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Why the Smart car's arrival in the USA is a good thing

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A few weeks ago we told everyone to expect the US release of DaimlerChrysler's diminutive Smart 2-seat city car "any day now." It looks like the day has come and company chairman Dieter Zetsche will make the announcement tomorrow in Detroit. [Update: the car was released in early 2008. Roger Penske's United Auto Group will incubate 30 to 50 dealerships in metro areas.]

You'll probably soon see a barrage of press about how the Smart is too small or faces too much competition from other manufacturers to be a success, but there are a number of good things that will come from its release...

1. With any luck the US Smart will be released with the same fuel efficient 799cc 3-cylinder diesel as its Canadian and European siblings. This will help to raise the profile of the new generation of cleaner, efficient and less finicky diesels. The only other auto manufacturer selling diesels in the US is VW.

2. The Smart only has two seats, quite unlike most North American vehicles that often seat five or more. The trouble is, most of us drive solo most of the time. It makes sense to offer an extremely compact 2-seater that helps us to reconsider what we need from a city car.

3. Hybrids have been stealing too much of the automotive spotlight lately. The Smart uses a traditional powerplant to achieves commendable fuel economy. The truth is there's no need to spend a $5000 premium to own an overly complicated gas-electric hybrid when there are simpler "green" options.

4. The sight of extremely small vehicles on the road will attract derision from Hummer pilots, but it may well make people realize how unnecessarily bloated modern vehicles have become. Hopefully that'll encourage many people to downsize.

The Smart is by no means the only microcar available in other parts of the world. It would be really neat if the Smart caught on and spurred other manufacturers to release their cool little cars in North America as well. If you like the idea of downsizing but prefer something more traditional, consider the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris and upcoming Nissan Versa.

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