July 11, 2007

Coming to America: The Smart car!

The Smart car. It's the coolest thing on wheels, and I've wanted one since the day last summer when I watched this silver and black edition roll up a tiny, ancient, cobbled alleyway in Geneva, Switzerland and slide into an ad-hoc parking space it created for itself between two close-set buttresses of a thousand-year-old Romanesque chapel.

We saw Smart cars all over Switzerland and France, and the people driving them looked hip, happy and, well, smart. In addition to private Smarts, I saw lots of logo-bedecked, two-seater Smarts with eye-catching paint jobs being used as company vehicles for traveling sales and service reps: one seat for the employee-driver and the other for his or her laptop and briefcase. Efficient, eco-friendly. Smart.

The German-built Smart, a joint product of Swatch and DaimlerChrysler, has been rolling around Europe and slipping into impossibly small places and spaces since 1998.

Well, starting next year, Americans looking to downsize their rides -- I figure you could fit about six of these beauties inside a mammoth Escalade or Excursion (both of which should really be classified as small houses on wheels) -- will be able to buy a Smart. Starting price tag will be under $12,000 for the basic model called the "fortwo pure." Reserve yours now for $99.

The other night, Mike and I sat on our deck sipping wine and looking down on our driveway, estimating how many Smarts we could park in that space, which currently holds a Ford Explorer and a Hyundai Sonata.

"Nine of them," said Mike. "We could fit nine Smart cars in that driveway." We marveled at that and kept sipping. By the end of his second glass of wine, Mike had upped the number to a dozen. Had we tapped another bottle we likely would have had 20 virtual Smart cars parked in our driveway.

I just want one.