Maybe gas prices have something to do with it, but lately the Doc has been noticing brightly colored minicars everywhere. Are they multiplying like bunnies (which is what Smart cars remind me of — cute little bunnies) or is it me? My daughter thinks red Smart cars look like Lady Bugs, and I've heard them described as clown cars, cubes on wheels, and last week a co-worker pointed out the Smart's resemblance to "Cozy Coupes," the popular orange foot-powered toddler cars made by Little Tikes.
Smart cars may be too small for most folks, but we spoke with a few owners who are happy with their micro cars. They love the gas mileage, low emissions, ease of parking and the attention they get.
"I tell my single girlfriends it's a great guy magnet, because, seriously, I have big burly guys coming up to me to talk about my cute little car all the time," said Bonnie Riggens, an employment law attorney who happily traded her Acura Integra for a perky yellow and black Smart after more than a two-year wait.
The Smart concept was the result of collaboration between Mercedes-Benz and the makers of the Swatch watch. The vehicles are made in France, then imported by the Penske Automotive Group.
Riggens first saw Smarts in Europe a few years ago. "These little Smart cars were everywhere, and I said to my husband, 'Oh they're so cute,' which is what everyone says to me now when they see my car." When Riggens returned from her trip, she learned that Smart cars weren't yet available stateside. But she contacted the importer, paid the $99 deposit in 2006, then waited.
She got an e-mail this past January telling her that her car was about to be built. She paid $14,000 for it and thinks the price is accessible.
"I admit I love the novelty of the car. But what I really love is that it fulfills my vision to want to be ecologically responsible. And it seems to make people happy. I think the yellow and black makes it look like a little bumblebee coming down the street, and every place I go people stop and smile, or they wave or give me a thumbs up."
Steve Wolf's red Smart ForTwo gets 33 mpg, and that is important because much of his work day revolves around his car. "I spend a lot of time shooting all over the county seeing my patients," said the Hospice social worker, "and I can tell you that I stop at the gas station a lot less often than my co-workers do."
A car that gets about 35 mpg sounds pretty good, but other than size, aren't there other drawbacks?
"The Smart doesn't have the greatest suspension; I can really feel every little bump I drive over, but I knew that going into this so it's not a problem for me," Wolf said. Riggens said the ride is not as smooth as her Acura, but she says it only took her about two weeks to get used to it.
Both owners said the car's size doesn't concern them — they cited the frame's unit construction and four air bags — but Wolf said he hopes he's never in a collision with a Hummer.
And both say they get a kick out of the Mercedes connection.
The Smart is the first new car Wolf has bought since 1974. He thinks it was worth the wait. "It's fun, and I feel like I'm doing something besides sitting around and complaining about gas prices and the environment. Buying a Smart is taking a positive step and actually doing something about it. And hey, who would ever think there would be a Mercedes I could afford on a social worker's salary?"
Please e-mail Dr. Delay at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your traffic concerns, comments and questions. Check out Dr. Delay's Bay News 9 blog at www.baynews9.com/DrDelay.html to read more about commuting issues.