Smart Car to Arrive in 2008, But Safety Concerns Linger

Smartprofile

Talk to a Smart rep about the ForTwo minicar, and the discussion invariably turns to safety. That’s because the public’s reaction to the ForTwo seems to hinge largely on what people think of its crashworthiness. That ought to be expected when you market a car half the length of a New York taxicab.

The ForTwo is scheduled to hit showrooms in early 2008. Smart representatives are quick to point out its bevy of safety features, as well as its projected crash-test results. Even so, some experts remain skeptical, warning that drivers of small cars like the ForTwo have an increased risk of personal injury if they get hit by a larger vehicle.

The ForTwo’s appearance at the Detroit auto show carries unfortunate timing. Last month, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tested several small cars, including the Chevy Aveo and Honda Fit, and five of the eight models — including some with advanced safety features like side curtain airbags — fared poorly.

Smartsafety

IIHS spokesman Russ Rader couldn’t comment on the ForTwo, as his organization hasn’t crash tested it yet, but he said small cars are at an inherent disadvantage when they’re hit by larger ones.

“The bottom line is, you can’t repeal the laws of physics,” Rader said. “You can have all the airbags and all the safety features that currently exist, but you can never make a small car as safe as a bigger, heavier one.”

Smart spokesman Ken Kettenbeil disagreed.

Smartdoors

“To generalize and say that the Smart is at a disadvantage in all crashes is unfair,” Kettenbeil said. “We’ve seen numerous times, either in person or on television, where occupants have walked out of a crash regardless of the size of the vehicles that were involved in the accident, and you wonder how that happens.”

In Detroit, product specialist Russell Smolik said these kinds of safety fears probably stem from memories of earlier subcompact cars. Unlike those relatively crude cars of the 1980s, the ForTwo comes stocked with safety features. At its heart is a reinforced steel safety cell, called the Tridion safety cell, which surrounds the driver and passenger.

“It acts as a protective shell, if you will — sort of like a shell around a walnut,” Kettenbeil said

Smartcargo

The ForTwo’s Tridion cell is designed to keep the occupant space intact while everything else, from the bumpers to the engine bay, absorbs the impact. Standard front- and side-impact airbags, as well as antilock brakes and an electronic stability system, are there to provide additional safety.

The car’s small size could also help it avoid crashes altogether, Smart USA president Dave Schembri said. He pointed to the car’s agility: “Maybe small could even be safer.”

Rader disagrees, calling the agility argument “an urban myth.”

“It’s a huge myth,” Rader said. “If small cars are avoiding crashes because they’re more maneuverable, we should see that in the crash statistics, but that’s not the case. Actually, the crash statistics show the opposite.”

Compact cars are typically driven by younger, more inexperienced drivers — which is partially to blame for their higher crash statistics. Even taking that information into account, though, small cars still get into more crashes, he said.

While Rader wouldn’t speculate on the ForTwo’s crashworthiness, he did concede that small cars can be viable in certain areas.

“If you’re driving in low-speed urban situations, a small car might be a better alternative,” he said.

The ForTwo is intended for precisely those urban environments. In such areas, the car’s safety systems can provide adequate protection against smaller crashes, Smolik said.

“The car has been designed to receive a four-star crash rating” in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration front- and side-impact tests, Smart president Schembri said. That agency has not yet tested the ForTwo either.

Smartrear

Smart’s expected crash-test ratings could change down the road. On Jan. 8, the Department of Transportation announced plans to overhaul NHTSA’s testing procedures. The announcement came two years after a report by the Government Accountability Office concluded, among other things, that NHTSA’s crash tests do not adequately measure the effect of large cars hitting smaller ones.

NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson wouldn’t speculate about whether or not the revised procedures would affect the ForTwo’s projected crash-test ratings.

Powered by a 71-horsepower, 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine, the ForTwo will start under $15,000 when it arrives at U.S. dealerships in early 2008. It’s the second-generation car, as opposed to the slightly smaller first generation that’s been sold, mostly in Europe and Canada, since 1998.

Related:
Getting Smart: The Smallest Car in Detroit

By Kelsey Mays | January 12, 2007 | Comments (37)

Comments 

Daniel

Helllooo?
Can you say motorcycle?
Now there's a dangerous vehicle but they're allowed so bring these little puppies on over to help offset all the good ol boyz and there sinful gas guzzling atrocities. I drive a little two seater coupe and a MC and I'm not afraid of any girth challenged Hummer driving nitwit. Oh, and the giant 4 door Tundra in my driveway is for pulling a horse trailer to the vet every 4-5 years or so and, and, and I hate it!

David D.

Who cares about the crash worthiness of this ForTwo? Motorcycles don't have any crash worthiness and people still commute with them (as I do daily). They like the lower cost of purchase and operating (fuel) and also the advantages when finding a parking spot. If someone buying a ForTwo is concerned about safety, they should look elsewhere. You take on more risk in safety to get the benefits of cost and convenience. Simply risk vs. reward.

David D.

You beat me to the punch ...and in a more entertaining way, Daniel!

MFD

"...hit show rooms...", Ha!

I think I will wait for the actual NHTSA results, though the old MSNBC video @

http://www.zapworld.com/ZAPWorld.aspx?id=242

is "kinda" fun.

David

By the logic of 'bigger is ALWAYS better,' there will be a neverending arms race on the road. If most people bought small cars, like in Europe, then light cars would hit other light cars and there wouldn't be the size disparity responsible for many injuries and fatalities. All it takes is a few people to think, 'I need a bigger car to make sure that when I ram somebody I don't just get the same, run-of-the-mill protection as everyone else. No, I'm a king, I need better protection than everybody else.' Then the next guy says, 'Uh-oh, there goes that monster of a car ready to squash mine. I'd better get a bigger car.' Then the first guy says,'An even bigger car would better protect me from the other big cars. After all, I'm royalty. I must have better protection when I so carelessly tailgate someone to make sure I drive away after I smash them. So what if that means the other guy can't.' The cycle repeats itself. It seems like the only way to stop the cycle is to do something that results in most cars sold being approximately the same size and small.

Bob

If you don't think its safe, don't buy it!!! Make it available for the people who aren't concerned!!!

Dodgefan

Everybody knows the risks of small cars. I don't think that will scare away the people who want to buy this car. I think it be a more of price vs. standard equipment issue for under 15K

Small cars are still way to risky. If I were to buy one, I would definitly by a used car and would use it for just joy riding. I actually found a few that were pretty cheap on Shop Auto website. But still considering on whether or not to buy one.

Does anyone own a smart car? How do they drive?

dingo ate the baby

well since chrysler corp. is building these cars, the interior should be rattling non stop, and should fall apart in a matter of weeks...

cody

Should be a good little car. I'm wondering why the fuel economy isn't higher though... They should bring the ForFour over as well.

Smart Rocks!!

Gents,

My girlfriend has a Smart Roadster Coupe. Unfortunately they stop producing it, but basically it is an open top roadster based on a squashed City Coupe chassis. It might only have 80hp but since it weighs less than 800kg an you sit stupendishly low in it everything feels like you go very fast. Great handling as well. Lovely for blasting along the country lanes in jolly old England.

When it was serviced she got a City Coupe for the day from the dealership and it is spacious enough for the two of us (I am 6'6" and weigh in at around 200lbs). Drives ok in the city but would not want to drive it for more than an hour on a motorway.

But then again, I ocasionally take a Ford Ranger (UK version) or Toyota Hilux home when I clear out my garden but they drive abismal too. If I get the choice between a truck or a Smart I would probably choose the Smart everyday...

I would recommend Smart cars wholeheartedly and think that they are safe enough to let my girlfriend drive in them. When comparing the Euro NCAP crashtest results the usual outcome for trucks and suvs has thusfar been below or on the same level as the Smart!!!

As far as the fuel consumption is concerned, my grilfriend uses less fuel now than she did in her 1.2L VW Polo (dont know if they sell this in the states but basically it is the model below the Golf, Rabbit, whatever it is called in the US). And that was already a nippy car. Plus you dont need a rather evironmently unfriendly battrey pack like some supposedly friendly hybrid cars!!

Jorg

The old smart performed very well in a frontal crash test. See here: http://www.metacafe.com/watch/60538/smart_car_crash/

The comment by Raider that the laws of physics predict that a smaller caller is inherently unsafe is absolute nonsense. Tell that to the Indy race car driver who occupies a tiny cockpit and is still able to walk away from high speed collisions with a block wall. It's all about the strength to weight ratio.

Lil'Tom

Raider didn't say that small cars are inherently unsafe; he said they are less safe than a larger car. Strength to weight ratios are only important to Indy cars because they need to be as light as possible. When an Indy car runs into a wall it usually hits at a shallow angle and slides along the wall. In the case of a head-on collision Indy cars are designed to break apart and reduce g-force on the driver (who wears a five point harness and a helmet) and the walls move. My point is that what's important to race cars doesn't necessarily mean anything to road cars. The single most important factor in a crash is momentum. If a Smart car and a minivan are headed for each other the net momentum is rather large and pointed at the Smart. Ramming a car into a fixed barrier doesn't accurately simulate this. The barrier stops the car; the minivan punts it.

Yannie

Very unattractive vehicle. I wouldn't be caught dead in that!

Paul

I drove one of these in Quebec City last year. It's the next best thing to a coffin. When I returned to the states three weeks later I swore my Maxima was a limo. No one in their right mind would buy this thing. If you live in the city then you don't need a car. Next.

Martin

I love the smart car! It's definatly going to be a very safe car even though it wouldnt appear so since it is so small. the safety features that MB has put into that little of a car astonishes me. I've already put my reservation down on my smart car(www.smartusa.com/smart_art_reservation.html) i have never been so excited for anything in my life. when i went to europe and saw a ton of these things scooting around i knew i had to get one. now they are coming to the states so its like a dream come true.

Wolfgang

Hi there Americans,

I'm 24 and from the Smart's origin, Germany. All talkings here are just about gas consumption, safty and loading space...boring stuff.

But what noone of you guys knows is that driving this cute little Smart ForTwo is soo much fun. No other (little) car has that great fun factor. The engine purrs in the back like a little cat. Your sitting almost on top of the rear axle, much space to sit inside, a great view around and just show me another car (with that price that has a full panorama glassed roof! The interior (although a lack of quality (which is improved with the new model)) is also so cute that all girls I take with me always smile: All those little turnable displays, the stuffed armatures, the funny switches.

Especially funny is the convertible. Driving it within a big city (roof open in summertimes) is like sitting ON the street like on a (motor-)bike.
I once drove it in Heidelberg (where the most American soldiers are stationated and drive many big SUVs). When the traffic lights turn green you can easyly "jump" between the lanes and overtake those lame and lazy SUVs. What a fun.
I a Smart car you "feel" the road you're driven on. No super-soft dampers an no none-feeling steerance. The price maybe seems to be high. Right. That's why also we Germany consider twice buying one. But show me a fun convertible with a comparible price!

Now I drive a Smart ForFour. The quality is way better and with a weight of only 900kg but 109hp it is a racing maschine! Poorly they do not build it anymore.

My brother just bought a Smart roadster. DAMN! That car is fun! You are sitting way deep close to the street and the turbo-charged engine in the bag is soo cool noisy! Some people always tell me "oh, that's no real "car""! and I frankly answer "No, it is not. It is a tiny Fun-Machine".

---

If it'll sell well in the States? I cannot tell. But, since it is already decided to sell them in the states, just go and take a neutral test drive!! If afterwards you are still critical about it....just don't buy it. But I can promise you: Afterwards you've never seen a car not only as a transportation device but as a fun-machine before.

Greetings from Germany (where the "new" 42 just started yesterday),
Wolfgang


Add-On:

Hi there again.

As I just wrote, the Smart Roadster is THAT fun-mobile, why don't you take a view on some nice pictures of it http://www.dieselstation.com/archive/Smart-Roadster/index.shtml
or the coupé version http://www.dieselstation.com/archive/Smart-Roadster-Coupe/index.shtml

Just imagine what an eye-catcher you would be in the city or by your friends. And then let me tell you: a barly used one (they don't bulid it anymore) here in Europe costs only around 10000€ (=13300$). Shipping it to the stats is also not that expensive because it is so small and light.
Consider about it. But let me tell you, it really is just a cool fun-car that is driven like a go-kart.

greetings.
Wolfgang

Bob from R.I.

Well we can either possibly get crunched in this little commuter car or choke ourselfs to death with carbon dioxide the gas guzzling aircraft carriers. If 50% of the cars in this country were that size, we wouldn't be having the safety issue. Maybe a nice tax break for people that buy one and a 20% discount at the pump if you drive it more than 10.000 miles a year !!!. Bet that would change a few attitudes.Now if you can get it to run on pure ethanol, better yet. Our world is being consumed out of exsistance and driving the the Titanic to the store at the tune of 15 mpg is a social status symbol rather than a needed form of getting there .

Sara

Funny nobody has mentioned a major menace on US highways: big trucks (like the gas tanker that just collapsed a freeway overpass in Oakland a couple months ago). No car (most SUVs, mini, etc.) or motorcycle is going to win against those! So why not drive the mini? :-)

We drove a 'Smart Car' - in Italy - as American Cultural Ambassadors David and Renate Jakupca we had use of a 'Smarty' for the week-end. Obviously they are not made for long hauls and big loads - but the one we had was fun to drive, was comfortable and was able to keep up on highways(obviously not in the fast lane), including mountain roads. It held the road surprisingly well in heavy rain. Needless to say,I wouldn't want to be broadsided by a sport-ute-bus in one. It would be a great vehicle for short suburban trips and urban use. More: www.TheICEA.Org

This car will prove to be much safer than anyone can predict. The Smart active safety features list is longer than anything in the compact class. ABS with brake-force distribution, ESP(electronic stability control) with brake assist. If you are hit by a Buick, the list of standard passive safety features is better than most cars on the road!

Lance

Jim

It's about momentum.

When hitting a wall, the smart car will only have to protect its occupants from an equal opposite force (the wall). When you come head-to-head with a drunk driver, the same safety features of the smart car will have to compensate for 3x or more the force, and that's just hitting a "normal" car like a Civic. Come across an "evil" SUV, and you're looking at 10 to 1. You and the smart car just became a hood ornament.

I drive an SUV. Not so I can "ram everyone," but so that when the 19 year-old drunk college kid hits me head-on in his Civic, my kids and I can walk away.

Muhammad Farooq

Just like to sign in.

nd hill

Smaller cars do fare worse in crashes with larger cars. But bigger is not always safer. For some reason, pickups (very large) have terrible safety stat's compared to average sedans...and nobody seems put off by this. Maybe they still "feel" safer because of the size??Anyway, the smart seems well designed and would be very safe if driven safely...and moreso if lots of people gave up their mountains on wheels for more reasonably sized cars.

anonymous

Unfortunately, the 19 year old isn't driving a civic, he's driving an excursion, because he is also the child of someone that thinks his safety is more important than everyone else's. Also unfortunately, drunk teenagers are not the only people who cause accidents; soccer moms in hummers ram people, too, because nobody ever intends to ram anyone. Most unfortunately, if all of the parents put all of their children in the largest cars that they can find to keep them safe, then they have only traded one hazard for others, in the form of pollution, climate change, international conflict, etc. That is why parents have to look beyond the immediate situation to make conscientious choices so that their children are not only safe for the next thirty miles but for the next thirty years. And so that other people’s children are too.

Four Star Safety rating...WITHIN IT'S CLASS!

rt

The smart car fortwo, for all of those family oriented people, isn't for the family person anyway. It has no backseat which means it is more of a commuter car. You wouldn't be trusting your baby's life with it, you would be trusting a responsible young adult's life with it at most, making the small differences in the untested yet expected safety standards negledgable. Sure economy is key, I whole heartedly agree with that and with the fortwo's mileage it is thus far unmatched with the exception of one hybrid that I've found, but the utilization spectum of this car is too narrow for anything other than a safety oriented commuter's dream. Thus, daily trips to school or work would be its mainstay while its enhanced practicality compared to "normal American cars" makes it impractical in any other use, like grocery shopping or moving anything larger than a medium sized TV.

Troy S.

It's not the size of the vehicle that concerns me.... It's the driver who speeds, doen't pay attention, text messages while driving, talks on the phone while driving, puts on makeup while driving, does 90 MPH in a 50 MPH zone, does not use the turn signal lever, doesn't keep thier vehicle in a safe operation condition, drives intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, or flat out doesn't pay attention while lane changing, merging onto the highway or drives while falling asleep.

Botom line.... Like a gun, the car doesn't kill you, it's the operator.

If we were better operators of our vehicles, then size wouldn't matter.

Troy S.

Also.... how often do you see an accident caused by "car to small"?

Euroexpat

Ecological... ummm everybody I know who has a hybrid, they also have an SUV in the garage... is it going to happen the same with this car?

I prefer my Focus and my wife, her Protege. Shame they don't do the small station wagons anymore.

Tom Siple

Wow, we can "what if" all day long and make things look really bad, or really good. Yes, the real concern is of getting hit by another driver, but that can happen in any car and just the wrong hit can be fatal in any car; I just chose not to live my life in fear. If I were always afraid of getting hurt, I would save my pennies and buy a tank and/or live in a hardened shelter. There are risks to life and one must accept and face these risks.

For those of you "waiting" to see how the safety tests come out, consider this: The SMART has been driven on the roads of Europe for over ten years now and they have a very good safety record, not bad considering the speeds are typically higher there. There are those that will say "they don't have large cars in Europe." I have to disagree. In the 12 years I lived ther, I have seen large SUVs (they love the big American vehicles), medium sized and small cars.

I am not sure why they get worse mileage in the US than in Europe, other than guess that maybe they add something to meet US DOT or EPA standards that causes the mileage to go decrease. I have found this to be the case in all foreign cars though I have driven. The US versions always get worse gas mileage.

Bottom line is, take a test drive and if you like it and can afford it, get one. If you don't like it, don't get one. It truly is that simple.

Ed

Can't find the mpg. That's one of the most important ideas of these cars. I looked all over the place and couldn't find the thing. Ridiculous:I guess I'll go look at another car, one that posts the mpg.

Jill

Hate to hit one with my 4000 lb Lincoln.

DET

I think the fuel mileage is comparable to that of some smaller four-seaters and hybrids, i.e., not that good, considering what you get. I would have to imagine that high winds, trucks losing their loads, even the wake from passing vehicles could make things dicey for a Smart Fortwo.

The Smart Forfour was discontinued in 2006.

DL

I rented this car to drive from NYC to Southampton. I have driven all the fancy big cars like the Bentley, Rolls Royce, BMW 750 LI and I must say this car is impressive! Two friends are going to test drive it after my raves!! I love it, it's very fast and handles excellent. Don't be like I was and make fun of it, go test drive it!!

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