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A blog about Getting the Smart Car...latest entry

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April 1, 2008, 9:37 am

Smart, and Not So Smart

By John Schwartz

Tags: compact car, Fortwo, Smart

John Schwartz is writing about his experience in buying (and eventually owning) a Smart Fortwo.

I’ve got good news and bad news.

The good news — great news, actually — is that the Smart car I ordered last March is, as the dealer put it in a call to me, “O.T.W.” That’s an abbreviation for “on the water,” and it means the car is out of the factory and on its way west… to me. I might be driving it in just a few weeks, once the stateside processing is done.

The bad news? I’ll get to it in a moment.

I’ve been blogging about my Smart, and my decision to buy it and then engaging in the discussions with readers who gleefully predict that I’ll be squashed like a bug when I (inevitably) collide with an 18-wheeler.

And one of the things I’ve written about is the fact that I’ve been waiting for what seems like a long time without any information from the company.

After the blog post about waiting for my Smart appeared online, I got a call from Dave Schembri, president of Smart USA, who had gotten wind of the blog scribblings and hoped to explain that there were many very good reasons for the delays and the general lack of information on orders.

He said that the dealer network, for example, couldn’t be talked about before authorities from state to state had given final approval to each one. Regulators don’t like people jumping the gun with assumptions that are going to make them say yes, he said. “It would have pre-empted their decision process,” he said.

As for the amount of time it was taking to get one to my door, he said that was a legitimate question. But he also pointed out that that each one is customized in France to meet the buyer’s specifications, and that’s not a quick process. Nor is a nationwide rollout for the brand in America, which started a year and a half ago.

“A year ago, we didn’t have a customer, we didn’t have a car and we didn’t have a dealer,” he said.

He then asked for my reservation number and said he’d look up when the car might be arriving.

“I’m not offering you anything I don’t do a hundred times a day for customers,” he said.

After checking, he said I could expect my car in April.

So his estimate is right on the nose.

Then what’s the bad news? It’s something a buddy, Norman, saw on the Smart Web site. The technical specs page puts it this way:

Recommended fuel: premium unleaded gasoline (min 91 octane)

Ouch, babe! Really? How did that escape my notice before? Gas is already priced like Johnnie Walker; do I have to buy Johnnie Walker Blue?

So I checked in with Dave again. He admitted that this was the case, though he also said “you could use regular gas — there’s no damage to the car.” But because of the engine’s high compression ratio, high octane gas burns more efficiently and my gas mileage would be about 2 m.p.g. better with high-test. So, he argued, I’ll probably be saving three-quarters of a gallon of gas on every tank, for a difference in fill-up costs of $25 a tank as opposed to $23 for the lower-cost stuff.

Interesting, if true.

Guess I’ll be testing the hypothesis for myself before long!

Mr. Schembri said I wouldn’t be disappointed. I told him I’d only owned one truly distinctive car in my life: a 1950 Chevrolet Deluxe that I got in college. People used to stop me in the street to talk about the car, but usually they were older men who wanted to reminisce about their college days, when they had a new one. Some of them would comment on the capacious back seat.

This would not be the case with the Smart, Mr. Schembri promised. I’d still stop traffic, but “You’re going to find out this is a real chick magnet, this car.”

We’ll see how my wife feels about that.

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Considering they lowered the CR for North America from 11.4:1 to 10:1, it is a little surprising that the car more or less needs premium. Mind you, our premium is down about two points on EuroSuper.

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