SMART car comes to Houston – sort of

Last weekend while tooling around town inside the Loop I spotted a SMART car.
I couldn’t believe the Lilliputian coupe so popular in European capitols like Paris and Rome was actually jockeying for position on Buffalo Speedway alongside Hummers, Mercedes and Ford F-150s. But there it was.
If you’re interested in the micro machine that’s EPA-rated at 40 miles to the gallon and starts at $25,000, it won’t be easy to get one. Turns out, there’s still no dealership in Texas.
But ZAP — which stands for Zero Air Pollution — the Santa Rosa, Calif.-based company that’s importing the ultra-compact cars, wants to change that.
“The goal is to have a dealer in every major market. We’re working on it,” spokesman Alex Campbell said.
Currently there are only eight ZAP dealerships in the U.S., including two in Reno as well as outlets in Phoenix, Pittsburgh, West Palm Beach, Seattle, Colorado Springs and Exeter, N.H.
People who just have to have one are picking the closest retailer and hightailing it across several states to buy SMART.
“Everybody loves a SMART car and, at the end of the day, I think everybody loves the idea of making cars cleaner and more efficient,” Campbell said, adding that ZAP has been in business for 11 years selling electric cars, scooters and all-terrain vehicles.
DaimlerChrysler actually manufactures the SMART car, which runs on regular unleaded, but the company won’t sell the two-man vehicles here even though they’re sold in every other major market from Malaysia to Mexico.
The scuttlebutt as to why ranges from DaimlerChrysler not wanting to erode its luxury brand name in the USA to simply not wanting to make a bad business decision. In Europe and Asia consumers often buy into the aesthetic that less is more. But, generally, in the States, more is more.
At just eight feet in length, two SMART cars can park bumper to bumper in a single parking space. Eurofiles find them stylish. SUV devotees question whether they’re really sensible transportation for this country’s sprawling spaghetti bowl of highways.
One thing is a virtual certainty. Gasoline prices will climb above $3 a gallon this summer and stay there for a while. That might be mean more SMART cars in a neighborhood near you.