06 October 2008

Smart Car Caravan on Carbon Canyon Road!

As I write this, several souped-up coupes have roared by on Carbon Canyon Road through Sleepy Hollow with their modified tailpipes bellowing belligerently off our canyon walls. An apt introduction to an amazing sight on the road yesterday (Sunday) morning.

Literally, several dozen perky little Smart Cars, forming a phalanx of fuel efficient vehicles on their way somewhere to the east, rolled down the road. More and more of these French-made 106 inch, 2300 lb, 1 liter, 3-cylinder, 70hp midgets are appearing on our highways and byways.

It's easy to see why when it comes to mileage. The American models (which, of course, are less efficient than the European counterparts) are rated at 33 mpg city and 41 mpg highway. For eleven years, I drove a 1 liter, 3-cylinder, 55 (yeah, 55!) hp Geo Metro Lsi convertible that averaged over 40 mpg, so I've driven something somewhat comparable and survived (by comparison my Toyota Prius seems like a asphalt scarring behemoth with its 70hp gas engine coupled with a 44hp electric motor and Corolla chassis!)

What is probably scaring off a lot of folks from the Smart Car, though, is the fear that the car might be pulverized in an accident with a Chevy Aveo much less anything larger. The NHTSA rates the car at three stars for passenger safety, four for the driver, five for side impact front (wonder why there's no rating for the side impact rear :)) and three for rollovers. The IIHS has a good rating for crash offsets but nas not tested its "bumper bash" capabilities. (Oops, there go the coupes I just mentioned screaming back on CCR eastbound!) The vehicle does have driver, passenger and side airbars, traction and stability control, and four-wheel antilock brakes, so, at least for driving on streets, the car would appear to be worth consideration for most commuters.

Then again, if we reduced the number of gas guzzling monsters on the road, maybe the size of the Smart Car wouldn't be so much of an issue. The reality is: whether its the economy or global climate change (no matter the causes), Americans are going to have to make significant lifestyle adjustments in so many areas.

When it comes to transportation, the single passenger model is just way outdated anyway, so mass transit will have to be a bigger part of the solution. Meantime, we need to drive more efficient vehicles, be they internal combustion gas, hybrid/plug-in, compressed air, hydrogen fuel cell, whatever. In 1925, an oil industry trade magazine pointed out that, even though European cars were far more fuel efficient (see above on the Smart Car once again), Americans were not about to give up their desire for power. 80+ years later, little has changed, but it's going to have to.

That's why it was cool to see forty or so Smart Cars making a little/big statement on Carbon Canyon Road yesterday.

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