Friday, June 30, 2006


The company's Smart car, available in Europe since 1998, is to go on sale here in early 2008. The tiny Smart car is only two-thirds the size of a Mini Cooper, but DaimlerChrysler has big plans for it. With a fuel-sipping three-cylinder engine that gets about 60 miles per gallon on European highways, the Smart could be a big hit here. But first Americans will have to be convinced that something so small can hold its own against pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles that could carry the 1,600-pound Smart in back.

Dieter Zetsche, DaimlerChrysler's chief executive and former head of its U.S.-based Chrysler Group unit, is betting that $3-a-gallon gasoline and crowded streets and highways will help overcome concerns about size. At just 8-feet, 2-inches in length, the Smart ForTwo, as the model is called, can be parked in half the space occupied by a full-size pickup.

DaimlerChrysler's Mercedes-Benz unit, which builds the Smart at a plant in France, designed it to stand up to much larger vehicles, Zetsche said. The passenger cabin is framed in high-strength steel that is designed to work like the safety cage of a modern race car, isolating passengers from the shock of a collision. The Smart car will be priced at under $15,000.

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