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Author Topic: Smart forTwo goes electric  (Read 843 times)

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Offline TriesteTopic starter

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Smart forTwo goes electric
« on: June 11, 2010, 08:32:22 AM »
Just found out about this yesterday, and of course the article popped up this morning for me. Surely most have heard of the Smart car, which is gasoline-powered (non-hybrid, in other words) but a very tiny two-seater without much of a hood and no back seat.



Well, their manufacturer decided to rock down to electric avenue and have rolled out an electric model. According to their website, the electric cars are supposed to be released for model-year 2012 - only a year away! - whereas the article says model-year 2013. Either way, I'm totally getting one.


BROOKLYN--Fans of the Smart ForTwo can buff up their enviro-image with an electric drive version of the minicar coming to the U.S. this fall.
Smart USA offered test rides of the ForTwo Electric Drive this week here, where I got a chance to get behind the wheel and take it for a spin on the streets of New York.
Overall, the ForTwo fits the bill as a clever city car because its size makes it easy to maneuver through city traffic and park, provided that you don't have much stuff to haul around. The ForTwo Electric Drive smooths out the gasoline version's choppy transmission and lets minicar owners pull the plug on their oil habits.

Unlike other electric vehicles, the ForTwo is going after a niche audience of sustainably minded people and business owners who want a car that stands out in a crowd. But the design of the ForTwo Electric Drive is significant beyond its initial target customer because it represents a product category--small, electric city cars--with large potential but also clear challenges related to infrastructure.
Smart USA, which has seen sales of the ForTwo gasoline car drop significantly last year, understands the challenges of bringing electrically fueled cars to cities, where home garages are in short supply. It plans on bringing 250 of the ForTwo electric drive cars to the U.S. in October, offered with a four-year lease of $599 per month.
With this initial roll-out in the U.S., Smart USA expects that about 80 percent of the customers will be businesses, which generally will have the luxury of a place to charge the cars at night. With its unique look, the electric minicar will be a "rolling statement on environmental awareness and oil dependence," said Derek Kaufman, the vice president of business development for Smart USA, which is based outside Detroit.
Daimler, which owns the Smart brand and manufactures the ForTwo, will start volume production in early 2012 and sell it as a 2013 model year car in the U.S.

Park and juice
It's recommended that individuals and businesses have a 220-volt charging station installed, which is significantly faster than a regular electrical outlet. At 220 volts, the onboard 3.3 kilowatt charger can bring the battery from zero to 100 percent charge in about eight hours and from 20 percent to 80 percent charge in about three and half hours. With a regular 110-volt outlet, zero to full will take about 14 hours.
As part of a Department of Energy grant, Coulomb Technologies will install Web-enabled charging stations at individuals' homes in a handful of regions in the U.S., which will include some lucky ForTwo drivers.
What about the eager electric minicar owner without a garage? This is where electric vehicle providers targeting urban drivers need to get creative, both in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world where more and more people are moving to the cities.
Smart USA is already seeking to partner with garage owners to have charging stations installed. Garage owners have an interest in electric minicars, in particular, because they take up so much less space than other cars, said Jochen Eck, who heads electric vehicle testing for Daimler, which manufactures the ForTwo.
Another likely charge station for electric city cars is offices, he said. That does limit people's options on weekends, but with a range of 83 miles, people may only need to charge a few times a week depending on driving patterns, Eck said. Top speed is limited to about 65 miles per hour.
How practical an electric ForTwo is really depends on individual driving patterns and space requirements. In many cases, the ForTwo, which first came to the U.S. two years ago, is a second or third car. In those cases, the range limit of the electric edition may not be major barrier.
Look and feel
Inside, the car does not feel small at all, as there's ample head and leg room. Like the gasoline version, there's no back seat, just a small storage space that could hold a suitcase or a few bags of groceries.
The interior controls are easy to understand and operate. The electric version sports two retro-looking dials above the dashboard, one that shows the battery charge level. The other displays how much power is being drawn from the battery during acceleration--the motor maxes out at 30 kilowatts, or about 40 horsepower. That dial also shows how the regenerative braking system boosts battery charge.
Smart USA last week released an iPhone application with a number of features, including maps and Internet radio. ForTwo Electric Drive owners can check the charge level of the car and get an estimate of how much time is required to charge the battery to run a particular trip.

My drive through the pelting rain on Wednesday afternoon was enjoyable. The handling feels solid and the turning responsive. During a few tricky turns dodging through the Brooklyn traffic, it didn't feel like I would spin out of control because the car's small.
The small size was a major asset when I finally found a parking spot, where I easily fit all 9 feet of car length into. The electric ForTwo adds 300 pounds over the gasoline version, which was first brought to the U.S. two years ago, so the acceleration may not be as peppy but I found the acceleration pretty good. The one-gear electric powertrain makes for a smooth ride, an apparent improvement over the much criticized "automated manual transmission" in the gasoline version.
With a small wheel base, you feel the bumps on the road. For kicks, a fellow journalist drove over a speed bump without slowing while I was riding shotgun and that was, not surprisingly, a nasty bump (didn't hit my head, though).
The 16.5 kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery pack and power management system is manufactured by Tesla Motors, which Daimler invested in. When Daimler starts manufacturing these in Europe in 2012, the plan is to use its own batteries, according to Kaufman.
Charging the batteries with coal-made electricity reduces carbon dioxide emissions by about 10 percent compared to the gasoline version, while electricity from natural gas will reduce emissions by 40 to 50 percent, according to Daimler executives. Nuclear will reduce it by about 95 percent and with solar and wind, it's 100 percent, they said.
The FourTwo is in the forefront of city cars, but it's not alone in making small all-electric vehicles. The all-electric Think City, which is bit larger, is already being sold in Europe and is coming to the U.S. next year. Toyota is developing the IQ, another "urban commuter" electric minicar set for release in 2012. Of course, there are numerous small gasoline- or diesel-powered cars that will compete for potential buyers.
Electric minicars promise real benefits to cities, including reducing congestion and in-city air pollution. Since it's so early in the industry shift to electrification, cars like the ForTwo Electric Drive, which certainly can be practical, are still very much a lifestyle statement. Whether electric city cars become commonplace because they are cheaper to fuel and reduce pollution will depend on their affordability and available charging infrastructure.

Now they just need to release an electric Yaris and I will be all set!

Offline DarklingAlice

Re: Smart forTwo goes electric
« Reply #1 on: June 11, 2010, 12:11:07 PM »
Very nice! I have always been scared away from smart cars by poor safety ratings, but it is very nice to see them going this way. With an electric smartcar on the market, and a host of electric  motorcycles and scooters coming out, we can hope this is a trend.

Offline TriesteTopic starter

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Re: Smart forTwo goes electric
« Reply #2 on: June 11, 2010, 12:26:13 PM »
Really? One of the first things I look at when I'm considering a car is the safety rating, and whenever I look around, all I find are articles that praise it (much like this one gotten from a quick google).

Offline DarklingAlice

Re: Smart forTwo goes electric
« Reply #3 on: June 11, 2010, 02:16:57 PM »
Oooh, this is one thing I am happy to be shown wrong about ^_^ It does seem they are better than I thought. The complaints that I had always heard involved a high rate of dangerous rollover in side-impact crashes, but in the absence of data I am going to hope that was an exaggeration.

Offline TriesteTopic starter

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Re: Smart forTwo goes electric
« Reply #4 on: June 11, 2010, 02:22:15 PM »
It's possible that that's why they added the additional bar around the outside. It's my understanding that the bar (usually an alternate color than the rest of the car) was actually meant to help with keeping the car un-crunched. I could be wrong, but that was my impression.

Offline Ramster

Re: Smart forTwo goes electric
« Reply #5 on: June 11, 2010, 02:38:12 PM »
I don't want to piss on your bonfire, and I agree that electric cars are the way of the future, they're just not a practical replacement for a gasoline gar yet.

In a car that small, you're never going to be able to fit in the massive battery packs that other electric cars use. And the cutting edge of today's electric cars need a massive recharge (eight hours?! I'd rather get a tank of petrol at European prices!) every 90 miles or less.

In other words, the chances are that when you need the cutesy little thing, it'll be in front of your house with four hours or so before you can go anywhere, or risk the battery running out in the middle of the road!

So let's hope they figure out a quantum improvement on today's batteries between now and 2012/3.

Offline TriesteTopic starter

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Re: Smart forTwo goes electric
« Reply #6 on: June 11, 2010, 02:46:43 PM »
Er. It's an 8-hour charge, and the battery weighs about 300lbs. Considering I get home from school/work/etc most days by 7PM at the latest and I end up leaving for school/work/etc around 8AM the next day, that's easily 13 hours of charge time...

Offline Will

Re: Smart forTwo goes electric
« Reply #7 on: June 11, 2010, 07:27:25 PM »
It could be mildly inconvenient if you had any other plans, but I think that's a small price to pay.  Long trips might be a bit of a pain, though...

My only real issue is that it's so small!  I'm not a short guy, and I'm nearly too long for the car I've got now. >.>

Offline TriesteTopic starter

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Re: Smart forTwo goes electric
« Reply #8 on: June 11, 2010, 08:04:51 PM »
Will! One of the reviewers is 6'6" and apparently had plenty of head and foot room! I thought that was cool.

Additionally, something like this would be, for us, a second car, something to take to work or school or to the grocery store. Given that that would be a good 80-90 percent of our usual driving, it seems like it would save a lot of gas.

Offline Will

Re: Smart forTwo goes electric
« Reply #9 on: June 11, 2010, 09:28:33 PM »
O.O  Then sign me up.

Offline TriesteTopic starter

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Re: Smart forTwo goes electric
« Reply #10 on: June 12, 2010, 12:41:31 AM »
I'm like totally psyched. It's not like I'm going to run out and buy the first-gen or anything (although I have promised myself that I will get RID of my gas hog and get a new car for myself for graduation in a couple years) but it just seems like such a nifty car and if it does well it'll open up a market that I definitely want to see become popular.

*puts on cheerleader outfit and camps outside Daimler*