Monday, June 28, 2010

Transporter technology.

See this city car? I think it's awesome, at least for 90% of the driving I do.

A tank of gas can last me weeks, because all my running around is little two-to-five-mile trips a couple or three times a week, all on surface streets. Half my errands are done by bicycle unless the weather is just buck wretched.

Except, being an American, I have friends that I occasionally go visit that are not located right next door (if you're reading this in Europe, that means "half a continent away" in foreignese,) and when I go, I like to go by road. When I go by road, by myself, it's a lot closer to the 24 Heures du Mans than it is National Lampoon's Vacation; the car stops long enough to take on fuel, and that's it. And I don't imagine these little city cars would be a boatload of fun with the cruise set at 80 for five+ hours straight.

So as long as I'm a one-car person, that car's got to be capable of knocking off four- and five-hundred mile roadtrips on the superslab in speed and comfort. Maybe there'll be a market in cheap used microcars someday...


New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

"But it has a range of 150 miles" The coal powered car enthusiasts tell me, "how often do you need to go more than that." (A bit further afield than the Smart Car in you post, but of a similar flavor to still maybe be on-topic...)

This hides the OTHER flaw. That is 150 miles a day. Max. Half a tank of a Dodge Dakota can go 150 miles. Then the car stops at a gas station. 10 minutes later (fill up) and the Dodge can go another 300+ miles. And repeat that again at the end of that journey. The electric car goes 500 yards after a 10 minute charge. Horribly impractical for countries larger than Belgium.

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

Agreed, on all points, although since my 8 mile (each way) commute each day is along a 4 lane highway with a speed limit of 65, I would rather have a normal-sized car for safety reasons. One encounter with an SUV at those speeds and that thing's a pancake - and so is the driver.

You couldn't pay me to take that thing on the interstate.

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

Also, on an ironic note: NFPA standards require ambulances to be governed to a maximum of 75mph. Which means that this little street-legal go-cart can outrun our newest ambulance.

Joanna said...

I don't trust any car where, in the words of Jeremy Clarkson, "the crumple zone is your knees."

Tam said...

I rode a motorcycle in Atlanta traffic for years, and ride a bicycle around Broad Ripple now, so arguments about "crumple zones" and such leave me a little baffled.

What you people see as a Ford Explorer seriously deficient in crash protection, I see as a bike with really good weatherstripping.

Farm.Dad said...

Meh , Best to look at them like bic lighters. When the tank is empty they are likely due to be thrown away .

Tam said...

You'd think that the last forty years would have disabused people of the notion that "Big Vehicle Last Long, Small Vehicle Disposable".

I wonder what the ratio of 200k-mi. Corollas to Cadillacs is on the roads these days?

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

"I wonder what the ratio of 200k-mi. Corollas to Cadillacs is on the roads these days?"

You can count mine. A '94 Corolla with 211399 miles as of the last fill-up.

"What you people see as a Ford Explorer seriously deficient in crash protection, I see as a bike with really good weatherstripping."

I have no issues with motorcycles. I plan on getting one myself as soon as I can afford to. My problem is that I don't see these micro-cars as having the maneuverability necessary to compensate for their size, like a motorcycle does.

Jay G said...

The big problem I have is that it needs to seat at least three people - I have two kids that have to go to summer camp, the bus stop, etc. A car that seats two is essentially a covered motorcycle - and most bikes under 500ccs will kick the snot out of the T.25 for mileage and maneuverability.

When they come up with one that seats four, the range is immaterial - 150 is a week's worth of back-and-forth to work for me. That's plenty.

Something to consider, Tam, is that a car like this might work for you. Those long distance trips? Rent something. I rented a Corolla to drive to NC for the NRA convention for $100 for four days - putting some 2,000 miles on it in that time. For the once or twice a year you'd need something for the long haul, it might be worth looking into...

Jim said...

Micro-cars make massive good sense for much of the local driving city folks do. (They should not, however, be made so pretty. They should look about like a vintage carnival bumper car, complete with a big rubber band around middle. Let somebody else support the body shops.)

In Tam's situation and ready to change vehicle systems, I would pencil out the cost of owning a city kiddy car plus renting a nice big cruiser for Appalachian trips.

Bram said...

That zero to sixty time of 16 seconds is a no-go for me. Like Jake, I spent part of my commute on a superhighway. I merge into traffic moving uphill at 75 mph + at 6 am. I don’t need a rocket, but it has to move. This thing (and I) would be a Peterbuilt grill ornament.

Ian Argent said...

Dunno about this one - but the Smart is maneuverable enough IMHO. Could use a bit more get up and go from a standing start; but since it's manual, the standby of "drop a gear or two for some zoom" works out in practice. Certainly no worse in the zoomzoom dept than my old four-banger Ranger, and I did well enough with that. Conveniently enough, there's a button at the bottom end of the gas pedal travel that drops the gear for you when you floor it. Or you can use the paddles etc. That and traction control have gotten me out of some mild stickiness.

Range of right around 300 miles on a tank on the highway (somewhat less if all my driving is surface roads) and a gas tank means I too can up and drive across a couple of states as the whim strikes me (and have).

Only car? Unlikely - but this ain't Bermuda (where, by law, it's one car per household. Which means they're almost all mini-SUVs. You see a lot of scooters and motorbikes).

Small cars may be less safe than larger, all other things being equal - but a) things aren't equal, and b)we're talking some pretty low levels of risk there.

Joanna said...

What you people see as a Ford Explorer seriously deficient in crash protection, I see as a bike with really good weatherstripping.

You're absolutely right, which is why I don't trust 'em -- or rather, why I don't trust the drivers who will inevitably treat them like fully armored hum-vees. I'm just not comfortable doing 45+ mph in something smaller than the average vehicle around me.

CGHill said...

The problem with owning a teensy urban runabout and then renting a more substantial cruiser for Major Road Trips is that you're going to drive 500 or 1000 (or, in my case, 5000) miles in an unfamiliar vehicle over roads you may or may not know well. This is just asking for trouble.

RWC said...

My Jetta is about the same size....and I won't be killed if a bike messenger hits me.

Matt G said...

I'd love one, but this wife and kids make it impractical, so I'll keep my big old.... er, larger Honda Civic.
(with 197k miles on it, but only because I rarely put more than 100 miles a month on it, anymore.)

Tam said...


"My Jetta is about the same size..."

Only in the same way that your Jetta is "about the same size" as an F-150.

perlhaqr said...

So as long as I'm a one-car person, that car's got to be capable of knocking off four- and five-hundred mile roadtrips on the superslab in speed and comfort.

And that's in them tiny states back East. 500 miles won't even get me out of the next state over, sometimes. My best friend lives 1500 miles away, as the car drives.

og said...

"I wonder what the ratio of 200k-mi. Corollas to Cadillacs is on the roads these days?"

You might well be surprised.

What takes big cars off the road is as often as not loss of "luxury" items, like power windows, electronic cruise control, etc. Lots of good running cars go to the yard not because they are junk but because the power door loks STAY locked, or because the all electronic dashboard no longer works, and the service guy estimates $1500 to fix it. I spend a LOT of time in auto wrecking yards, and frankly, the mileage of the cars there is about the same, they all seem to end up there at about 190,000. The big ones still run, and many can even be driven. They just have a lot of shit on them that don't work. the small ones were invariably dragged there. Cars you take care of last longer, cars you don't take care of, don't. The Exploder has 376,000 miles, and I intend to get 500,000.

I want a "convertible" car. A car that is- basically- a passenger compartment. Back it up to one unit, it's a van. Another, it's a truck. Another, it's a luxury sedan. Alone, it's an economy car. Each person in a family would have one, and they could all be connected together for road trips, and separated upon arrival for individual use. I imagine the modules would each look like the car in the link.

perlhaqr said...

To be fair to the car in the link, the electric one that can't go anywhere is just the second model. The original one (which costs half as much) is petrol driven and gets 75 mpg.

Of course, it still looks a bit small for my tastes.

RWC said...


LOL. Ok, I can see the point of driving a matchbox car if I lived in the city.

But I'm not driving that thing on 95 to get into the city.

But the Jetta has served me well as a commuter car. And now that its been paid off, I don't care about the dings and scratches anymore.

Kristopher said...

I drive my Diesel Suburban everywhere ... city and highway. Comfy ... and enough room on the bench seat to roll out a sleeping bag.

20 MPG, and the engine is on it's fourth trip around the odometer, and still going strong. It can run on recycled hippie.

If anything attempt to bother me, it will be crushed. All it needs to be perfect is an electric motor and a nuclear battery.

Sigivald said...

Why wouldn't I just get a Mini Cooper or something?

Yeah, I mean, he "claims" it'll sell for $9k, but I don't believe that for a second.

Comparing with the real current competition, the Smart fourTwo, the Mini is superior in every area but fuel economy, and it's pretty damn close there, despite the vastly increased power and seating and cargo options.

Sure, the "city cars" are slightly smaller, but at some point it becomes pointless...

Joanna said...

Comparing with the real current competition, the Smart fourTwo, the Mini is superior in every area but fuel economy, and it's pretty damn close there, despite the vastly increased power and seating and cargo options.

Also the squee factor is through the roof.

M said...

THe article mentioned some sort of central driver position, so I think this seats 3. Also it will fit in the bed of a long bed pickup. And at the price if I lived in an urban area and was in the habit of owning multiple late model cars, I'd look at one seriously.

RWC said...


If you look at the pics it shows the layout of the inside. Driver centralized in front and two passenger behind to the left and right.

wv- dionic

As this is idionic.

Ian Argent said...

Well, the Smart fortwo is significantly cheaper than the Mini Cooper. The base Smart is in the region of $12K. It looks like the Mini starts at $20K. That's not small change (though I suspect the baseline Mini has a few more creature comforts than the Smart. As configured, mine ran about $16K and is nicely loaded, the model that I would consider "not stripped" starts at $14K). I'd also like to know what the ongoing maintenance costs are on the Mini.

Per the annual costs to fuel is $1399 for Mini and $1243 for the Smart, which I agree, is pretty negligible - $150 over a year is one meal out less a month.

Incidentally, as far as handling, the Smart is RWD and rear-engined; giving it a nicer (IMHO) handling than any FWD car I've ever driven

Ian Argent said...

And for that sub-$20K I get just as much german engineering as the Mini. YMMV may vary as to how much of a Good Thing this is

Anonymous said...

You know, I think I'll just keep my Mom's Reliant. Plenty of room & it's value doubles when I fill the tank. It's the one with the 2.5, TBI, & the auto.

Ulises from CA

Cargosquid said...

Get a Smart Car and put a Hayabusa Engine in it......

Then its a motorcycle with good weatherstripping....

Ruth said...

I just want my '91 Civic hatchback back.....

My problem with those little cars is I don't trust them in "real weather" (I live in central NY state where for the last several winters we've had well over 100 inches of snowfall). The civic did fine, but even it slid some, those little cars weigh nothing in comparison, how would THEY do? Untill someone who's opinion I know & trust can reliably tell me they handle snow (as in a foot in 3 hrs sorta snowfall) weather fine there's just no way I'd seriously consider one.

Anonymous said...

A relative of mine has a Smart, regulary takes it on the highway, says it's fun, stable and works well in winter weather, ( That's Montreal, Quebec, winter weather, so he knows of whereof he speaks.) and it's a lethal parking weapon.

His considered opinion is that for a city car, commuting, when you do not have more than 2 people and minor stuff to haul it's the cat's meow. It's the perfect second car. Or has he put it: think of it like moterbike with a side car - but with better all weather comfort and safety.

His wife has a normal compact car when they go to costco, or drive more than a couple of hours, or have luggage.

Ian Argent said...

That matches my experience with the Smart. Great commuter, can be used for long distance road trips with light luggage. Having the other car is highly desirable.

Oh, and the Hayabusa-powered smart isn't just a motorcycle with weatherstripping; it's a pocket rocket...

Außenseiter said...


In Europe, Smart is universally derided as a toy car. Sure, it's economical, but there probably is a dozen models that have twice the value. Chevrolet Spark is going to sell in the US for $1-12K. It has four doors, a 1000cc engine.

I used to drive a previous model. It was great fun, like driving a go cart. The acceleration was great too.. (car weighed about a 1000lbs) The Spark supposedly has better safety features. Not a car for cross-continental journeys. Though, why not use air or rail traffic for thoose?

Tam said...

"Though, why not use air or rail traffic for thoose?"


Ian Argent said...


I own one and commute daily with it - half an hour drive of which the majority of mileage and slightly over half the time is on a US interstate highway at highway speed; one that is a major truck route as well. I've put not quite 30K miles on it in a little over 2 years, it's the primary auto of my wife and myself. We have a full-size sedan (taurus) that we use for larger carrying capacity and my wife to commute with; since it's over 100K we are trying to keep miles off that.

The US Smart is a nominal 1 liter engine (ISTR it comes in slightly under, 900 and change ccs)- I understand the engine is somewhat larger than the euro model. Likewise the US model is slightly physically larger in dimensions.

Justthisguy said...

Oh God I miss my 1983 Mazda B2000. No 'puters in it, only one IC, and it was for the wiper delay. SOHC, 4-into-2-into one exhaust, light but could carry a lot, manual steering, crank windows, and best of all, it got about 37 miles/gal. on the highway. (They had head gasket issues with those; I think I got one that was fixed, with a slightly shaved head, as it would detonate slightly on 87 at low speeds and wide-open throttle.)

I ran it for 23 years before I was forced by circumstances to abandon it.
There was no part of it I could not work on, provided I had the right tools.

I could drive from the southernmost part of FL to Atlanta in it on one tank of gas.

WV: glymick. Irish sweety?

Jay G said...

Re: Old cars.

For a few months, before it fell apart, I had a 1983 Cadillac Coupe De Ville. It had the anemic 4.1L V8 engine, which got about 22MPG on the highway.

And it had a 24 gallon tank.

It was a land yacht that seated six and could cruise from my house in northern MA to Baltimore MD on a single tank of gas.

Try *THAT* in a Smart Car! :)

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

"Though, why not use air or rail traffic for thoose?"

For air? TSA.

For rail? Unfortunately, rail service in the US isn't all that great anymore. It's a 2 hour drive to get to the closest place for me to catch Amtrak, and the station isn't in a part of town that I'd be comfortable leaving my car.

Tam said...

The simple fact is, if one owns the kind of car that's up to the journey, air or rail is a non-starter for a trip of less than 500 miles or so.

From here to K-Town is ~380 miles by road, and roughly 5.5 hours by the clock. That's measured door-to-door. No taxis. No long-term parking fees. About $90USD round trip, if that.

I walk out the back door of the house and into the garage, throw a couple ammo cans full of loosely-packed ammunition, a range bag full of guns, and a suitcase in the trunk; plug up my iPod and go. The car stops when and where I want to. My CCW pistol stays loaded on my hip the whole way. No fussing with taxis or rental cars on the far end. Why would I want to take a plane or train again?

TJP said...

Beats me, Tam. I wonder why people take a four hour drive/wait/flight from Bradley to JFK, when they could drive in under two hours, and bring all the crap they want.

Look, this would be perfect for a work driver, since I don't have to take the highway. It just needs to be $5,000 cheaper. Otherwise there's more value in a Hyundai at the same price.

Timmeehh said...

Here's a car that is fun to drive and gets great mileage :

Caterham Super 7 GSX 1300R "Hayabusa"

Or how about :

And they're Made in Canada!

T.Stahl said...

Only seventy-four miles per Imperial (!) gallon (or 62 mpg US)?
Only ninety miles per hour?
Only three rather cramped seats?
Only 160L luggage?

Thanks, I'll keep my old car.

68 mpg average, 100 mpg tops.
+110 mph TGS* 'straight and level'.
Four comfortable seats.
350L luggage.

*) True Ground Speed

Kristopher said...


Passenger rail has failed in the US because it cannot compete with the automobile for both convenience and expense.

It only exists in this country for tourist purposes, or when propped up by the feds or a local government ... with one exception:

The Metro commuter trains in the Bos-Wash corridor. Those would probably run without subsidy, but only because the main destinations are so damned crowded that parking and driving there and back for work is difficult.

Tam said...

T. Stahl,

The attraction for me is the size, with its concomitant ease of parking and shrinkage of parking lots. And even that only reaps maximum benefit if 10%-25% of my neighbors jump on the Kei car bandwagon.

Given the number of Smarts, scooters, and Prii tooling around local streets, I don't think it's an entirely unreasonable expectation.

Anonymous said...

"Maybe there'll be a market in cheap used microcars someday..."

Oh, there already is. You can buy a Smart for cheap now. I put in a reservation and took delivery of a new one 8/08, drove it a few hundred miles, and sold it to a hippie who drove up in his Lexus hybrid to pay me a $3K profit; gas was the far side of $4 and the Smart was new and scarce. He paid me $18,500 and you can buy an '09 now on flea-bay with a few thousand miles for sub-10.

I liked it; it drove bigger than it was, and though it had some odd operational quirks, it was a fun novelty and a capable short-hopper.

But why would one bother with an enclosed lawnmower or a guilded golf cart when there's this?

I don't usually lease but a few years back I leased two new 325i's for my wife and son; unlike the horror stories and hidden costs you hear about leases, the BMW system was outstanding, and the warranty covers everything but tires; even oil changes are free for 3/36. Now they've got the Mini (not stripped, $21.5K MSRP) for 2K upfront and $200 a month. That's a total of $250 month for 39 months with no operational cost but gas...which is into the 30's btw.

And no need for a "city" car and a "road" car...I've driven one over the road; it feels almost exactly like those 325's in every respect. Cruise at 80, quick, tight, comfortable, relatively safe. My wife wants a red one without the stripes; now if it weren't for that "squee" factor, I might park the truck and borrow it now and then.


Anonymous said...

Kristopher said: "The Metro commuter trains in the Bos-Wash corridor. Those would probably run without subsidy..."

Think about who those passengers are and you might want to reconsider that "without subsidy" part...


Stretch said...

When smugger than thou types ask me why I drive an SUV rather than a 'responsible vehicle' I just say "F=mv2" Their reaction to that usually proves they failed high school physics.

Anonymous said...

How's it handle two feet of snow?

Tam said...

"How's it handle two feet of snow?"

Prob'ly no worse than a Z3.

Justthisguy said...

Stretch, f=ma. Kinetic energy is what's equal to mv^2

Laughingdog said...

I'm really surprised no one has mentioned one huge flaw with that vehicle based on that photo.

Can you imagine trying to get into that thing when it's pouring rain outside?

Bubblehead Les. said...

Actually, I wonder how it would handle a rollover test.

reflectoscope said...

As long as you didn't need to on highways and didn't have too much snow to get through, I could see it.


Kristopher said...


I'm sure at least some of them are honest, and don't work for the government.

Ian Argent said...

@Jay G: Hell with the Smart - no car I have ever owned has had a 500 mile range. (The ranger and Taurus could both manage 400 if it was an all-highway road trip). I'm not escorting Boeings to Berlin and back, I can stop to gas up once in a while :)

@Tam: +1 to automotives being superior to air and rail under 500 miles. I would set my drive radius a little farther than that unless someone else was paying; personally. If I make it out to Gen*Con one of these years, I'll be driving it.

Amtrak's Eastern Corridor (Bos-Wash) makes a profit; it's the rest of the system that drags Amtrak down (not only because long-distance passenger rail is inefficient, but also because congresscritters meddle). ISTR Acela is a money-loser, though.

Which reminds me - the US is frakking huge and really quite decentralized. I regularly drive a little less than twice the distance from Budapest to Vienna, for example.

Anonymous said...

Find the biggest battery only electric car and put a Honda 20hp contractor's generator in the trunk with exhaust out the floor and go as far as you like,maybe 60 mpg all the time.
luv Kermitt

Anonymous said...

"I'm sure at least some of them are honest, and don't work for the government."

No doubt.

"Amtrak's Eastern Corridor (Bos-Wash) makes a profit; it's the rest of the system that drags Amtrak down..."

Ah, the sweet yet bitter irony; the only portion of a quasi-gov business that doesn't run a cash deficit is utilized almost exclusively by gov workers...without them there'd be just enough of those honest, non-gov users to keep that portion of the system on the permanent dole. Just like the rest of it.

There can be no "profit" when the primary source of revenue is money that's already yours.


Will said...


You would have done better with the B 2200 model.
My '83 got about 35 mpg commuting, and 42 mpg highway, with a 400+lb bike and gear in the bed. It would get over 700 miles per tank of fuel. Wish I still had it.

'Course, the only thing it could out-accelerate was a loaded semi truck. That 2.2L diesel was rated at 57 hp. They should have put a turbo on it.

What's really stupid is Ford put the same engine in the '83 Ranger, which is a heavier truck. Plus, they only put a 4speed tranny in it. Killed the mileage, I think the ones I had only got about 28mpg. Ford put the Mitsubishi turbo-diesel in it the following year. Had about twice the horses, but a bit more fragile engine. They even did a 4x4 version.
Never understood why they never put a turbo on that Mazda engine. It was a hell-for-stout industrial engine design.

Ian Argent said...

@AT - have you ever BEEN on a train in the Eastern Corridor? Just because Joe Biden rode it doesn't make it a perq of federal employment. In fact, why in the world would a employee need to ride a train from DC to philly, NYC, boston on a regular basis? Other than for elected officials on the line, of which there aren't enough to make a hill of beans out of, the Eastern Corridor train is pretty useless for commuting. The GS types mostly stay in DC. The primary users are high-powered business types who have meetings in DC at 9 am and Boston at 4 and are on their laptops between; and at the college breaks, college students going home.

The Eastern Corridor train compete (successfully, and even more so because of TSA shenanigans) with the short-haul shuttles from the relevant airports.

If the line was electrified past DC to the south, it would probably be useful as far down as Richmond; maybe a bit farther.

Anonymous said...

"The primary users are high-powered business types who have meetings in DC..."

If that's an accurate statement, God only knows who's being met and what that's costing us.

The point is this: eliminate the ridership that is connected directly or indirectly to what is euphemistically called "the nation's business" and that route would be in the same boat -er, train-, with everything else that wouldn't exist without gov (taxpayer) largesse; or maybe in its place would be an actual private business.

Lord knows that would still be preferable to what makes the rider volume "profitable" in this segment. Last winter a blizzard shut DC down for days, and it was wonderful as those many thousands who go about their business to one way or another rob, rape, pillage, and steal had to stay home. Maybe this fucking train will break and they'll all have to stay home again, this time for an extended duration. Hell, we could probably balance the budget in a coupla months.


Ian Argent said...

@AT: Whoah. I recommend a different dry-cleaner for your wookie-suit.

Justthisguy said...

Will, the problem I had with the thing, was that it became harder and harder to get parts. There basically weren't any of them in the junkyards, because everybody else who had one did the same as I did and ran it until it dropped dead. The only more indestructible trucklet was the original Isuzu Chevy Luv of the late 70s-early 80s

Justthisguy said...

On railroads and profits: The reason the railroads quit carrying passengers just as soon as they could, is that they _always_, going back to the 1830s, lost money on the passenger trade. I have this on the good authority of my dear dead Mother, the first woman to hold the position of secretary to the president of the Mississippi Division of the GM&O railroad. My Mom was never wrong when it came to business or politics.

Ian Argent said...

It may be that Amtrak is merely losing *less* money on the Eastern Corridor than anywhere else - but I've seen the claim that it makes a (decent) profit which is then sucked up by the rest of the system to the point that Amtrak as a whole still needs subsidies.

They're not charging anything less for a ticket than the airline shuttles, at any rate - if the airlines can make a profit on those runs I would suspect that Amtrak is not completely cooking the books, at any rate.

Will said...

the big rig diesel mechs told me that the engine should go 250k before needing any service. That would be valve job and maybe seals in the pump, and it would be good for another 250k before needing a full rebuild. I imagine the tranny would need some work along the way. Talking to a mechanic from overseas, he said that typically the trucks would get run until they fell apart, then the engine would be swapped into a boat for the remainder of its life.

My Mazda went to El Salvador. Bunch of guys were buying up little diesel pickups, then using towbars to run them south. Mid-'90s. Whenever I've been in south CA, or AZ, I see a lot of vehicles, mostly trucks, heading south on towbars. Funny, that's what my Dad used to do, except he ran East-West.

Ryan said...

Transportation patterns are a complicated thing. America is just too big and has too many low density population areas for mass public transit to be the answer. Mass transit works great in NYC or LA but would not work so well in Wyoming or Texas.