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Small car, big heart
Smart car drivers express their love for the environment without compromising style
Attorney Al Allgood stands with his smart fortwo, which he said gets 33 miles per gallon while driving around town. He purchased the car from Mercedez-Benz of Buckhead, which has a two-year waiting list for the cars. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

In Europe, smart cars are scooting down the Champs Elysée, winding through London’s Piccadilly Circus and whirling past the Coliseum in Rome.

And now, attorney Al Allgood tools around the Gainesville square in his burnt red smart fortwo.

Allgood pre-ordered the car from the smart USA Web site in April 2007, and drove it away from the Buckhead Mercedes-Benz dealership this past April.

Although Allgood has two other cars, he said the 8-foot long car is his new ride of choice. He said he bought the car for its great mileage, and hopes the car others still consider a spectacle will become the norm for U.S. drivers.

"Somebody’s got to do something; this is absurd," Allgood said of fuel prices. "The $4 gasoline is the breaking point. So many people, their reaction is, ‘But it’s so tiny.’ I say, ‘So what?’"

The fuel-efficient cars are made by Mercedes-Benz in Hambach, France, and were introduced to the United States in January. The car, which has been sold in Europe since 1998, is the product of a joint venture from Nicolas Hayek, the inventor of Swatch watch, and Mercedes-Benz.

The term "smart" is an acronym for Swatch Merecedes art, and is the only car to be on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City while simultaneously being produced and sold.

At least 36 other countries have smart cars on their roads.

According to Victoria Dunn, smart car product specialist for the smart center Buckhead dealership, the North American smart fortwo uses premium gasoline and has an 8.7-gallon tank. She said the cars get 33 miles per gallon in the city and 41 miles per gallon on the highway.

"And after the engine’s broken in, it gets 36 city, 46 on the highway," Dunn said.

Ken Kettenbeil, communications director for the company’s U.S. headquarters in Michigan, said the Atlanta area and California are strong markets for the smart models. He said the cars sell well in large urban environments due to their enviable gas mileage and parking advantages.

Allgood’s smart passion coupe model is one of nearly 9,000 smart fortwos already on U.S. roadways, Kettenbeil said.

Dunn said there are three smart fortwo models that range in price from the basic model at $11,590 to the deluxe convertible at $16,590. The French factory is at maximum output, and people keep ordering them online and picking them up at their nearest smart center, she said.

The smart center in Buckhead opened in mid-March, and has already sold more than 250 smart fortwos, Dunn said. Since the cars were first available for online reservations in March 2007, she said the wait for the pre-ordered cars has gone from about 12 months to about 18 months. The smart center in Buckhead is pre-sold for the next two years, Dunn added.

But Kettenbeil said the French factory has no plans to increase production of smart models anytime soon.

Kettenbeil said the plant is meeting its projected sales for the United States. He said that although Americans have been slow to relinquish their gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs, the market is starting to turn. More Americans are trading in their SUVs for fuel-efficient cars.

Dunn said in Buckhead, the trend is not SUV trade-ins for smart models. Instead, drivers are purchasing the cars for long commutes to work in addition to driving their old cars on the weekends. Also, she said Atlanta Police have given their approval for solo drivers of smart vehicles to cruise in the HOV lane on Interstate 85.

He said the smart models are some of the most fuel-efficient cars in the United States besides two more expensive hybrid models. The Insurance Insitute for Highway Safety also gave the model the highest crash rating for front and side collisions.

Allgood said he feels safe in the car knowing it has a cubed tridion safety cell, much like the NASCAR roll cages.

The local attorney said he thinks ditching SUVs and large trucks is the first step to overcoming the gas crisis. The car even gets 10 miles per gallon better than his 2002 Honda Accord, Allgood said.

Kettenbeil said the car is affordable to many Americans, and allows drivers to express a little personality while lessening their environmental impact.

"It’s a unique vehicle," he said. "It makes a statement that as a society, we need to start thinking smaller. We’re realizing fuel is a limited resource and all indications are that it is going to keep increasing in price."

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