For years now, North Americans have been driving supersized cars and trucks, fueled by massive gas tanks filled with cheap gasoline. In fact, young American children probably believe that an SUV the size of a Japanese studio apartment, is perfectly normal, and well-deserved. But it has not always been so: The energy crisis, high prices, and gas rationing of the 1970's encouraged Americans to trade in their gas-gulping Chryslers for gas-sipping Japanese compacts. But a new generation seems to have forgotten those lessons, and are splurging on monstrous SUVs that are shamefully fuel inefficient.
Yet Americans and Canadians interested in protecting the environment — as well as their wallets — may have a new transportation option in the near future. New cars made by SMART, a brand of DaimlerChrysler (of all companies…), may be tiny, but their fuel efficiency is sizable, at 60 mpg, for the base model. Amazingly, it is four feet smaller than a Mini Cooper, so you could park two in a standard parking spot. The plastic panels are easily swappable, and one color all the way through; hence, you can't scratch the paint. Even the emissions are tiny: Last year, a major study of more than 1,200 cars, cited the Fortwo as being the least polluting car in the world.
Despite its dimunitive appearance, the SMART's steel frame makes it safe in an accident. Unlike most of the Japanese cars nowadays, it is quite affordable, and could cost as little as $15,000. There are three primary models: a two-seater "fortwo", a four-seater "forfour", and a two-seater "roadster".
To learn more about these innovative new vehicles, and to see pictures of them, check the websites of the SMART company in the U.K., or the U.S. distributor, ZAP. As of this writing, ZAP is accepting reservations. Recent write-ups on SMART cars have appeared in Wired, MSNBC, AutoWeek, and Slashdot.