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cloudship

A "Smart" idea?

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I was in Harvard Square today, and kept seeing all these Smart Four-Two's driving around. Which, since they don't sell them over here yet, was quite a surprise. They were launching a test drive program where they are visiting several urban areas and giving driving demonstrations of the cars. I didn't have time today for one, but they are also stopping in Hartford and Providence, so I want to try one out then.

For those of you who do not know what a Smart is, it's a very, very small car - quite literally the size of a golf cart. It makes something like the Toyota Yaris look huge! Supposedly, these can do up to 90mph, although I could not see anyone taking one of these out on the highway. They are really targeted towards urban areas. My question is: Is this a good or a bad development? We have really never had something so small available in decades. Certainly, this can be a great replacement for larger automobiles, they are much more fuel efficient, nimble, better environmentally, and can nearly park head in parallel parking spaces. But, will this convenience actually encourage more people to drive instead of taking public transit? Will they really replace cars, or actually become a second car for some people who have a full size car for highway travel and a smaller car for the city? Do programs like the ZipCar program perhaps provide an answer for this?

Um, here is a link to Smart Cars USA. I can remove it if moderators don't like the post to a commercial car site, but as I don't have a photo of what the car actually looks like...http://www.usa.smart.com/

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But, will this convenience actually encourage more people to drive instead of taking public transit? Will they really replace cars, or actually become a second car for some people who have a full size car for highway travel and a smaller car for the city? Do programs like the ZipCar program perhaps provide an answer for this?

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I grew up in a New York City suburb in which much of the adult population commuted to work in Manhattan via commuter trains. In our suburb, the concept of a "station car" was well established. It was usually an old, basic car that was still dependable but not especially comfortable or fun to drive. It was generally used only to commute to and from a rail station a few miles away.

It seem that Smarts would be perfect for the "station car" role. Light rail, bus rapid transit, and commuter rail are expanding into metro areas across the country, but many potential users live too far from stations to walk. Most commuters would be justifiably nervous about driving a Smart on freeways, but might be able to drive one a few miles on neighborhood streets to a nearby park-and-ride. If enough commuters arrived at park-and-rides via Smarts, smaller parking spaces would be possible, allowing more commuters to use the facility.

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Certainly, this can be a great replacement for larger automobiles, they are much more fuel efficient, nimble, better environmentally, and can nearly park head in parallel parking spaces. But, will this convenience actually encourage more people to drive instead of taking public transit? Will they really replace cars, or actually become a second car for some people who have a full size car for highway travel and a smaller car for the city? Do programs like the ZipCar program perhaps provide an answer for this?

Um, here is a link to Smart Cars USA. I can remove it if moderators don't like the post to a commercial car site, but as I don't have a photo of what the car actually looks like...http://www.usa.smart.com/

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In general, I'm all for anything that's more fuel efficient, but the key problem with the Smart is the same as the problem with hybrids. People will be less likely to walk, bike or use transit because they're barely using any fuel by driving. "Why walk and take the light rail when you can drive? After all, it's a hybrid!"

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i think this would be a great idea for the states. they were everywhere when i was in london and paris a couple of years ago. people love these things. they are eco-friendly and very manueverable in the city. i do believe it will take people a lot of time to get used to them though. i can bet there will be quite a few accidents involving these in the first few years.

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I understand this line of reasoning, but I am wondering if that in fact is one of the reasons why mass transit doesn't work in the US so well? Because it is too much of an all or nothing approach - you either have to give everything up and take the train, or always drive.

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^^ Yup. You've already bought the car and paid for the insurance, so fuel is cheaper than the mass transit fares in a lot of cases.

I'm a fan of the Smart, but I love small cars. here are a few others if you want to consider a smaller station or city car. They are used and fairly cheap.

Honda Z600 Coupe

Fiat 850

Honda CRX, 1984-1987

Chevy Sprint

1st generation Honda Civic

Geo Metro

Scion xA

Ford Festive (you know, the turbo motor from a Mercury Capri convertible fits this car?)

MG Midget

Edit: How could I forget the Subaru Just, for you guys in the snow belt ;-)

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I drove the Smart Car when they were displaying them here in Providence. They have a weird automatic/manual transmission that makes them drive a bit weird. I don't drive a stick, so I just let the manual do its thing, but there is a leaver where one can take over the transmission, don't know how it would drive for that person. Since they are quasi manual, they also act like a manual on hills, which is a learning thing for someone used to an automatic (the test drive course went up College Hill, and the person showing me the car was very quick to warn me we were gonna roll and I needed to ride the brake).

I would have no problem driving or owning one of these, but the current MSRP is crazy, its around $13k. You can get a full car such as a Toyota Yaris for th same or less (i.e. seat four and have more storage capacity).

On the storage, people kind of freak about it, it's not much, one large suitcase. You can certainly do grocery shopping, especially if you are alone in the car, you can use the passenger seat if needed, but you aren't bringing much back from IKEA or Home Depot. If you pack properly, it is fine for a long weekend.

I would own one of these, but I still don't need a car. All the reasons I don't own a car still apply. What I would like to see is rental car agencies start to carry these. I would be all over renting one for a weekend trip to the Cape to visit the 'rents or out to Western Mass where I have some friends and where public transit, sadly, doesn't cut it. These would make ideal ZipCars too.

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Ok, I know some folks have worried about the size of the Smart Car... well they had several on display at the L.A. Auto Show and I decided to try one on for size. I was surprised by how well I was able to get in and out of it, plus the room I had inside of the car.. especially since I'm almost 6ft tall and a larger guy... I still don't know if I'd recommed it over the Yaris based on the pricing...

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Here is a video showing the results of a straight-on collision at high speed. I think it held up remarkably well considering the speed of the impact and the size of this car:

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I saw the full demo of that, they crashed a conventional compact too, and determined that there was a high chance that the driver would not have survived either crash. But the fatality would have had to do with the deceleration, from 70 to zero in zero seconds would cause severe brain damage and no car would offer the proper protection for the crash they were doing. What they were trying to show though, is that the Smart Car and the conventional compact car both held up pretty much the same to the impact, they both had about equal amounts of intrusion into the passenger compartment.

The engine of the Smart Car is specifically set at an angle that will send it into the ground rather than into the passenger compartment upon impact.

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I did a 4-month study-abroad in Italy while I was in college and these are all over Rome. They are not even the smallest cars: There are also one-seaters with three wheels that look like an enclosed motorbike.

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Starting to see some on the road here...two in Raleigh already.

If anything, these will be great for dealing with urban parking issues. In Europe, I saw lots of them parked head on (or back in) perpendicularly into parallel parking spots.

I wonder if US cities will allow them to do the same here....hopefully they will. So far, the one I've seen parked here was parked normally. Guess he was afraid of being the first and some confused meter maid giving him a ticket. :lol:

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I had heard a news story about using capacitors instead of batteries a few months ago. In casual conversation, an engineer I was talking to had read a similar story a couple of years ago, so I did some Googling. Turns out, there's this little start up company called Zenn Motors that has deployed this technology. I'm not an electrician or engineer, so I wasn't too sure either what the difference is. But it's significant. Basically, it boils down to a matter of minutes vs. hours of charge time. Meaning totally electric cars can be driven on road trips. In a regular battery situation, if you went on a road trip, you'd pretty much have to plan to spend 12 hours or however long at different spots along the way. With this capacitor thing, you could stop off at a plug in station and charge up in a few minutes. I don't understand why this isn't revolutionizing everything regarding electric cars. Again, I don't know all the particulars, but on the surface, it sounds like an awesome alternative to other electric anyway. Who knows, maybe one day to gas too...?

Zenn Website

20080520_zenn_car_18.jpg

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I had heard a news story about using capacitors instead of batteries a few months ago. .....

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Barring some breakthrough, I wouldn't think there would be an economical way to produce a capacitor that could provide the energy that can be stored in a battery. Batteries tend to be very stable and meant to provide consistent power over long durations. Capacitors by their nature are temporary storage devices that generally get discharged very fast.

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There isn't much detail there but it helps to understand that a capacitor is a basic component of electrical networks. In other words it has been around for a long time. In fact longer than they knew exactly what electricity was or what it could be used for as there are stories of people getting shocked by capacitors back in middle ages Europe and Benjamin Franklin did experiments with one. There is some controversy that artifacts found were capacitors built by the ancient Egyptians.

The point of this is that even though these devices have been known for hundreds of years and form one of the building blocks of modern electrical theory, they have never been able to develop one at reasonable cost to store electricity so that it may be used as a portable power supply. This is where the battery comes in which is a device that takes electrical energy, changes it to chemical energy, and when needed will convert the chemical energy back into electricity. In its chemical form, the energy is very stable, can exist for years if not decades, and is fairly safe. By making adjustments to the chemicals and plates you can easily change the characteristics of the battery to suit the needs. The downside of course is the conversion from electrical power to chemical energy isn't instant.

The challenge of doing this with a capacitor is that the electricity is not stored in a stable form. It exists as a charge potential between two plates. This charge wants to discharge all at once, and will tend to leak on its own, so the challenge is in manufacturing a device that fixes these problems. Energy stored this way is also fairly dangerous. Imagine if you had an accident in a car and the cap was damaged and the entire energy was discharged at one time. It could be like a bolt of lightening. Making a safe capacitor that mimics a battery is where the cost comes in. When I said technological breakthrough, I didn't mean in new discoveries, but rather in the processes used to manufacture these things on large scale.

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