Smart Car Rally Edition

It’s not everyday that you think about Smart Cars Rally Editions, but they have been done and here is a first look at one.

Who would have thought that the Smart Car could be the next vehicle that a performance tuner may look to when it comes to having a unique race car. Apparently the idea has all ready caught wind in other markets and if we are lucky will follow suit in the states. Smart Car Rally!!!


Smart Car Eleanor

Here is something that you don’t usually see, a Smart Car Eleanor version. You know the Mustang that became ever so famous from the movie Gone in 6O Seconds? Well welcome to the Smart Car version.

The design study was made in clay on a regular smart toy model.
The sculpting was done directly on the body of a smart car provided by Chrysler. To quickly get volume to the sculpt we use a special mix of foam and styrofoam.
When this mix has hardened we sand it down to the shape we want and then apply plaster that will provide us with a smooth enough surface after sanding it so it’s ready for the paintjob.
After the sculpt is completed and painted it’s time to make moulds from it. The moulding process starts with figuring out where to split the mould so you can take it apart. For each seam a plane has to be in place to be able to assemble the entire mould. Once the mould is done at has to be prepared for casting which involves covering up the seams with special clay and then wax it enough so that the mould won’t get stuck to the body surface.

See the pictures to see how the Smart Car Eleanor came to be…


Smart Car Walk Around Video

Here’s a video of the UK version of the Smart Car. I think that we’ll see a different version come to light in the United States but its still great to post videos like these to get a good impression of what we are in for. This Smart Car walk around video is well done… Here it is..



Smart Car Utah’s New Hit

Say bye to big trucks and hello to the Smart Car. The European made vehicle will be the smallest car in the country. They go on sale next year, but already hundreds of Utahns have put in their order.

They’re teeny tiny compared to the big trucks many Utahns drive. ABC 4 measured for ourselves and found it to be about 8’7″ long, and 5’1″ wide. But there was still plenty of room for Bruce Brittain who is 6’4″. While sitting inside, Brittain says, “I have two, three inches of head space, plenty of leg space, I feel comfortable.”

Now to the engine. It’s small but powerful with a top speed of 90 miles per hour. Smart Car representative Steve Weisenberger says, “You gotta remember, it’s half the weight of an average car so your power to weight ratio is actually really good.”

The good gas mileage doesn’t hurt either. Wayne Watson drives a truck, and says, “The mileage per gallon in my truck is eleven. This one’s over forty miles per gallon so that there with price of gas today is why we’re looking at the car.”

And we can’t forget about safety, especially with a car this small. Weisenberger says, “The car is designed with a steel reinforced safety cage which we call a ‘tridion safety cell.'” The car also has four air bags and crumple zones.

These Smart Cars sell for $12,000 – $17,000 depending on the model. There have been over 750,000 of these cars sold in 36 countries.

The Smart Car was created by Swatch and Mercedes, so the name actually stands for Swatch – Mercedes Art.


Professional Football Players Smart Car!

This is a great and fun idea, putting football players in a Smart Car. Fans of the Canadian Football League regard their brand of pro football superior to that of that upstart league to the south for the edge-of-your-seat excitement three-down football offers.

Where most close NFL games are over with two minutes to play, the Canadian game is just warming up at the 120 second mark, with the very real prospect of a big, last minute play snatching victory from defeat.

Likewise, a CFL season can be a roller-coaster ride, as an eight-team league means even with a dismal early season record, a team is never truly out of the hunt for the right to hoist the Grey Cup come late November.

Conversely, faster than you can say “I’m going to Disneyland,” a promising season can end in the ditch. The wheels can come off in a hurry.

As I watched the black-on-black Smart fortwo cabrio creep out of the B.C. Lions training facility across 135th Street and towards King George Highway, it wasn’t so much the wheels coming off that concerned me. As a subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz, Smart cars are designed and built to a very high standard.

Instead, what troubled me was the simple physics surrounding 600 pounds of mammal stuffed into a 1,600 pound two-seater.

When the little car slipped from view onto King George, I couldn’t help but think how the Lion faithful would take the news of a Smart car-meets-cement mixer incident on a busy Surrey roadway involving two starting offensive lineman.

I concluded they would not take it well, and their first inclination would be to ask what the hell starting centre Angus Reid and starting guard Kelly Bates were doing driving a Smart car, anyway? Who’s bright idea was that?

Still, just as B.C. Lions quarterbacks have faith in the Leo lineman to protect their backs, I had faith Reid and Bates would protect mine.

Bates, who was behind the wheel of the Smart, told me as he snatched the key from my hand — did I mention he weighs 296 pounds? — that he first drove as a five-year old on the family farm in Quill Lake, Sask.

In addition to being well versed in the art of double clutching and bump starting all manner of mechanized farm implement, he’d also owned lots of cars during his high school years in nearby Humboldt, even a motorcycle — a 1,100-cc Yamaha Midnight Special Tourer.

Then an accident in a Chrysler Laser — “I got cut off and totalled it” — scared the promising young athlete enough that he wouldn’t own another vehicle until after graduation from the University of Saskatchewan. “I bought a pedal bike and used that to go most places during school.”

As we talked more, it seemed most of Bates’ auto stories ended badly — “My first Explorer was an Eddie Bauer model with the big tires. It was a great SUV, but I got in an accident in it.”

I was glad I interviewed Bates, who turns 32 today, after he’d taken the Smart for a ride.

The 30-year-old Reid, on the other hand, has about as much interest in cars as the Lions’ head chef has in experimenting with tofu.

The Richmond native and Simon Fraser University graduate regards a vehicle as a utilitarian object which, like a pair of good cleats or pair of shoulder pads, must be reliable and built to handle the job.

For the seven-year pro, who was originally drafted by Montreal but traded to B.C. in his rookie year of 2001, that job is handling his six-foot one-inch, 305-pound frame and providing him with plenty of cargo space for his other job. No, not as a pollster, but as the owner operator of A&D Solutions, a promotional printing business.

My first inclination was to have Reid drive the Smart car to get a big man’s impression of the vehicle, but as I set about describing to him how the sequential shifter worked — “You just push it forward to go up in gear, and pull it back to shift down” — he anxiously looked to Bates who gladly took the driver’s seat. Not the first time the Saskatchewan Husky has bailed out his SFU Clansman line mate. Last season, Bates filled in at centre for an injured Reid during an important game against Edmonton.

Fifteen minutes or so went by and my eye caught sight of the little black car buzzing around the corner and back into the parking lot.

The car was in one piece (oh, but if those 15-inch wheels could talk), the big ol’ linemen had smiles on their faces and the writer wondered why he’d worried in the first place. Of course, had he known at the time the ‘permissible total weight’ of the smart fortwo cabrio was exceeded by 18.8 pounds during the boys’ runabout, he would have required the team trainer and some smelling salts.

Bates’s confidence behind the wheel aside, the safety of the pair was never really much of a concern.

The Smart car’s unique and distinctive shape is not designed simply to score high on the cute scale — that it does is a nice bonus. Rather, the egg-like profile is part and parcel of the rigged and reinforced steel frame that serves as a protective cocoon for the two occupants. Called the Tridion Safety Cell, it is designed to absorb much of the impact energy from a crash (for proof, visit and search “Smart car crash”). Also, by placing the 3-cylinder 800-cc turbo diesel engine and transmission underneath the passenger compartment, neither mechanical system can come into the cabin during a collision.

Not only does the safety cell provide excellent occupant protection, it also creates a very large cabin. True, Reid did have to put his left arm around Bates’ driver seat so that the guard could work the six-speed sequential shifter — quite a sight deep in the heart of Surrey, to be sure — but both big men reported they fit pretty well into the smart fortwo cabrio and even had an inch of headroom to spare.

They also liked the toy-like gauges and controls on the dash, a central and overriding theme of the Smart car since day one. Not surprising as the initial partner in the automaker with Mercedes was watchmaker Swatch (Smart is a near-acronym for Swatch Mercedes ART).

Cute looks aside, the real appeal of the Smart fortwo is fuel economy. And while its combined 4.2 L/100km consumption figure might balloon a couple of decimal points with Bates at the wheel and Reid riding shotgun, the rate at which it sips diesel fuel is quite remarkable.

On a full tank of diesel (figure around 22 bucks to fill the 22 litre tank in Greater Vancouver), you can drive the 32 kilometres between the Lions’ Surrey practice facility and their home field at BC Place more than 16 times. Consider a one-way SkyTrain fare from the Gateway station, a mere spiralled punt away from the Lions’ practice field, to Stadium station downtown is $4.50, and you begin to appreciate the true intelligence of the Smart car.

The fact that it’s 40 horsepower engine managed to haul two big professional football players also indicates this is one smart package.

Reid, Bates and the Lions are riding high as reigning Grey Cup champions. And heading into tomorrow’s tilt against the Stamps in Calgary, the team is 4-0 out of the gate following last week’s 22-18 win over Hamilton.

The fortunes of Smart, on the other hand, have not been so rosy of late, with the recent outright cancellation of the forfour model (the four-seater that had been for sale in Europe) seen as a blow to the company’s potential growth.

Still, a redesigned fortwo is set for sale in North America as a 2008 model this fall, and many observers feel an improved gearbox and slightly higher engine output will spur sales.

Canada has been a bright spot for the clever little cars, as dealerships in many urban areas, particularly Vancouver and Victoria, have experienced strong sales. In fact, May sales for this year, at approximately 500 units, was a record for the Canadian division.

And as both Reid and Bates noted, the Smart is a brilliant solution to driving around if it suits your lifestyle. That’s a big ‘if’ for football players — except maybe kickers — but as a second car that will be used primarily as an urban runabout, the Smart fortwo has few equals. And with sub-$20,000 starting prices ($16,700 for the fortwo coupe, $19,700 for the cabrio), either model represents great value for money.

Smart execs can take some solace from the CFL, as that league is currently on as sound footing as it has been in decades, the debacle of expansion into the United States and questionable team ownership far behind in the rearview mirror.

Just as Bates and Reid, each of whom started all 20 games last season on route to winning the Grey Cup, will make sure the wheels don’t come off the Lions’ 2007 campaign, Smart cars are just too smart, too reliable to go the way of the Baltimore CFL Colts, the Shreveport Pirates and the San Antonio Texans.


In this monthly series , automotive writer Andrew McCredie kicks some new-vehicle tires and goes for a ride with high profile British Columbians from the world of entertainment, sports, business and politics.


First vehicle: “When I was pretty young my job was to pull a 500-gallon watertank with a tractor from the pump to a cistern.

First car: “It was a 1979 Cutlass Supreme. Baby blue. It had been my mom’s and she’d kept it really good shape. Took me about four months to total it off. Then I had an ’82 Cutlass and then a few more. Always Oldsmobiles. I remember one was all green except for a black driver’s door.”

Current car: “Ford Explorer. Always wanted one and now that I’ve got it I’m pretty happy. I’m a large SUV-type guy.”

Dream car: “I always said I’d never want a Hummer, but once I drove in Murph’s H2 I really liked it.”

Proving you can’t take the farm out of the farm boy, Bates thinks a little and adds, “But probably the military H1 model. Those are amazing. They’d get through the sloughs back home.”


First car: “All through high school I drove my mom and dad’s car, and when I was in university (SFU) I lived on campus and bummed rides off buddies,” says Reid.

“When I finally turned pro my main thing was to buy something reliable and something I fit in. So, I bought a used Ford Explorer, which worked out well. Then I had a Chevy SUV.

Current car: “I went import and drive a 2006 Mitsubishi Endeavor. Still an SUV as we’re big guys and need the room. Also, with my business I need to haul around product so I need the cargo space, too.”

Next car: “It will still most likely be an SUV, but as gas prices are killing me right now, I’d like to see if we could get a hybrid. That’s the way everything seems to be going.”

Dream car: “You give me a nice Range Rover and I’m good to go. My wife and I always say to each other, ‘That’s the one we’ll get,’ when we see a nice new one.


Smart Car Idaho Meet

Who would have thought that there would have been such a movement already for these cars! I didn’t doubt it for a minute, what a fun car. Anyhow the Smart Car Idaho meet took off without a hitch and I’d like to post some pictures and info about it.


Smart Car Safety Information

The real question I get asked daily, is the Smart Care safe? In a nation filled with gas guzzling SUV’s, trucks and other massive machines how well can they hold up. Here is some information from Mercedes Benz about the Smart Car Safety information.

When I started researching the Mercedes Smart Car I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Smart is actually a very safe car. In fact, the 2008 Smart ForTwo achieved the highest ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for front and side crashworthiness.

What makes the Mercedes Smart Car safe?

The thing that makes the Mercedes Smart Car safe is the design element called the “tridion safety cell”. This is an egg-shaped aluminum safety cage with steel reinforcements, similar to what is used with racecars. The egg-shaped cage, along with the wheels at the corner, are designed to act like the hard shell around a nut to keep the passenger compartment safe. According to the Smart Car specs:

…the smart fortwo’s occupants are protected by a steel housing that combines longitudinal and transverse members that displace impact forces over a large area of the car. So it’s not about the amount of steel, but how that material will resist an impact. That’s what the tridion safety cell is all about.

What’s a crash box?

The Smart ForTwo is designed with steel bumpers at the front and rear that are bolted to the safety cell´s longitudinal beams via slip tubes. They can be replaced after minor collisions at low costs.

For parking lot bumps, an impact of less than 2 miles an hour won’t affect the crash box at all. Up to about 10 miles per hour, the slip tubes move to keep impact away from the tridion safety cell. Over 10 miles an hour, the tridion safety cell transmits impact over its entire surface to dissipate energy and protect its occupants (assuming a perpendicular impact involving the entire front width).

At the rear of the car, the crash box is also built of steel, which crumples much like the front slip tubes do. At an impact exceeding the severity threshold, the fuel supply to the engine is stopped and the central locking system is automatically unlocked.
Side impact strength

It’s easy to see that the Mercedes Smart Car is not a very long car. In fact, it’s about half as long as the standard midsize sedan. Contrary to what you might think, the fact that the Smart Car has such a short wheelbase actually adds to its safety.

The way it works is this: if you’re hit broadside in your Smart Car, chances are that the car hitting you will hit the wheels and tires of your car. Those wheels and tires are connected to either longitudinal structural members or axles that help to displace the crash energy. Each door also has a side brace installed.

The Mercedes Smart Car also has the most up-to-date airbags, hard-backed safety seats, skid control and electronic stability control features built in. If you’d like to see how these features work in a crash test with an S-Class Mercedes, check this German video clip.

Bottom line: Is the Mercedes Smart Car really safe?

When the Mercedes Smart Car was tested by NCAP (the European New Car Assessment Programme), it got a three star out of five safety rating. The Mercedes Smart Car Fortwo model was also crash tested against Canadian and US Department of Transport standards and it passed.


Smart Tour: Michigan Stop

You wouldn’t believe how many people message me and asks when and where the next stop on the Smart Car tour is. Michigan it is people! Smart Tour Michigan, mark your books, you don’t wanna miss out. Smart Car USA has a wonderful comprehensive list of upcoming tour dates to check out in your city.

Michigan is the next stop on the list, it will be absolutely huge and not something to miss. Here is a random fact for you to consider, Michigan has the highest number of pre-orders of ANY state! More than NY and CA, don’t ask me how or why.

This Smart Tour Michigan stop will have all the toy’s and goodies that you can imagine. From tuners to OEM masterpieces alike.


Smart Car Hybrid: Possible?

The real question is whether or not the U.S. will see a Smart Car Hybrid. People speculate that it is a possibility although when is the real question. Reports don’t confirm or deny the future existance of a U.S. Hybrid version, although honestly with the hybrid movement and such a wonderful platform already I’m sure it’s in the cards. Reports have already confirmed that we will NOT be getting the diesel version.

Here is some info about the new Smart Car hybrid technology:

The combination of an electric motor and a combustion engine makes the smart fortwo even more economical and environmentally friendly than ever. The hybrid concept reduces consumption and emissions for both the diesel and the petrol version by around 12 percent. For example, the standard consumption (NEDC) of the smart fortwo hybrid drive (hd) diesel is reduced from 3.3 litres to 2.9 litres per 100 kilometres. Carbon dioxide emissions fall from 88 to 77 grams per kilometre. This means that the CO2 champion is setting new standards for the “three litre” car. No other diesel car is more fuel-efficient and climate-friendly.


Smart Car U.S.A Original Reservation Figures

The figures are out for the original figures on Smart Car’s reservation numbers for the initial shipments and pre-orders of Smart Cars. Here is the info from Dave Schrembi:

Penske Automotive Group (PAG) Exceeds Goal with Smart Reservations
In a press conference yesterday in Detroit, Smart USA President Dave Schembri said they have received more than 20,000 reservations for the Smart Vehicle that will be available at some 45 – 60 dealers beginning in January 2008. (Source: Wall Street Journal, January 11, 2007. Page D4).

But for the first time, smart usa began to talk numbers with the public and discuss the possible success of the smart car in the US and we commend them for bringing this to the forefront!

But either way, here is the rest of the story broken down by

Keep in mind that the reservations only require a $99 deposit. So people can still back out. But it is a heck of a lead.

If all reservations are filled, it works out to 333 to 444 Smart vehicles per dealership.

However, Penske Automotive is the distributor of Smart. So this does not mean Penske Automotive is going to own all of the stores. They own some of the stores. But a lot of the stores are owned by other dealers (including some of the large public dealers).

So you likely won’t see a huge boost in gross profit dollars or percentages (and actually it might cause a slight drag in 2008).

As a reminder, Penske Automotive made about $2,993 in gross profits per new vehicle in 2006 and $2,427 per used. Also if you take the company’s fleet and wholesale gross profits divided by the total retail units (because I hope wholesale is looked at as driving used vehicle sales and fleet possibly helps drive some new vehicle retail sales) you come up with $14 gross profit per retail unit.

My guess is that Smart counts as a fleet sale and so you see the $14 figure go up a bit in 2008. But you will also see total gross profits as a percentage of revenues decline a bit (all else equal).

But dollars per unit and percentages are less important than return on investment [ROI]. So if Penske is essentially collecting a “toll” on every one of the units being sold at the stores, it can make for a pretty attractive ROI.

Now I don’t know what Penske Automotive will make on the sale of each Smart vehicle (through the distribution agreement). We can all try to guess ($200/$300 per unit?) But we just don’t know.

And this can create problems when trying to model the impact Smart will have on the company’s financial results in 2008. So let me give you some numbers to work with.

We know that management said they expect to earn between $1.40 to $1.50 per diluted share this year (2007). This guidance assumed 94.6 million shares outstanding throughout the year (a couple million more than they had in the first quarter). And this works out to $135 million to $145 million in after tax earnings in 2007.

Included in the earnings guidance, management also said they will have $0.02 to $0.04 cents a share in costs associated with the launch of the new Smart vehicles. Or, $2.0 million to almost $4.0 million in after tax expenses. They’ve got around a 37% tax rate. So if I put these numbers on a pre-tax basis, we’re talking about $3.0 million to $6.0 million bucks in expenses associated with Smart.

I suspect the conservative nature of the Penske organization only includes direct costs with Smart. For example, Sr. Vice President Tony Pordon has been playing a key role with Smart. But he also continues to exercise his duties as head of investor relations. So do they divide his salary and include it in the Smart costs? I suspect not.

Instead the $3.0 to $6.0 million in expenses being called out by the company on the conference calls are probably set up costs (systems, administration, etc.). And also some of the “road show” marketing that the company has been doing with signing up dealers and even sending the vehicle around the country to increase awareness.

They may have more expenses when they actually go live (distributing to the 45 – 60 dealers), they may have less. We don’t know.

But based on the expenses we know right now (the $3.0 to $6.0 million), what it tells me is that at 20,000 Smart unit sales, Penske needs to make $150 to $300 per vehicle to break even. And at 40,000 units (so 2x the reservations) the company needs to make $75 to $150 per Smart to break even.