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As free parking spots are hard to find in many European cities, official parking is expensive, and illegally parked cars are fined, immobilized or towed, the original idea behind the very short "smart car" is that the vehicle may be parked back-in in parallel parking zones. Its length of 250cm (98.4 in) equals the width of a truck or a regular parking slot, allowing two or three Smarts to park in the same space as one normal car if parked side-on to the usual parking direction.
The project idea was originally supported by Swiss watch manufacturer Swatch, and was nicknamed the "Swatchmobile". The name SMART stands for Swatch Mercedes ART . The car was supposed to use innovative features (such as a hybrid engine) and to be an affordable car for young people. Similar to the objective for the Citroën 2CV in the 1940s, its purpose was to "transport two people and a case of beer" (later replaced by a case of water).
Being inexperienced in automobiles, Swatch CEO Nicolas Hayek sought an established car maker to produce his Swatch car, and found a partner in Volkswagen. Plans never reached a final stage so Swatch teamed up with Daimler-Benz. The purpose-built factory complex Smartville in Hambach, Moselle Lorraine, France, was established in 1994 as a joint-venture of Daimler-Benz and the Swiss watch manufacturer Swatch.
The joint venture experienced heavy losses and Swatch pulled out. In 2005, DaimlerChrysler decided against purchasing a 50% share in the NedCar plant used to manufacture the forfour. DC also halted development on the formore and decided to discontinue production of the roadster. In 2006 DaimlerChrysler announced that it would redesign the fortwo and the new design would debut in Europe in 2007.
Fuel efficiency and environmental impact
The smart has better-than-average fuel efficiency, though not stratopheric for a very small car. The "Americanized" version modified by Zap Motors has been rated by the American EPA at 40 miles per gallon (US) (48 miles per imperial gallon or 5.9 L/100 km).
It is claimed that the smart is designed to have a low environmental impact in other ways as well, such as being designed with recycling in mind.
- fortwo (see pricing below)
- smart passion (see pricing below)
- forfour (n/a)
- roadster (n/a)
- formore (n/a)
- crossblade (n/a)
Smart in North America
The smart fortwo was introduced in Canada in the 2004 calendar year and sold through Mercedes-Benz dealers. Only the turbo-diesel cdi powerplant is offered as power for the coupe and convertible models because of emission regulations for the gasoline engines set forth by Transport Canada. Demand has been heavy with up to six month waiting lists in major urban areas in the spring of 2005. The vehicle has been especially popular for light errand running for small shops and businesses, with many carrying custom paint jobs or stick-on graphics boldly advertising the associated product or service. As of March 2006, smart Canada says that the government is still testing the forfours for import to Canada.
Before 2008, smart cars were only available in the United States as "grey market" imports, such as ZAP. U.S. federal regulations allow certain grey market importing in large quantities provided the vehicles are modified and tested to conform to U.S. safety and emissions regulations. Smart cars were imported into the United States by The Defiance Company LLC, modified by G&K Automotive Conversion, and distributed and sold by independent dealerships which were not affiliated with Mercedes. U.S. regulations did not permit the purchase and import of used smart cdi vehicles from Canada, as the diesel powered Canadian smarts did not meet American emissions regulations.
In June 2006, DaimlerChrysler confirmed that smart will be officially launched in the United States in the first quarter of 2008. The cars will be offered through dealership holding company Penske Automotive Group, which is to create a new U.S. dealership network for the brand under the name smart USA. Initially, only an updated gasoline powered fortwo will be offered, starting around US $12,000. The new model made its debut at European auto shows in November 2006.
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