It may be practical for urban and some types of suburban transportation - remarkably sophisticated for the money (when the $7,500 rebate is included). I suspect, given the evolution of batteries and the newness of other technologies, that leasing may be the way to go if the terms are attractive. More here - I'm not very impressed with the engine and transmission in the internal combustion version, but the electric is a more interesting niche vehicle. Lots of Mercedes engineering and they may have managed to make it safe.
The stop and go driving in urban environments places a huge premium on mass - you really want to reduce it as much as possible, and not as much on aerodynamics as you rarely go fast. Electrics can be good as they can deliver power efficiently in the speed ranges (say 0 to 40mph) that are commonly found whereas internal combustion engines tend to be poorly matched even with exotic seven and eight speed transmissions. At a stop the motor can be off and some of the energy from braking can be captured by the car's battery. The sticky problem is heating and cooling as these can tax the battery whereas an IC engine has enough power that the AC load is comparatively small and the engines are so inefficient (20 to 25%) that an enormous amount of "waste" heat is available for interior heating.
The press release
The all-new smart fortwo electric drive
MONTVALE, NJ – The new generation smart fortwo electric drive is a natural next step for the trend-setting smart brand. In light of the brand's environmental leadership, the zero-emission electric drive is an evolutionary extension of the fortwo, which has led the autoindustry in urban mobility and energy conservation.
The smart fortwo electric drive is a zero-emission visual statement that further defines thespirit of smart. Based on the iconic smart fortwo, and available in coupe and cabriolet bodystyles, the new generation smart fortwo electric drive has the smallest footprint of any caron U.S. roads and represents a key step in sustainable transportation. It enters the U.S. market at an ideal time as the United States is setting policy goals for reducing CO2 and dependence on fossil fuels.
development of the smart fortwo electric drive
smart fortwo electric drive was part of the smart concept from the very start. When thesmart design was first conceived more than 20 years ago, smart developers anticipated theneed for alternative powertrains. As a result, designers didn't have to make anycompromises in the safety, agility, comfort and space of the smart fortwo electric drive.
The electric drive battery fits right where the fuel tank usually goes, in the underfloor area between the front and rear wheels, while the electric motor replaces the conventional engine between the rear wheels. As a result, the electric drive looks just like a normal fortwo. The electric drive has the same outside footprint, the same interior room, the same cargo space and the same high level of safety that have come to define the smart fortwo.
Beginning in 2007, the first smart electric drive pilot project involved 100 cars that were tested in downtown London by companies and other fleet owners, a majority of whom had approached smart about participating in the test. London was an ideal test environment because of its high traffic congestion, parking shortages, noise and pollution. The test cars were equipped with high-temperature sodium-nickel-chloride batteries that work at about 600°F degrees, providing a range of about 60 miles. The batteries required pre-heating, and were housed in insulated cases similar to large double-wall thermos bottles.
The next generation began in 2009 and went broader with more than 2,000 cars in 18 markets around the world, including 250 electric drive vehicles for the United States (not including an additional 300 units in operation by sister company Car2Go). These cars used lithium-ion batteries, which were more efficient and operated at normal temperatures, with arange of about 63 miles on a full charge. Like the first-phase cars, the motors produced 20 kilowatts of continuous power, plus a peak power of 30 kilowatts for passing and accelerating.
Targeted to early adopters who helped to define new alternatives in transportation and were making a passionate statement about energy conservation and environmental awareness, the 250 electric drive cars in the United States were spread nationwide, with an emphasis on regions such as Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. where vehicle charging stations are more readily available.
Placements included companies, municipalities and individuals under a four-year, 40,000-mile lease agreement starting at $599 a month for an electric-drive coupe. A $7,500 federal subsidy for electric vehicles was factored into the lease price, but it didn't include state and local subsidies that further reduced the price in some areas. Participants had direct access to the smart USA team, received special communications about the electric drive experience and were invited to forums and special events.
The new generation smart electric drive will retail at $25,000, making it the most affordable production electric vehicle in the U.S. A companion cabriolet model will retail at $28,000 when both models hit the U.S. market in the spring of 2013. Customers may also be eligiblefor federal tax credits (which run up to $7,500) or state/local tax credits, further reducing the cost.
Interior room and usability depend on your family needs. People have a tendency to size vehicles based on needs they may rarely have so ultra tiny cars are at a natural disadvantage... The trick with this one is to have much of the interior devoted to two seats and not much else. The claim is there is enough legroom and headroom in this design for two "tall" people - although it isn't clear what that means. Colleen's inseam is over 40 inches and she can't drive our Audi, although she can just squeak into the passenger seat if it is all the way back and the height and angle are adjusted. It turns out there are a lot of cars she can't drive as the steering wheel gets in the way - she even has problems in the back seat of her parent's full sized SUV with the front seat all the way forward.
Other people have seat problems being heavy. But it may be that a two seater that is optimized just for those two seats may have a serious advantage over conventional cars and may work well as a commuter. But two people and six bags of groceries ... ?
The safety issue always comes up. This one is festooned with airbags and has accident avoidance features like anti-skid and antilock brakes. There is an issue of unequal masses when being struck by another vehicle, but if the primary use is in non-highway use, that may not be a major issue.
Now if they could get the price South of $15k and gas was more than $6 a gallon it might be popular.