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Daimler Introduces Electric Smart Car in United States

Trial begins, with commercial sales set for 2012

2 min read
Daimler Introduces Electric Smart Car in United States

Daimler Benz is getting set to roll out an electric version of its tiny Smart Car, though U.S. sales will begin only two years from now. The German company has been showcasing its plans this week and last with a string of Smart Cars parked on a residential street in Brooklyn (above), where members of the automotive press are given briefings. The cars, rather fetchingly painted to highlight certain design and safety features, make an engaging sight.

The plan is to lease 250 electric Smarts in the coming year, on a trial basis, to select customers in five urban areas: Portland, Ore., San Jose, Orlando, Indianapolis, and in the Interstate 95 corridor from DC to Boston. A few vehicles may also be placed in Austin, Detroil, and Los Angeles. Customers will make a down-payment of $2,500 and pay $599/month, and they'll get a four-year guarantee. Daimler introduced 100 electric Smarts in London in 2007, and currently is placing about 1500 more worldwide.

The electric Smart Car employs the so-called Smart fortwo drive system--fortwo to be read as for-two (not Smart fort-wo, as I perversely read it at first glance), to distinguish it from the discontinued Smart for-four . With an extension cord provided either with the car or at the "pump," the car can be charged either at 110 or 220 Volts, but not at a higher voltage. At 220 volts the car can be charged to roughly 80 percent capacity in three and a half hours, at 110 in about seven. So, Daimler's business model generally anticipates overnight charging at home, though it also will be possible to charge roadside at stations like the ones Coulomb will install in nine U.S. metropolitan areas.

As an enthusiastic and loyal driver of BMW's Mini Cooper, I have to confess that the Daimler Smart Car has always looked pretty dumb to me. The car's absence of any front end has always reminded me of the original VW, in which drivers routinely were impaled by the steering column in head-on collisions. Daimler makes a strong case that it has designed around such problems: Its handlers point out that the car is made of exceptionally strong steel and is shaped like a "nut"--not a walnut (as I initially understood), but the kind of nut you put on a bolt. Looked at from the side (above), the hexagonal support structure is in fact plainly visible, highlighted by the paint job.

The Smart Car, like the Mini, performs well in the most demanding crash tests. But those tests have limits, not taking into account for example scenarios in which the car is pushed, dragged, or thrown off the road by a much larger vehicle. Analysts including those at Consumer Reports have pointed out that drivers of any micro-cars are about 50 percent more likely than drivers of large cars to die in accidents..

In terms of performance, the electric Smart fortwo handles nicely in city traffic, darting and slithering through openings no other car can navigate. A single-geared vehicle, it is equipped with a 16.5 kWh lithium ion battery and accelerates from zero to 60 km/h in 6,5 seconds. It has a range of 135 kilometers. Daimler estimates that a typical commuter would need to charge the car only once a week.

 

 

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

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A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

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EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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