Magazine article Newsweek

Daimler Thinks Small: With Gas Prices Soaring, Will Americans Get 'Smart'?

Magazine article Newsweek

Daimler Thinks Small: With Gas Prices Soaring, Will Americans Get 'Smart'?

Article excerpt

While she was vacationing in Italy last year, Judy Law stumbled on a curious thing: a tiny, Popsicle-blue, bubble-topped vehicle, wedged between two large cars in a medieval back alley. "Oh, it's adorable," thought Law, an Atherton, Calif., real- estate agent. Actually, it's Smart--DaimlerChrysler's Smart, the world's smallest car and Europe's latest rage. Soon Law noticed Smarts navigating the narrowest passageways and squeezing nose-first into impossibly small parking spaces. "I don't know if I'd want to drive it back home next to all those SUVs," she says. "But it'd come in handy for shopping in San Francisco."

Law just might get a chance to tool around back home in the funky two-seater. DaimlerChrysler officials said last week they are strongly considering bringing the $9,000 Smart to the United States in 2003. That's a reversal for Daimler, which used to think that America's SUV-clogged highways would be no place for the eight-foot "microcompact" car. (Two Smarts end to end would still be three feet shorter than a Ford Excursion.) But with U.S. gas prices expected to hit $3 a gallon this summer, the Smart, which gets 57 miles per gallon, is suddenly looking, well, smart. What's more, quirky little models like the VW Beetle and Chrysler's PT Cruiser are proving that high-style small cars have big appeal in America. Next year, BMW will begin selling a hip new version of the Mini, the diminutive British car fancied by Austin Powers. And DaimlerChrysler is planning a 2004 U. …

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