German-American automaker Daimler-Chrysler has announced it will introduce its Smart brand car to the U.S. market.
Daimler-Chrysler is betting that high fuel prices and growing concern over global warming will help drive consumer interest in a car that is not much bigger than a golf cart.
Dieter Zetsche says people may consider the car for pure economics. "Gas prices are now up around $3 a gallon, and we will never see cheap gas again. There have been increasing the number of Americans, especially young adults, looking for ways to less the impact of their daily lives make on environment."
The Smart car was recently featured in the film "The Da Vinci Code." It has earned a fashionable image in European cities. It is seen as a practical transportation option for places where streets are narrow and parking spaces hard to come by.
Former race car driver Roger Penske has signed on to develop a network of up to 50 Smart dealerships across the U.S. Penske says the car is not just smart, it is also safe. "I think from a safety perspective, you got to try the safety unit within this vehicle. With ESP, the airbag, technologies that Mercedes has. Once you are in the vehicle, you drive it, I look at some of the crash testing that is taking place, it's outstanding from the standpoint of safety."
Daimler-Chrysler has lost money on the Smart car since the first model rolled off the assembly line in 1998. By bringing its little car into the huge U.S. market, the firm hopes to reverse its fortunes. Americans will see an auto similar to the two-seat European model, known as the "For-Two."
It has been modified to meet U.S. emission-control and safety standards. Daimler-Chrysler says the "For-Two" is the only mass-produced car in the world that is less than three meters in length. It uses five liters of gasoline per 100 kilometers of city driving and less than three-and-a-half on the highway. Its price in the U.S. has not been announced, but in nearby Canada it sells for about $15,000.