larger amount of passengers cars closes that gap considerably in terms of actual wear.

Plus the dipshits who drive for half the year on studded snow tires in places like where I live, where you get two snow days a winter.
posted by maxwelton at 9:21 AM on December 17, 2008


I'm sure it's a deathtrap, and I'll die the moment I leave the curb, but I still want a Morgan three-wheeler.
posted by gyusan at 9:25 AM on December 17, 2008


What I long for is automated cars
A-men. People (myself included) are generally too dumb, distracted, or foolish to be trusted with 2 tons of heavy machinery.
posted by device55 at 9:30 AM on December 17, 2008


Isn't part of the point of this thread that the weight of the car may be a third of that, though?

Does that make you more trustworthy? ;)

But yes. Simple roads in the US, in particular, really don't demand attention, so people (as you say, myself included) tend to let their attention lapse with little or no consequences until its too late. Roads are too big, too straight, and too idiot proof to keep people paying attention.

I'd really like some system the same as the Express/Collectors style of road, where the express section has all the cars joined together and controlled by computer. When they need to turn of, they get spat out into a holding area and returned to manual control from stationary. You still get manual control (and the fun involved) but long trips (and hence sustained high speed) are machine controlled.
posted by Brockles at 9:41 AM on December 17, 2008


What I long for is automated cars

They are called trains. Or buses.
posted by jb at 9:50 AM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


caution live frogs: Also, if tiny cars are so bad at everything, why does the entire rest of the world use them?

Because there are a lot less SUVs on the road in other countries and therefore less danger. Also, gas prices are higher in other countries.
posted by desjardins at 10:12 AM on December 17, 2008


Gee. What a surprise. A post about small cars, and all the big car freaks come out of the woodwork.

"They're deathtraps!"
"Won't work in the USA! (USA!USA!USA!)"
"Can't hual my shit/kids/boat/whatever!"
"No way you could survive on our highways/in winer driving/country roads."
"My lardass is way to big to cram into something smaller than a dumptruck!"

I call bullshit on it all. Except maybe the lardass bit -- I've driven through the midwest andthe south. However, most cars, even compacts, are designed to fit most people. I Live in Canada and put up with crazy winter weather. Almost 2 meters of snow last year. I grew up in the country. One of the best winter cars I had was a 1973 VW beetle -- pretty well rode over drifts, always started, never let me down and never got stuck. Cabin heat sucked though. Right now I drive a 2004 VW Golf deisel. I put a hell of a lot of millage on it every year. I haul my family around, and between roof racks and a trailer hitch, I also haul building materials, furniture, and even my boat (600 km each way through hilly country highways to the cottage) without a problem. We've done road trips all over the continent. I've never been scared on the road because my car is smaller than the giant petrosaurs I share the road with, and accident statistics support that attitude. In fact, if you want evidence that you're better off in a car in shit winter weather, take a look to see what most of the vehicles in the ditches are -- SUVs, trucks, minivans, and jeeps, with the occasional semi thrown in for good measure.

Just admit you drive an SUV or truck or whatever because you like it and want one, and stop the stupid lame-ass justifications.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:25 AM on December 17, 2008 [8 favorites]


You mean that guy in the conductor hat is a robot?

Trains and buses are great. I use them regularly. I'd love to see them on the road more (well. not trains on the road and why is "frequent service" a bus every 15 minutes? hows about 5 minutes?)

I think it will be hard to quell the desire for "I want to go where I want when I want" now that we've made it a part of our culture and infrastructure.

I think very small, efficient, possibly electric or hydrogen cars can fit very well into a transportation picture with more and better public transit.

If we can reduce accidents by letting a not-sleepy, sober, focused computer drive the car, that's gravy.
posted by device55 at 10:28 AM on December 17, 2008


And I say the above as someone who has had trucks, a van, and a great big 1982 Mercedes 300TD (fantastic car). Nice vehicles all, but not necessary.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:32 AM on December 17, 2008


I think small cars should have large metal disks mounted to their roofs. In the event of an accident with a larger car, the fastenings holding the disk to the roof would snap and the momentum of the larger car would carry it into the disk and decapitate the driver. You, in your tiny car, may be dead but the disk will nullify the "safety" of the larger car. Behemoth drivers might be more cautious around smaller vehicles then.
posted by dithered at 10:34 AM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yes, but the massively larger amount of passengers cars closes that gap considerably in terms of actual wear.

The vehicle traffic portion of pavement design almost always neglects passenger car traffic, because a truck or a bus is 5000 and 300 times more damaging, respectively (and, incidentally, both buses and trucks travel more miles in a year than a passenger car). It's right here on page 2221 of The Civil Engineering Handbook by WF Chen.
posted by electroboy at 10:36 AM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hmm, well ok. Mini cooper =/ Smart.

If you're going to talk particularly about the Smart, it would do well to account for its somewhat unusual structure. The thing is one hard shell -- "like a nutshell" they like to say. Intead of floating impact beams (which can be slammed inward), you have this solid cage. The good news: you don't need all that extra metal to keep the car from crumpling -- the passenger compartment is very resistant to damage. The bad news: all that crumpling metal absorbs shock; the shell preserves the car at the cost of transferring energy to its inhabitants. Here's one report to that effect, though this one doesn't mention the energy transfer. Don't have my fingers on the other I'd read, but may be able to dig it up later.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:04 AM on December 17, 2008


I still like the Aptera. And it looks like it's actually going into production, too—they're taking reservations, and say they're hoping to have the first units off the assembly line by the end of 2008.

Which sounds kinda doubtful, but the point is, they have an assembly line. Which is encouraging.
posted by greenie2600 at 12:19 PM on December 17, 2008


it's for people who don't need to haul loads of stuff or carry lots of passengers

That's a pretty tiny market here in the US, though.

On what do you base this? Many, many people use their cars primarily for commuting to and from work. Many couples have two cars anyway, and it seems like it'd make a lot of sense to have one smaller, more efficient car (for commuting), and maybe one larger car (for grocery shopping and hauling the crotchfruit to soccer practice).

almost all parking spaces in cities that I've seen are marked off and are big enough for a Ford Expedition

Some parking lanes aren't marked at all (this was the case on my street in Baltimore, and it was a pain in the ass), and sometimes people are dicks and don't park inside the lines, or park so far from the curb you can't maneuver into the next space.
posted by greenie2600 at 12:36 PM on December 17, 2008


I would consider a Smart if they renamed it the fortytwo.
posted by owtytrof at 12:54 PM on December 17, 2008


How on earth did the OP not use the line "Tiny cars are big in Japan"??? Anyway.

I looked very carefully at the Smart car to replace my car in the next go around. Outside of initial purchase price, the Jetta Diesel was a much better proposition; comparable gas mileage in a much nicer car, both to drive and use. Not to mention winter suitability.

I too was surprised at the [relatively] poor mileage in the Smart Cars. The new gas burning ones are no better.
posted by Bovine Love at 1:53 PM on December 17, 2008


drive more slowly

I don't see any reason to believe small cars drive more slowly --- maybe underpowered small cars like the Smart, but many/most sports cars are also small (say, a Miata) and tend to be driven pretty fast. When a car zips by me on the freeway when I'm doing 75, it's usually smaller than my midsize coupe.
posted by wildcrdj at 6:04 PM on December 17, 2008


Can I drive a StreetKa in the US yet?
posted by nicwolff at 6:54 PM on December 17, 2008


Boy, hello again after a long hiatus. I recognize no-one here, and no-one will recognize me, so, um, let me introduce myself. I'm readymade. *hi readymade*

My four-year-old son is already an obsessive about cars, so we do our best to encourage a certain amount of understanding about fuel-efficiency, large v. small considerations, and pollution, even though most goes over his head. But we encourage his interests even though we're car idiots. My husband found this video today about an electric car (The White Zombie, a re-purposed 70's Datsun) literally dusting massive engine behemoths off the line in drag races over and over. It was AWESOME! And I don't even like cars!

That being said, my next car is this. Or maybe this.
posted by readymade at 7:53 PM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't see any reason to believe small cars drive more slowly --- maybe underpowered small cars like the Smart

But that's exactly what I'm talking about. You aren't going to see Smart Cars and the like blowing by you on the highway, trying to be the fastest and coolest on the road.

And it's not because they're "underpowered" but because they're normally powered, reasonably powered.
posted by pracowity at 8:59 PM on December 17, 2008


readymade: that video of the zombie is unreal!
posted by gen at 12:48 AM on December 18, 2008


I still don't entirely buy this "you need power to avoid an accident" talk, either. It implies that an accident is happening pretty much alongside you and not only are you aware of it, but you notice 'an accident is happening' early enough to stomp your foot down and somehow magically reappear 200 yards up the road...

I agree that it is certainly easier to merge onto a road if you are going faster, and that holding up traffic in a low powered car can be stressful for people, but I can't get my head around an actual scenario where "I'd have had an accident if my car was less powerful" has any basis at all. I think its just an excuse*.


*Disclaimer. In no way will I be giving up any of my 275BHP, but I will stand up and say "It's cos I WANT them. Not make up a safety related excuse. Just sayin'.
posted by Brockles at 5:37 AM on December 18, 2008


nicwolff: "Can I drive a StreetKa in the US yet?"

Wow, that's a Ford? Why can't they sell stuff like that here? They won't even sell the current Focus in the US, we get stuck a generation behind Europe.
posted by octothorpe at 7:18 AM on December 18, 2008


The Smart ForTwo has the dubious distinction of having the lowest rating ever given by Consumer Reports in an auto review. 28 out of 100 (full review is subscribers only, link is a summary). Meanwhile, it's still more expensive than a Hyundai Accent.
posted by electroboy at 8:22 AM on December 18, 2008


You know who else liked small cars?

That's right, the King.

His music was better, though.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 8:32 AM on December 18, 2008


octothorpe: the StreetKa is a Pininfarina-designed Ford that's 1/10" too short to be legal for owner-import to the US — grr! The 94hp motor isn't much but it sure is cute!
posted by nicwolff at 10:21 AM on December 18, 2008


gen: I know! It made my day, made me laugh, made me have a little sense of nattering "nananananana" at all the beasts who kept sucking up the non-exhaust of the tiny electric engine that could.

Sweet, sweet justice.
posted by readymade at 7:27 PM on December 18, 2008


They won't even sell the current Focus in the US, we get stuck a generation behind Europe.
There's a variant of the European Mini Cooper that has regenerative breaking and an automatic engine shut-off when you're stopped or going down hill. The latter isn't available here because of safety standards and the former because "not enough interest has been expressed". No one in the U.S. wants to save gas? Sure.
posted by camdan at 9:57 AM on December 21, 2008


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